Lab Awesome visits…Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery at the Science Museum, London

When I think of my childhood visits to the London museums, it’s all about the Creepy Crawly-infested kitchen at the Natural History Museum (sorry Dippy!) and the Launchpad. The Lab Awesome team visited the Science Museum last week to see what’s become of everyone’s favourite Science classroom.

If you have fond memories of the Launchpad at the Science Museum (and who doesn’t?), you need to know that Wonderlab is its distinguished successor.

Changes have been made. On the downside and most controversially, there’s now an entry fee but this feels absolutely justified given the scope of Wonderlab and the numerous Science Museum ‘Explainers’ employed to discuss and demonstrate over 50 ‘mind blowing marvels of science’.

It looks beautiful. Art, architecture and science have come together to create a captivating space. You can touch clouds and walk on a huge rotating turntable that forms the base for a model of the solar system. But if it’s a bit grand, it doesn’t stop it from being playful. Even the Chemistry Bar, which is like the most glamorous bar you never get to go to anymore, is bubbling and busy. Here you can order up experiments!

I don’t think the impact of the Wonderlab’s ‘Explainer-led experience’ can be underestimated. During our visit, both Danny and Alice frequently interacted with the Explainers. For Danny (nearly 6), in a couple of instances, this transformed arbitrary button pressing into thoughtful engagement with the science behind exhibits. Alice’s interest was of a different nature but Explainers were friendly and encouraged hands-on fun that she was quick to participate in.

If indoor thunderstorms spark your interest, every 60 minutes, a Tesla coil is used to produce a one million volt bolt of lightning in the Wonderlab. But in spite of the hourly chime of accompanying thunder, there’s a relaxed atmosphere here. Yes, it’s immersive and buzzing with activity, but it’s not frenetic or crowded and this is perhaps part of what makes it so engaging for younger families too.

Be aware: there is a one metre height restriction on the amazing friction slides. There is, however, plenty to distract smaller visitors and they are cleverly tucked away and if necessary, completely avoidable.

The exhibits are arranged in zones: Electricity, Forces, Light, Maths, Matter, Sound and Space and on the Wonderlab page of the Science Museum website, there are downloadable pdfs for each zone, exploring and explaining the exhibits. The Science Museum has also produced an age-appropriate accompanying book to the Wonderlab, This Book Thinks You’re a Scientist, which encourages young people to ‘Imagine, Experiment and Create’ with science at home.

A programme of Explainer-run shows is included as part of your entry to Wonderlab. We saw FLASH! BANG! WALLOP! and while it’s recommended for ages 7-12, the Explainers were ready with ear defenders for the very young members of the audience.

The 20-minute show featured several big bangs and plenty of family-friendly science. It was interactive too, with opportunities for children to volunteer and answer questions (and arms strained!). We were asked to predict and observe throughout the show. Alice was delighted when our Explainer blew out birthday candles by exploding hydrogen bubbles. We’re really going to have to manage expectations for birthday number three!

The annual pass is certainly worth considering, particularly since it costs less than visiting twice (we paid £34 for ours as under 4’s are free). We got around about half of the exhibits in a couple of hours but most of our time was spent on just a few of them. And that was great; our children were completely absorbed by activity stations such as the Tessellation Wall and by Flight Test, where you can make and test paper flying machines on a huge air vent. I can’t wait for them to discover others in their own time. Wonderlab is 60% bigger than the Launchpad and if you plan on spending time in the rest of the museum too, it’s a lot to do in a day.

And as for our next visit…we’ll definitely be ducking next-door to the Natural History Museum to check that my favourite dirty kitchen is still there!

To consider: your ticket allows you to come and go throughout the day, which makes for a more relaxed visit. The multi-sensory Pattern Pod at the Science Museum is also well worth a visit. It’s free and is geared towards younger children (under 8s).

Visit the Wonderlab website for more information about tickets, exhibits and shows.

Any tips for visiting Wonderlab? Suggestions for other family STEM days out? Post your comments and suggestions below or contact me, rachel@lab-awesome.co.uk

January 10, 2018

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