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.
During an average year, Draper Spark!Lab at the museum welcomes more than 220,000 visitors to explore, create, collaborate, and invent. Activities are designed around family-friendly themes that connect to museum collections and change every four months, ensuring Spark!Lab visitors have something new to explore each time they visit. Early in 2020, we installed a set of invention challenges related to the theme of “Perform.”
Draper Spark!Lab welcomed 25,522 visitors between January and March 2020 before closing to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During our closure, we extended our digital engagement efforts to include our wonderful corps of volunteers who help inspire inventiveness in every Spark!Lab visitor. The team experimented with new virtual formats for volunteer engagement, including curator-led tours and talks, coffee breaks, trivia nights, “Invent Along at Home” activities, and movie club meet-ups. By reinventing volunteer engagement—bringing the in-person volunteer experience to the digital realm—we have been able to stay connected.
Spark!Lab Dr. InBae and Mrs. Kyung Joo Yoon Invent It Challenge
For the 2020 challenge, participants focused their talents on creating new inventions that help provide access to healthy food for everyone, everywhere, every day. Winning inventions included novel indoor gardening systems, innovative food transport and preservation systems, a solar-powered grocery bus, and a sustainable avocado-based alternative to plastic cutlery.
Lemelson Center and Cricket Media team members hosted a series of virtual celebrations for individual and team winners, their families, and educators. All 2020 winners will be invited to join the 2021 Invention Challenge Celebration.
The Spark!Lab Network currently includes nine locations across the United States:
- The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (Greenville, South Carolina)
- Edison and Ford Winter Estates (Fort Myers, Florida)
- Holland Museum (Holland, Michigan)
- Irving Archives and Museum (Irving, Texas)
- Michigan Science Center (Detroit, Michigan)
- Midland Center for the Arts (Midland, Michigan)
- Springfield Museums (Springfield, Massachusetts)
- Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum (Reno, Nevada)
- US Space and Rocket Center (Huntsville, Alabama)
Digital Invention Activities and Challenges
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closure of the museum, the Spark!Lab team successfully pivoted from a focus on in-person, hands-on visitor experiences to digital deliverables and virtual outreach, fulfilling the same fundamental educational goals, but with different tools and platforms.
In partnership with Autodesk, the Spark!Lab team posted 10 digital invention challenges on the popular Instructables website. Each challenge encourages users to follow the Spark!Lab invention process: Think It, Explore It, Sketch It, Create It, Try It, Tweak It, Sell It.
Invent a Device that Can Move through a Pipe. Specialized robots and other machines clean, inspect, and repair large pipes. Invent a device that can move through a pipe.
Help Clean Up the Ocean. Small plastics are distributed across the ocean. What can you invent to remove plastics from the ocean? Create a 3D model of your invention.
Design a Stadium. Design and build a new sports venue. What will your stadium look like? What types of competitions and performances can happen in your venue?
Invent a Musical Instrument. Instruments can be stringed, percussion, wind, or electronic. What type of instrument do you want to create? How will you make sure that your instrument does not make so much noise that it disturbs other people in your home?
Create a Solar-Powered Invention. Solar power is becoming more affordable and easier to install. What kind of solar powered invention will you create? How will your invention use the solar energy it collects? Will your invention have a way to store the solar energy? Who will use your invention?
Invent a Toy. Will your toy be a single item or made up of a set of parts? Will your toy have accessories? Who will play with your toy?
Design a Spacecraft. Several companies and numerous countries plan to explore worlds beyond Earth in the next 10 years. Design a spacecraft to take humans to another planet. What will it look like? What would space travelers need to take with them?
Create a Mass Transit Vehicle. Create a bus, plane, boat, train, spacecraft, or something totally new to move groups of people from one place to another.
Reinvent the Shopping Cart. The first wheeled shopping cart rolled into stores in 1938. Today, shopping carts come in many different shapes and sizes. What should the shopping cart of the future look like?
Design an Innovative Voting Poster. Design a poster that will encourage people to vote. You can add and edit historic images, text, and basic shapes to enhance your poster.