Igniting a Spark in the high desert of Nevada—sounds dangerous, right?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Sarah Gobbs-Hill, an Education Program Coordinator at the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno, Nevada. A member of our Spark!Lab National Network, The Discovery has been home to the first Spark!Lab off the National Mall for just over a year.

Here in Reno, Nevada we like to do things a little different. So when a group of people decided to bring a discovery museum to the downtown area just south of the casinos, critics were a bit skeptical. “Who’s going to bring their family down there?” they said. But after seven years of fundraising, planning and construction, the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum (The Discovery) was born. The Discovery boasts 26,000 square feet of gallery space including a two-story climbing structure, a glass wall for the ephemeral painting made by fingers, an 85 foot-long river, and a lab for sparking the innovation held within the minds of those living in, and visiting, Northern Nevada.

The Spark!Lab Smithsonian at The Discovery has had an estimated 115,000 visitors in the first year, which is a lot for a city of just under a quarter million residents. In the museum’s first year, 10,000 students visited Spark!Lab as part of a school fieldtrip; for those interested teachers we created a specific fieldtrip class focused on collaboration and the principles of invention. Children and parents have shrieked with delight at the most shocking of our exhibits in Spark!Lab—Ben Franklin is a popular person in our space. We have added circuitry dough to our collection of activities, which allows us to create electric sculptures. We have invited our visitors to invent or redesign shoes, housing, transportation, and toys. A few of the best inventions by visitors so far have been a fan extravaganza (15 fans running off of snap circuits!); bionic biology (a robotic horse game that can be used to teach about anatomy); and a  toy-suck-a-rooni (a vacuum cleaner that sucks up toys without damaging them to leave a clean room). We never cease to be amazed by the creativity of the members of our community.

As with all new organizations we are learning the best way to support and work with our community. With the Spark!Lab at The Discovery, we aim to support the creative minds living here who are pushing the boundaries and creating a different vision for our community. We have big plans for The Discovery’s Spark!Lab moving forward and we believe, by working with our community and providing experiences that make people say, ”what will they think of next?,” we can not only spark their interest in innovation, but ignite the fire that will lead to “Reno-vation” and contribute to continued changes in the cultural landscape here in Northern Nevada.

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