Author Archives: lottolab

Our infamous Sound Switcher in action last Half Term.

The Open Lab experience

Entertaining stampeding children, discussing the complexities of the human mind, and making people marvel at incredible illusions – all part of a day’s work at Lottolab. For those of you who haven’t heard of Lottolab, it’s a perception research space and the only place in the Science Museum where multiple real science experiments take place. For the past few months I have volunteered at Lottolab and gained great insight into a totally unique and highly interactive museum experience.

Unlike other museum spaces, Lottolab doesn’t have many exhibits in the usual sense. In fact, on entering you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled into a forbidden section, perhaps a sort of experimental wing. And in a way you’d be right. Lottolab is experimental in so many ways; take a look at this video for an overview:

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Rather than spending hours reading signs about old bits and pieces, here you’re more likely to find yourself approached by a rather charming volunteer and asked to take part in an experiment. Not just any old experiment though – a perception study (and they’re the most fun, because they’re about you!). You might even end up blindfolded, trying to navigate your way around a maze, using only an iPod application which converts colour into sound.

The most impressive part of the maze experiment is that it’s designed by kids. A key philosophy of Lottolab is that people shouldn’t only take part in experiments, but also make them. It’s this high level of public participation that inspires everything we do. Many of our studies end up published in scientific journals and so contribute to the formal advancement of scientific knowledge.

Our infamous Sound Switcher in action last Half Term.

During my time at Lottolab, I created the short video you can see above, with Program Manager David Robertson explaining the lab and its mission (as well as showing people attempting the blindfold experiment). Hopefully it gives you a sense of what a totally unique and truly interactive place Lottolab is. Whether you want to take part in an experiment, suggest your own or simply admire some incredible tricks of the mind, there’s something for you here.

Lottolab are open in the Science Museum until the 20th of April, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (12-4pm) next to the Energy Gallery on the second floor – though we hope to be reopening in a new-look gallery in the summer, so stay tuned if you don’t get to pay us a visit this time. We look forward to meeting you!

This post, and the associated video, were created by Lottolab volunteer Samuel Cavenagh.

Hands up!

From students to scientists in just three months

Call me crazy, but getting together a group of students aged 8 to 17 and making them work through the same set of tasks seems like a recipe for disaster. The huge differences in educational background and maturity would derail the process from the start. Right?

I thought so. But over the past 3 months, 20 students from four schools have proven me wrong in our i, Scientist program at the Science Museum. I think it came down to one important point: when you’re asking real, new science questions, no-one knows what the answer will be.

"What have you noticed?"

The program focuses on human perception, which we can all relate to.

It’s the ultimate level playing field. In the program’s final day, a ten year old noticed a key trend in a data set that a PhD-educated scientist four times his age had missed. More importantly, he immediately put his hand up and explained what he’d spotted to the whole group, including Lottolab staff, teachers and his peers.

Hands up!

Some hands are up, some heads are down...

The i, Scientist program is much more than an exercise in getting students to do an experiment. It focuses on breaking down the idea that you need to ‘know a lot’ about something to ask a good, genuine question. In the words of a 12 year old, “I realised that science isn’t just facts in a classroom. But that it’s everywhere and there are so many things to be asked.”

These new questions led to real experiments, designed by the students. I worked with the oldest school group, who used members of the public as their experimental subjects. “Nerve-wracking”, was the one-word response from one of the group when they were asked how it felt to lay out their science to public scrutiny.

In the half hour before they brought in their first participants, the group were asking critical questions about every part of the experiment, cutting out all unnecessary bits. They were trying to find out if different people preferred either ‘familiar’ or ‘new’ routes when they were navigating. With results and demographics from 40 subjects, they had the meat and bones of a genuine science study – the last update I heard was that there were clear differences in preference, but the demographic analysis was still underway.


A young participant, navigating by sound, approaches the first 'decision point' in one of the experiments.

i, Scientist can be seen as an experiment itself: can people, of any age, engage with a scientific approach and collectively come up with new, answerable questions about the world? Do we really need years of training to be scientists?

It’s a challenging journey both for the students and the facilitators, because it’s not clear where it will lead. In science, results can be negative. But the development of the group, and individuals within it, was really noticeable. In the words of one 13 year old, “My learning in every subject has changed. I don’t see the obvious, I look at all the possibilities.”

David Robertson manages public programmes at Lottolab, and helped with the organisation of the latest i, Scientist program. Lottolab are looking to expand the program, with more schools participating in 2012. If you would like to know more, please email for updates on the wider development of the program.