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Science Museum opens Wonderlab

Chemistry Bar. © Plastiques Photography.

Adrian Murphy, Science Museum opens Wonderlab gallery to inspire the next generation of scientists, Museums + Heritage, 12 October 2016

Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery is the UK’s largest interactive science gallery, filled with specially-commissioned exhibits and artworks, live science shows and explosive demonstrations. Visitors can also ride on a giant rotating model of the solar system and experience three playground-style slides which demonstrate properties of friction

Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery is the first of three new galleries to open at the Science Museum and its most ambitious interactive gallery to date, which it says ‘invites visitors to think like a scientist’.  The £6 million permanent gallery features unique exhibits, specially-commissioned artworks, demonstrations and immersive experiences led by the museum’s team of science communicators, known as Explainers, that it hopes will inspire visitors of all ages to wonder at the science and mathematics that shape the world around us.

Wonderlab has been designed by award-winning practice muf architecture/art, which specialises in working with artists on innovative projects celebrating the social and playful aspects of public spaces with an open-ended, process driven and experimental approach. Their current projects include: White Hart Lane in the shadow of the stadium, the design of Wellcome Collection’s Bedlam and ongoing work with the V&A.

“We set out designing Wonderlab to reveal the wonder and beauty in science and maths and to get our visitors to think like a scientist with close attention, curiosity and creativity,” said Wonderlab curator, Toby Parkin. “It’s been a real joy to work with talented architects and artists to put these ideas at the heart of everything from the most spectacular exhibits in the gallery right down to the smallest details in the furniture.”

“Long vistas and a lack of rigid demarcation in the space encourage visitors to make connections between the different scientific phenomena and to move freely through the gallery,” say the architects. “Organised with a number of large-scale timber elements including: a Showspace for 120 spectators lined with silver, and its red quilted undercroft making room for two classes of children to be briefed; three playground-style slides which demonstrate properties of friction, decorated with 400 handmade oval samples of different materials and seemingly propped into a flight of stairs; a cage for a Tesla coil; and an eight-metre inhabitable revolving orrery displaying the sun, earth and moon of our solar system.”

muf’s experience of working in the public realm has equipped them to create robust, hardworking spaces which also deliver a sense of grandeur and delight – using unusual materials and specially-commissioned pieces. There is a treasure trail of 25 crystals set into timber benches; tactile waiting rails hand-carved by stone carving students from the Building Crafts College in Bow; 5m oak tree studded with magnets: “These details are a conscious reaction against the generic bright, wipe clean, panelled architecture of many schools and public spaces,” they say.

The new gallery will be followed in December by the £5m Mathematics: The Winton Gallery and then in 2019 by the £24m Medicine Galleries.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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