UOttawa opens an interactive research lab inside a museum

Professor Chris Fennell with child (Photo Credit: University of Ottawa)

The University of Ottawa is now conducting a new experiment – but inside a museum. Developmental psychologists and linguists are studying how language and cognition develop from infancy to school age at the country’s second “Living Lab”.

The state-of-the-art UOttawa Living Lab opened in late 2017 and is connected to the children’s gallery at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Families can walk right in and participate in short games, puzzles, or problem-solving tasks with the researchers.

The greeting room consists of a large glassed-in area where interesting facts about child development are shared on a large flat-screen. This space leads to three testing rooms where UOttawa professors pursue their research with the help of senior undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.

This is the largest living lab in Canada, and the second built after the University of British Columbia.

“Our lab is an integral part of the museum, and the space is massive,” says Chris Fennell, a developmental psychologist and one of the three professors conducting research at this facility.

Research in a museum is a relatively new concept. It began back in 2005 when researchers at Harvard University and MIT began collaborating with the Museum of Science in Boston to undertake studies on cognitive development.

The living lab model is ideal for quick research projects because they can be conducted in a public setting with people who are already expressing an interest in science. It results in gathering variable data during short interactions that will not incur taking time away from families. As the lab progresses, more researchers will be inducted into the facility.

Before the opening of the new lab, the researchers were engrossed in a two-year pilot project at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum to test how a permanent living lab would work and fine-tune studies.

“Most research labs are located in universities or hospitals, so they are quite hidden from public view,” says Fennell. “The Living Lab is clearly the most public UOttawa research facility, which also makes it pretty cool.”

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