New Draper Spark!Lab Offers Hands-on Inventive Fun for Kids

Opens July 1 in Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian
June 18, 2015

Draper Spark!Lab, the popular hands-on invention experience from the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, reopens July 1 at the National Museum of American History in a new, open and flexible 2,000-square-foot space with the look and feel of an inventor’s workspace. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 will create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment and work their way through the invention process from start to finish.

Spark!Lab activities incorporate traditional science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) topics with history, art and creativity and are designed to accommodate varying ages, interests and abilities. Intentionally interdisciplinary, activities in Spark!Lab are organized around rotating themes—such as the opening theme, “Things that Roll”—that allow for a broad and diverse look at invention and the museum’s collections and ensure regular visitors have something new to explore.

“Spark!Lab is where museum visitors become inventors,” said Art Molella, director of the Lemelson Center. “Invention and innovation has and will continue to play a central role in the United States. Spark!Lab is nurturing inventive creativity in the next generation and empowering them to make an impact on the future.”

One of the most popular attractions at the museum during its initial run from 2008 to 2012, Spark!Lab retains its devotion to meaningful, open-ended and hands-on experiences; it emphasizes the invention process, now demonstrated through inventor profiles and objects from the national collections, and its belief that everyone, particularly children, is inventive.

Forty-six objects from the museums collections and 24 inventor stories will:

  • Illustrate the seven steps of the invention process
  • Personify the three featured themes: “Things that Roll”—and to come in the opening year, “Things that Make Sound” and “Things that Help Us See”
  • Represent the diversity of invention

In addition, a special kiosk will provide kid-friendly biographies of inventors who have won the Draper Prize, which recognizes innovative engineering achievements. Eventually, inventions created by visitors will join the museum objects on display, clearly signaling that Spark!Lab is where invention happens.

Draper Spark!Lab is part of the Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation, a signature part of the National Museum of American History’s 45,000-square-foot space centered on the theme of innovation, where the museum is transforming how its audiences will experience history. Spark!Lab is open daily, except Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. The space is made possible by the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory and the Ford Motor Company Fund.

About Spark!Lab

Spark!Lab is a hands-on invention experience developed by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. During its first iteration at the National Museum of American History from 2008 through 2011, Spark!Lab welcomed more than 600,000 visitors. Its success led the Lemelson Center to create the Spark!Lab National Network, an active community of museum professionals who foster inventive creativity in families in their own neighborhoods. Spark!Lab is currently operating domestically in Reno, Nev., Kansas City, Mo., Pittsfield, Mass., and Anchorage, Alaska. In 2012, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, the Lemelson Center operated a temporary Spark!Lab in Kiev, Ukraine, at the Art Arsenale and in 2014 Spark!Lab ran in Gurgaon, India. For more information about Spark!Lab, visit

About the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

The Lemelson Center has led the study of invention and innovation at the Smithsonian since 1995. The center’s activities advance scholarship on the history of invention, share stories about inventors and their work and nurture creativity in young people. The Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation opens July 1 and will feature “Places of Invention,” Draper Spark!Lab and “Inventive Minds.” The center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation and located in the National Museum of American History. For more information, visit