Science Museum opens new interactive gallery that focuses on physics

11 October 2016

Wonderlab – a new gallery that opens tomorrow – explores major physics themes in an interactive space representing a £6m investment by the Science Museum.

Science Museum opens new interactive gallery that focuses on physics
© Plastiques Photography/Science Museum

The gallery at the museum in London has more than 50 exhibits and is aimed at doubling the number of visitors from school groups as well as appealing to families and the wider public. It has seven zones: sound, light, space, force, electricity, mathematics and matter. All but mathematics and matter (which focuses on chemical experiments at the “Chemistry Bar”) are based on physics principles.

When IOP staff visited on the day before the launch, some children who had won a competition to be at the preview were interacting enthusiastically with the exhibits and experiments. Activities included riding on a giant orrery that demonstrates the motions of the Earth, Moon and Sun, controlling a machine that makes standing waves in a rope that can be varied by changing the speed and frequency, interacting with “Theremin Bollards” that emit changing sounds when people move near them and a recreation of the Tesla Coil.

Science Museum opens new interactive gallery that focuses on physics
© Plastiques Photography/Science Museum

Some demonstrations that were magnified so people could view the action up close included watching water freeze, and using magnets to pull a ferrofluid into spiked shapes. Children were also able to take photos of themselves capturing an image of a water drop in motion.

Unlike Launchpad, the museum’s previous free exhibition of this kind, some visitors have to pay, though school or home educator groups continue to have free entry. Speaking after a press briefing, Natalie Mills, one of the curators of the gallery, said: “Wonderlab replaces the Launchpad gallery, which first opened in 1986 and was very well loved, but it needed a revamp. The museum wanted to invest in a new experience rather than let the old gallery fade away.”

Science Museum opens new interactive gallery that focuses on physics
© Plastiques Photography/Science Museum

Mills said the gallery was designed to inspire three scientific habits of mind: curiosity, close attention and creativity. It provides opportunities for experimenting, changing different variables, testing things out and asking questions, she said, reflecting the different ways in which people learn. Although its target audience is children in Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, the museum hopes it will have a broad appeal and “explainers” will be on hand to facilitate visitors’ involvement in the experiments and demonstrations.

The museum hopes to double the number of children from school groups visiting each year from the 100,000 who were visiting Launchpad to 200,000 visiting Wonderlab. Its full title is Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery as Statoil is the title sponsor. URENCO is the major sponsor, with additional support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, Simon and Kate Reid and a loan from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.