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Inside the Museum: Scientific Inspiration

July 25, 2013

by Libby Kane, Museum Intern

When you walk into one of the Museum’s three Investigate Labs, the inner-child in you seems take off in every which direction in order to try out all of the experiments as soon as you can. You have to contain this excitement because first off, you are probably too old to get away with it, but moreover because you haven’t heard the short introduction from one of the iLab experts.

After the short introduction, you are set free in an experience that takes you back to your science class years, only this time, without bad grades and bad lab partners.  They are replaced instead with interesting and fun experiments for people of all ages. In the Natural World iLab, you can also watch live insects, and even touch some, if you would like.

Experiments are developed by the lab’s staff and volunteers. While some experiments are enabled by grants, some are the work of college interns who are studying different disciplines of science. Assisting a Museum patron into their official lab coat, intern Caroline Ball said, “How often do kids get this excited to learn science? I think the labs in the Museum really help to inspire the next generation of scientists by showing people how fun science is.”

Caroline has just finished working on a project to educate patrons on recycling, which will be featured in the iLab. “The hard truth of the matter is that people know about recycling, but never know why they should care. Hopefully my project will show them and give them some information and a concrete memento of the occasion.” The project itself consists of a guided and interactive presentation, followed by a tutorial on how to have fun with recycling.  To experience the whole project and many others, visit the Museum’s Natural World iLab. In the meantime, enjoy building your own recycled parachute from the video and directions below!

To make your own parachute out of recycled materials, you’ll need a plastic bag, floss, tape, hole-puncher, ruler, and scissors. Start by cutting a 10-inch circle out of the plastic bag (about the size of a dinner plate), and then follow the instructions in the video.

The Natural World iLab is coordinated by Dr. Colin Brammer and Bob Alderink who are readily available for help or questions in the lab at all times. Dr. Brammer said, “Our goal is to show people that science is not dull, and does not have to be limited to scientists behind closed doors. We are interested in hands-on teaching and promoting the investigation of the natural world.”

The purpose of the iLab is to help children and adults learn about the natural world and connect it back to themselves. For example, what do turtle shells and bridges have in common? You can find out in less than five minutes at one of the stations. On display right now are experiments with algae to create biofuels, a cleaner means of energy, and ample opportunities to learn about insects through inspection of live specimens, often under microscopes. You are even encouraged to “Tap on the Glass” when it comes to observing the behaviors of live mosquito larvae. Younger visitors can make themselves at home mixing potions by using pipettes and beakers to become true “mad scientists.”

The iLab is aided through the volunteers who bring enthusiasm into the Museum. “Our volunteers come from different backgrounds and bring different expertise into the lab,” Dr. Brammer said, “It helps create a very well-rounded place.” Dr. Brammer understands the importance of volunteers in the Museum, as they logged over 65,000 hours last year.

The lab is free to all Museum patrons and is open daily. For more information about volunteering, visit

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