museum educator shares a research study with visitors
museum educator shares a research study with visitors

What is "Living Laboratory"?

Living Laboratory® aims to educate the public about child development by immersing museum visitors in the process of scientific discovery. Since 2005, Living Laboratory at the Museum of Science has connected the public with child development research by collaborating with local research institutions - including Harvard University, Boston College, Tufts University, Northeastern University, Boston University, Children's Hospital and others. The program was developed in the Discovery Center, and receives support from the National Science Foundation.

In the Living Laboratory’s educational model, scientists (in disciplines including developmental psychology, cognitive science, educational psychology, cognitive neuroscience, social psychology and related fields) recruit participants and conduct their studies within dynamic exhibits at their local museum, rather than behind closed doors. Families visiting the museum are invited to participate in on-going research projects (on topics including math and language cognition, causal learning, emotion recognition, and social reasoning), and to engage in one-on-one conversations with the scientists. Collaborating scientists work closely with informal science educators to communicate the questions and methods of their work to parents and other caregivers via informal conversations and hands-on activities that illustrate recent child development research.

The National Science Foundation's "Science Nation" series captured Living Laboratory in action at the Museum of Science, Boston:

What is the National Living Laboratory initiative?

The Living Laboratory model was developed at the Museum of Science in Boston, with support from the National Science Foundation. The purpose of the National Living Laboratory initiative is to assist researchers and informal science educators in collaboration efforts that foster public awareness, engagement and understanding of the scientific study of children’s learning and development.

The Maryland Science Center, the Madison Children's Museum and the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry have adapted and implemented the Living Laboratory model in their own early childhood exhibitions and serve as National Living Laboratory “Hub Sites,” disseminating information and resources about the model to other museums and academic institutions nation-wide. There are more than thirty active Living Laboratory sites across the United States.

Interested professionals can create an account, and log in to connect with the hub leader in their region and access a variety of resources for developing a program in the Living Laboratory® model.

Essential Elements - the Living Laboratory® Model

Several “essential elements” make Living Laboratory a unique model for museum-academic collaboration.

Breaking Down Barriers Between Scientists and the Public

Goals for Public Audiences

  • Visitors contribute to the process of scientific discovery through participation in active studies
  • Visitors engage in one-on-few educational interactions with scientists conducting the research
  • Visitor education focuses on the process of science, increasing interest in and understanding of research “questions and methods” as well as “results”
  • Studies occur in plain-view of the public, on the exhibit floor
  • Non-participant visitors talk with researchers and learn about on-going studies in ways similar to study participants
  • On-site research is an expected and predictable part of the visitor experience

Mutual Professional Development for scientists and educators

Goals for Professional Audiences

  • Researchers receive training from museum staff in effective museum-style education techniques, improving researchers’ communication skills with public audiences
  • Museum educators gain direct access to current science that is relevant to their work with the public, improving educators’ understanding of science and its potential application to their practice
  • Museum educators and researchers communicate regularly, collaboratively monitoring the program to ensure scientific and educational goals are met, and that programmatic needs (e.g. logistical, financial) are fulfilled.