Spark!Lab Lights the Fire of Invention

Think Outside the Box at Spark!Lab in the Berkshires

Everyone is an inventor in the Berkshire Museum’s exciting new Spark!Lab, opening to the public on Saturday, October 11, 2014, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Spark!Lab provides opportunities for children and families to explore their inventive creativity — by designing, innovating, collaborating, and problem-solving — because these experiences empower kids to develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed today and in the future.

Developed at the Smithsonian Institution by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History (NMAH), the Berkshires’ very own Spark!Lab is part of a nation-wide initiative to engage youngsters in the act of invention and innovation. Here is a sneak peek of Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History:

The Berkshire Museum’s Spark!Lab will be the third in the country to open!

Spark!Lab is a hands-on, educational, creative laboratory that features a variety of activities that challenge visitors to solve problems through their own resourcefulness using materials and tools provided. Each activity invites visitors to discover a new way to perform a task, find a solution to a practical problem, or otherwise “think outside the box.”

Among the intriguing challenges in Spark!Lab are “Snap Circuits,” with real (and kid-safe) electrical components used to create and test electric circuits with devices such as light bulbs, fan motors, and a radio. “Shaping Space” provides colorful connecting construction materials that visitors can use to design and build innovative architectural spaces, all kid-sized, and in “Soundscapes,” visitors use an array of wooden blocks with musical elements like a bridge with a bell and xylophone stairs to create pathways for marbles of different sizes, experimenting with speed and sound.

The “Invent-a-Vehicle Challenge” invites visitors to sketch and then build a specialized vehicle to solve a specific problem, using lengths of pipes, connectors, and an assortment of wheels. This exercise is a particularly good one for a family or group. Another large-scale activity is the “Recycled Percussion Sculpture,” a collage of re-purposed materials, from plastic buckets and metal cans to pipes and spools, on a free-standing wooden framework, where visitors can use dowels and mallets to experiment with the different sounds and rhythms that can be produced.

At each station, visitors of all ages can work together to combine skills and ideas to create inventions with real-world applications. Spark!Lab will be open for the general public and will include an area suitable for ages five years and younger. A staff Spark!Lab host will guide users, answer questions, and ensure that visitors have a meaningful experience. Spark!Lab is included with regular Museum admission.

The Museum’s director of interpretation, Maria Mingalone, and Craig Langlois, education and public program manager, are leading the Spark!Lab project. “We are continuing to make the Museum a place where people engage creatively with their surroundings and with one another. Spark! Lab is a wonderful way to share with our visitors the fact that invention is all around us and that creativity and innovation are valued and help to celebrate uniqueness and diversity,” says Mingalone.

Based on the success of the original Spark!Lab located in the NMAH from 2008 to 2011 (see above video), the Smithsonian is developing a national network of Spark!Labs in collaboration with partner institutions. The Berkshire Museum will be one of the first five organizations in the country to host a Spark!Lab.

Spark!Lab is located in the Museum’s ground floor Berkshire Bank Gallery, in space designed by Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson of CPTK Architects. The installation and operation of Spark!Lab is supported, in part, by the Feigenbaum Foundation, Greylock Federal Credit Union, the Rotary Club of Pittsfield, and other friends of the Berkshire Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate.

– Submitted by Lesley Ann Beck

About the Berkshire Museum

In association with the Smithsonian since 2013, Berkshire Museum is part of a select group of museums, cultural, educational, and arts organizations that share the Smithsonian’s resources with the nation. Located in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts, at 39 South St., the Berkshire Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $13 adult, $6 child; Museum members and children age 3 and under enjoy free admission. For more information, visit or call 413-443-7171.

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