As the world turns its eyes to Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022, the Lemelson Center’s Spark!Lab team is reflecting on its December 2021 trip to Doha, Qatar, to open a pop-up Spark!Lab. Qatar is in the Middle East, bordered by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, and Doha is the capital city, where most people live. Spark!Lab was in an area of Doha called Education City, an education campus featuring universities, elementary schools, athletic fields and courts, the national library, a mosque, game rooms, and meeting rooms for collaboration. Families and students came to try their hand at invention! Our activities were all based around celebrating the FIFA Arab Cup and getting ready for the FIFA World Cup 2022.
Tim Pula is our Interpretive Exhibits Inventor. His job is to design, create, and build all of the activities we feature in Spark!Lab. Since we were in Doha during the FIFA Arab Cup, we followed a sports a theme, and following Tim’s recommendation, we selected four activities: build a stadium, design sportswear, build something to make a sport more accessible, and build a device that will hover over a stadium. According to Tim, these activities were carefully chosen for various reasons. For example, Spark!Lab’s wind tunnel activity is well-tested. As Tim points out, “This activity goes out to each of our network sites and is a combination of both consumable and non-consumable components.” For Doha, the team added a sports-related prompt—keep something aloft in a stadium—and then evaluated the activity, Tim notes, “as our standard by which to judge the relative effectiveness of the other activities.”
Another activity made a direct connection to our host country. “We chose the create a piece of clothing activity,” Tim explains, “as fashion and textiles are a big part of Qatari culture. To this activity we also added a sports spin with creating clothing for a sport selected on a spinner. The sports on the spinner were ones that we knew connected with the people of Qatar in one way or another. We also wanted to see how this would be used to create sports attire that held to the standards of modesty that are part of an Islamic culture.”
We brought some of the materials and activity pieces with us—like 3-D printed parts (stadium bleachers, tiny figurines, and plants, etc.), articles of clothing and textiles, iPads, and the wind tunnel—but we knew we would have to buy additional materials when we arrived.
And we were right about that. Tim was concerned about how the wind tunnel would operate in Doha because of the differences in power voltages between the U.S. and Qatar. When we arrived, he set up the wind tunnel, plugged it in to the voltage converter, and turned it on. It worked! But only for about 15 seconds. Then the fan slowed to a stop and there was a faint smell of burnt electrical components. So we added a fan to our shopping list.
In addition to the fan, we went shopping for consumables (paper, rubber bands, popsicle sticks, etc.) and stools. Shopping was fun and gave us a chance to practice our own inventive creativity by finding the right local vendors—we couldn’t just run to a familiar craft store or discount department store to purchase our materials. For example, we couldn’t find craft sticks, but adapted coffee stirrers instead. Other items were surprisingly difficult to source. When Tim replaced the fan, it was challenging to find one that would work. We were surprised how hard it was to find a large floor or desk fan. It is hot all year in Qatar and we thought fans would be readily available. Tim finally found one but had to make some tweaks to the wind tunnel so it would fit.
We set up in an outside area that had electricity and a covering to protect us from the weather. We designed the space just like Spark!Lab in Washington, DC, and the Spark!Lab National Network sites. There was a table for each activity, with a sign providing some background information and questions to get the young inventors started. We also had digital versions of the activities on iPads, so each inventor could work in a way that appealed best to them. (Be sure to check out Spark!Lab’s digital activities on Instructables.)
Finally, we were ready for visitors! Local students in the first to fifth grades were our first inventors. They came with their teachers in small groups of about 25-30 students and spent 90 minutes with us. We welcomed them with a discussion about inventors and inventions and some important information about how Spark!Lab works: there are no right answers, you are the inventors, and you can start anywhere and move in any order. Then they started inventing! In addition to the school groups, Spark!Lab was open for “Ladies Night,” a time for women and children to participate in classes, games, and other fun.
The wind tunnel was very popular. For this challenge, inventors were asked to build something that would hover in the wind tunnel, and then could be used in a stadium for different jobs, such as delivering food to fans or recording parts of the game.
The inventors could also design a new stadium. We challenged them to make the stadium eco-friendly and accessible to all. At our third station, inventors designed sportswear to help them participate in a sport; for example, they could invent protective gear or specialized equipment. Inventors spun a wheel to select a sport and then used the materials provided to design something new for the participants to wear. The final activity focused on building something to make soccer—or football, as the students reminded us—accessible to all. Visitors picked a profile of an athlete who was blind, missing a limb, or autistic, and built a device to help that athlete participate.
We also provided a sketching table with paper and colored pencils for students who wanted to sketch their inventions first, and books about various inventors for quiet reading time. Most of all, we encouraged all of our visitors to engage in the invention process—Think It, Explore It, Sketch It, Create It, Try It, Tweak It, and Sell It—and watched them clearly practice that at the wind tunnel. They were eager to build something that would fly, and then tweak it so it would fly higher or longer.
As they left, we could hear students’ excitement over sharing their inventions with others. We also encouraged teamwork and urged them to continue inventing at home.
Overall, Spark!Lab in Doha was a successful venture and reminded me why I love this job. The visitors were excited about invention and building something new. They collaborated, built, tried, tweaked, and shared their inventions with exhilarating enthusiasm. Having the opportunity to support invention and innovation around the world was a phenomenal experience!
This event was made possible with support from the Qatar Foundation and ConocoPhillips Qatar.