Spark!Lab, the Center’s premier educational program, engages and empowers families to participate in the invention process through outreach initiatives at the Museum, nationally, and internationally.
Draper Spark!Lab In its third year, the Draper Spark!Lab welcomed 225,413 visitors who explored, created, collaborated, and invented, a solid increase in visitation from 2017. Activities were designed around family-friendly themes that connected to NMAH collections and rotated every four months, ensuring that Spark!Lab visitors had something new to explore each time they visited.
During 2018, themes were:
GO • CONNECT • ADAPT
For the three activity sets we created sixteen new activities. In the spirit of Spark!Lab and the process of invention, we tweaked six previous activities to make them more intuitive, open ended, and engaging for our visitors.
GO - Design a Metro Interior: Many people who visit or work in Washington, DC depend on the Metro rail system to get around. In recent years Metro has been replacing its older trains, some dating back to the early 1970s, with new railcars. The upgraded cars have changes in the design that affect the rider experience. What would your design for a Metro interior look like? How will your design create a better experience for all riders?
CONNECT - Create a Code for Communicating: From social media messages to essays for school, we use computer code to do most of our communicating. Code may look complex, but it’s all made up of two different characters: ones and zeros. During the early 1800s, Samuel Morse used a two-character code— dots and dashes—to send some of the first electrically transmitted messages via telegraph. His code is commonly known as Morse Code. What type of code will you invent to send messages over a wire? Can you make a code that is easy for anyone to use?
ADAPT - Tweak a Prosthetic Hand: There are many reasons why someone might be without a hand or other limb. Some people are born without limbs, while others may lose them in accidents or while fighting in wars. Since the American Civil War, innovators in the United States have created workable limb replacements, called prosthetics. In recent years, technologies like 3D printers and low-cost electronics have made prosthetics and other adaptive devices cheaper and more available.
7th Annual Spark!Lab Dr. InBae Yoon Invent It Challenge
In partnership with Cricket Media, the 2018 Invent It Challenge invited individuals and teams ages 5-21 to think about the impacts that natural disaster have on communities around the world and to design real-world solutions that can help prepare for and recover from these events. Winners selected by a panel of Smithsonian and Cricket Media judges were invited to participate in a multi-day visit to NMAH during which they undertook invention collaborations, went on special tours of the Museum’s invention collections, had their winning submissions displayed in Draper Spark!Lab, and, thanks to the generosity of the Yoon family, enjoyed a special reception on their final night in DC.
Spark!Lab National Network
The Holland Museum in Holland, MI, joined the Spark!Lab National Network in 2018. Spark!Lab in Holland serves as a hands-on connection to the history of the area, which is rich in invention and innovation, and serves to showcase the stories of local inventors.
This site joins our other locations:
- The Children’s Museum of the Upstate, Greenville, SC
- Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers, FL
- Michigan Science Center, Detroit, MI
- Midland Center for the Arts, Midland, MI
- Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, Reno, NV
- US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL
In total, our Network sites served over 393,000 visitors this year and developed more than 10 new programs and activities to engage their visitors in the invention process.
From November 14–16, the Lemelson Center hosted the third annual Spark!Lab National Network Conference at the Smithsonian. Sixteen Network representatives from eight sites joined the Draper Spark!Lab staff for three days to share highlights from their Spark!Labs, discuss challenges, brainstorm new ideas, and network with one another.
Our multi-year collaboration with the University of Westminster continued in 2018. Two student interns traveled from London in May to spend the summer learning about Spark!Lab and practicing facilitation strategies for engaging children and families in the invention process.