Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center Explores “Hot Spots of Invention”

Center Receives Gift from Draper Laboratory

The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation will explore “hot spots of invention”—areas where a critical mass of inventive people, networks, institutions, funding and other resources converge and creativity flourish—Nov. 6 and 7 when the center opens a new showcase display and hosts the “Hot Spots of Invention: People, Places and Spaces” symposium.

The symposium is part of the New Perspectives on Invention and Innovation series, an annual event since 1995 that brings together historians, inventors and a broad range of audiences to explore new avenues of inquiry into the history of invention and innovation. The event will advance an appreciation and understanding of “hot spots of invention” and explore the intimate relationship among the people, places and spaces that shape inventors’ work.

“Our history is punctuated with ‘hot spots of invention’ and the Lemelson Center is interested in the salient features of these innovative places and seeks to understand their key characteristics,” said Arthur Molella, director of the Lemelson Center. “Comprehending the factors that led to innovative growth historically may enable us to foster those factors now and in the future.”

The “Hot Spots of Invention” showcase examines Cambridge, Mass., particularly the labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1935 to 1970, as a “hot spot.” These labs were integral to making Cambridge and M.I.T. premier places of invention.

Featured labs include Charles Stark Draper’s Instrumentation Lab where “Doc” Draper worked on improving airplane navigation and invented a new type of gunsight that was mounted directly on a ship’s gun; the Radiation Laboratory, or “Rad Lab,” that was created by the National Defense Research Committee to develop radar; and Harold Edgerton’s strobe lab, which developed the stroboscope to virtually “stop” the motion of operating machinery with short, intense flashes of light.

The symposium opens Friday, Nov. 6, at 7:45 p.m. with a keynote address by Bradford Parkinson, co-winner of the 2003 Draper Prize for the concept and development of the GPS satellite. Programs continue Saturday, Nov. 7, with sessions on places, people and spaces. Topics include the rise of the Minnesota medical device industry, invention in Hollywood, Thomas Edison’s early inventive career and how renovation led to innovation at the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab in Fort Collins, Colo., among others.

Also on Saturday, percussionist and inventor Remo Belli will discuss how his experiences in 1940s Los Angeles led to his musical inventions and innovation. The program closes with two community drum circles where museum visitors can express themselves through percussion instruments. Visitors to Spark!Lab, the center’s hands-on invention space, will be able to make their own drums from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and participate in mini drum circles throughout the day. The symposium is free and open to the public. For a full schedule of events, visit

The Lemelson Center has received a gift of $150,000 from Draper Laboratory in support of the New Perspectives symposium and the showcase display. The gift will also contribute to further exploration of “hot spots of invention,” such as planning for a major exhibition that will examine this significant topic in exciting new ways.

“Draper Laboratory is pleased to collaborate with the Lemelson Center in its study of invention and the enabling factors that result in such important contributions to society,” said James D. Shields, Draper president and CEO. “Doc Draper’s invention of inertial navigation and Dr. Parkinson’s development of GPS are only two examples featured in the center’s study of achievements that have had a global impact on our daily lives. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Smithsonian Institution in its public education on innovation.”

Draper Laboratory is an independent, not-for-profit research and development organization developing technology solutions to national problems in defense, security, health care and energy.

The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center is dedicated to exploring invention in history and encouraging inventive creativity in young people. The center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy established by one of the country’s most prolific inventors, Jerome Lemelson, and his family. For more information, visit
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