How do inventions happen? Lots of people say that inventions are created to solve a problem, either one that affects the inventor directly, or one that the inventor sees somewhere else in the world. Some inventions happen by accident, or as a byproduct of trying to invent something else. Some inventions happen more organically to create art or a gadget that we never knew we needed but we’ll certainly buy.
Other inventions come out of a challenge. It may be a global problem, or a way to make life better for a certain group of people. Canned food, margarine, artificial intelligence, and privately funded space exploration all have roots in invention competitions.
In Spark!Lab, we don’t get quite that competitive! But at the Hub, our central space with recycled and craft materials, we certainly make a lot of challenges. We’ve got cardboard, straws, string, recycled wire from our Places of Invention exhibit next door to Spark!Lab, and tape. LOTS of tape. But our most crucial ingredient in the mix is a simple question.
Visitors to Draper Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History can spend time thinking about, sketching, and building their creation—and, of course, testing their invention and seeing what others have made! But we use common materials on purpose, so that our visitors can invent at home, too.
Ready to start inventing on your own? Start with one of these challenges, or make up your own.
- Can you create an invention that is powered by wind or water?
- Can you invent a way to transport an animal from one place to another?
- Can you invent a way to live in the forest?
- Can you invent something for Sparky’s home? (Sparky is our Spark!Lab mascot.)
- Can you invent something for Sparky’s farm?
- Can you invent a way to move produce from one place to another?
Now that you’ve got a challenge and are starting to think about your invention, you might need some materials. Here are some of our favorites:
- Something to build on: cardboard in all shapes and sizes; paper like newspaper, packing paper, or construction paper; recyclable (and clean!) plastic containers
- Ways to join two things together: tape works great, but you could also try string, wires, or brads
- Ways to make a frame: straws of lots of different sizes, chenille stems, and craft sticks all work really well
- Ways to add color: Hey, making your invention look good is really important, too! Add color with markers, magazine pages, or construction paper; or used colored straws, chenille stems, or craft sticks
What if you don’t have exactly what you need? Inventors don’t always have access to the exact material they need, either. They have to look around and see if there’s something else they could use in a different way to solve their problem.
Feeling inspired to invent something else from a challenge? Every year, the Spark!Lab Dr. InBae Yoon Invent It Challenge asks young inventors around the world to participate in the invention process in response to a problem we face globally and in our everyday lives. Check out the 2020 challenge and start thinking about your solution!
And for even more invention ideas, check out our Do Try This at Home section!