Press Release 06/18/02 :: Smithsonian Lemelson Center
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
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Christine Broda-Bahm (202) 633-9156 / SI-218-2002

"Invention At Play" - Smithsonian Explores the Inventive Side of Play and the Playful Side of Invention

What do the inventors behind Post-it Notes¨, Kevlar¨, Velcro¨ and the microwave oven have in common with children? Play! Play and its connection to the innovative mind will be explored in "Invention at Play," a new interactive exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The exhibit opens July 19 and continues through December.

The exhibition, developed by the museum's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota and the National Science Foundation, focuses on the similarities between the way children and adults play and the creative processes used by innovators in science and technology. Visitors of all ages will experience various playful habits of mind that underlay invention: curiosity, imagination, visual thinking, model building and problem solving; the very habits that inventors find key today. Working with kitchen utensils to guide a rolling ball down a ramp, creating block towers on a wobbly surface, and devising wind-powered devices and tessellation patterns will give visitors a feel for the the problem-solving skills integral to invention.

"'Invention at Play' is a highly interactive, engaging and surprising exhibition that departs from traditional representations of inventors as extraordinary geniuses who are 'not like us' to celebrate the creative skills and processes that are familiar and accessible to all people," said Arthur Molella, Lemelson Center director, "And, of course, it celebrates the creative spirit which is central to the mission of the Lemelson Center."

Through photos, stories and artifacts from the museum, visitors will be introduced to inventors and innovators who have used playful and creative techniques in their work, including: Stephanie Kwolek, the chemist who invented Kevlar (a strong and lightweight substance used in bullet-resistant vests and cable, among other things); Newman Darby, inventor of the sailboard; and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; and IDEO, a design company renowned for its creative team-centered processes.

Narratives and interactive devices will assist visitors in exploring the motivation for inventions and the childhood experiences that influenced an inventor's work.

Visitors will also be encouraged to reflect upon questions and debates surrounding the history and future of play. Experimental playthings and historic and contemporary toys and games will allow visitors to explore the connection between the objects visitors played with as children and their creativity today.

A series of educational programs designed to complement the "Invention at Play" exhibition will serve diverse families, parents, teachers and youth groups. The exhibition will travel to a number of sites across the United States after its run at the museum. For more information, call (202) 357-1593.


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Logo for Invention at Play

Lemelson Center
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Entrance to Invention at Play exhibit

Smithsonian photo by Richard Strauss
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Al Nappo and his son, Max, 3, practice their canoeing off Kevlar Island in Invention at Play.

Smithsonian photo by Richard Strauss
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Al Nappo and his son, Max, age 3, experiment and explore with Whirligigs in the Invention Playhouse.

Smithsonian photo by Richard Strauss
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Mechanical sculpture artist Arthur Ganson's "27 Scraps of Paper" sets the tone for Invention at Play.

Smithsonian photo by Richard Strauss
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Inventor James McLurkin designed and built twelve "ant" robots, each powered by a tiny internal computer. McLurkin combines ideas from engineering with biology.

Photo by Donna Coveney, courtesy of MIT News Office
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Inventor James McLurkin as a child with one of his favorite toys.

Photo courtesy of James McLurkin
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Inventor James McLurkin working on electric circuits.

Photo by Philip Greenspun, courtesy of James McLurkin
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Inventor James McLurkin is helping push the frontiers of robotics by combining ideas from engineering with biology.

Smithsonian photo by Jeff Tinsley
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Stephanie Kwolek’s work at DuPont in the 1960s led to the development of Kevlar®, a fiber best known for its use in bullet-resistant vests.

Photo by Michael Branscom, courtesy of Lemelson-MIT Program
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Kevlar® protects the cockpit and critical mechanical parts of this military helicopter from damaging shells and shrapnel.

Photo courtesy of The Boeing Company
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Kevlar® developer Stephanie Kwolek with a model of a polymer--a giant molecule comprised of a chain of many thousands of chemically bonded smaller molecules. Kevlar is a polymeric fiber.

Photo by Michael Branscom, courtesy of Lemelson-MIT Program
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Stephanie Kwolek created Kevlar®, which is a very light but incredibly strong fiber. Pound for pound, Kevlar is five times stronger than steel. Today Kevlar is used in many items including bullet-resistant vests, cut-resistant gloves, fiber optic cables, helmets, and sporting equipment.

Smithsonian photo by Eric Long
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Visitors to Invention at Play are invited to use everyday objects in new ways and work together to create trackways for a rolling ball on a magnetized ramp.

Smithsonian photo by Terry McCrea
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Visitors to Invention at Play can try this sailboard simulator modeled after one inventor Newman Darby created to teach people how to use his invention.

Smithsonian photo by Terry McCrea
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Visitors to Invention at Play are encouraged to make and break patterns, a skill common to inventors.

Smithsonian photo by Terry McCrea
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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. The Lemelson Center is located in the National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. The nearest Metro stations are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian on the Orange/Blue lines. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except on Dec. 25. Admission is free.
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