Invention at Play

Invention at Play explores creativity and how purposeless play is a vital ingredient in meaningful invention. Combining art, science and technology, interactives both large and small invite visitors to create their own inventions. The stories of modern inventors describe how play influenced their creative processes. Produced for the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and funded by the National Science Foundation, Invention at Play won the Excellence in Exhibition Competition at the 2003 meeting of the American Association of Museums.

The Science Museum of Minnesota produced two versions of this exhibit for the Lemelson Center. The 3,500 square-foot version of the exhibit is on display at the new Lemelson Hall of Invention at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The 1,700 square-foot version of the exhibition continues to be toured by the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC).

Visit the Invention at Play exhibit website.



Invention at play
Mechanical sculpture artist Arthur Ganson's "27 Scraps of Paper" sets the tone for Invention at Play in the entrance panel.


Invention at play
The Invention Playhouse is where visitors can engage in types of play that foster inventive thinking.


Invention at play
Stephanie Kwolek’s discovery of Kevlar occurred when an attempt to dissolve two polymers did not yield expected results, but did create a new stiff, extraordinarily strong, and yet lightweight substance.


Invention at play
A collage of historic and current toys and games resonates with visitors' recollections about play.


Invention at play
Whirligigs invite exploratory play in an activity where visitors invent wind-powered devices and then try out their designs in front of blowing fans.


Invention at play
A full-scale sailboard simulator allows visitors to practice balancing as their sail catches the "wind."


Invention at play
Here visitors try to determine how inventors "jump the tracks." Inventor stories include that of John Fabel, an avid hiker and backcountry skier who came up with a more stable and comfortable backpack design by studying suspension bridges.


Invention at play
Newman Darby, inventor of the sailboard, traces his lifelong avocation to a childhood determination to build a boat that would carry him to an island.


Invention at play
An island created entirely out of Kevlar products includes touchable objects with tags that encourage visitors to find out how Kevlar improves these products.
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