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Description Itinerary Playhouse Playful ApproachesIssues in Play 


Playful Approaches to Invention
Outside the Playhouse and distributed around the exhibition are five Case Study Clusters, each featuring the work of one main inventor and incorporating abbreviated stories about other inventors and innovators who have used similar playful and creative techniques. Photos and stories about inventors' childhoods highlight the early experiences that influenced or foreshadowed their life's work. A "creativity message" acts as the headline for each cluster, signaling the playful process that characterizes the work of inventors featured in the cluster.


Invention at Play: Stephanie Kwolek
Invention at Play: Stephanie Kwolek
Photo by Michael Branscom/Lemelson-MIT Program
Recognize the Unusual
Stephanie Kwolek, the DuPont chemist who invented Kevlar, exemplifies an inventor's ability to see patterns and possibilities that others may not notice. Her discovery of Kevlar occurred when an attempt to dissolve two polymers did not yield expected results, but did create a new stiff, extraordinarily strong, and yet lightweight substance. An island created entirely out of Kevlar products includes touchable objects with tags that encourage visitors to find out how Kevlar improves these products. Also in this area are two testing stations where visitors can compare the weight of two bullet-resistant vests, one made of Kevlar, and compare the weight of a Kevlar rope and a standard steel cable. Nearby flip panels tell the stories of other inventors who have recognized and capitalized on the unusual properties of things: for example, Art Fry, an engineer who found a use for a failed adhesive and invented Post-It notes; and Percy Spencer, whose radar research led to the development of the microwave oven.


Keep Making It Better
Newman Darby, inventor of the sailboard and improvements for catamarans and kayaks, traces his lifelong avocation to a childhood determination to build a boat that would carry him to an island where he hoped to find arrowheads. Though his first and many subsequent attempts failed, he kept trying until, as an adult, he successfully designed new forms of watercraft. Darby exemplifies the virtue of persistence and repeated experimentation. The highlight of this area is a full-scale sailboard simulator, where visitors can practice balancing as their sail catches the "wind." Panels surrounding the structure tell the stories of other inventors whose persistence paid off, including: Sally Fox, a spinner and weaver who developed naturally colored, commercially spinnable cotton; and Garrett Morgan, inventor of safety devices including the gas mask and a traffic signal.


Borrow from Nature
Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, exemplifies the innovator's proclivity to observe and borrow from nature. Visitors can sit on a park bench looking out at a photomural of the "dreaming place" where Bell came up with his idea for the telephone. At an interactive component, visitors learn how Bell's anatomical studies of the human ear influenced his development of the telephone. Other inventors who were inspired by the natural world include: George de Mestral, inventor of Velcro; and Paul MacCready, whose study of birds gave rise to new designs for human flight.


Invention at Play: James McLurkin
Invention at Play: James McLurkin
Photo by Donna Coveney/MIT News Office
Jump the Tracks
James McLurkin is a young African-American engineer who applies biological principles to innovations in robotic technology. In this cluster, a video shows how the behavior of real ants compares to interactions among McLurkin's micro-robots. Visitors can try to determine how other inventors "jump the tracks" or "think outside the box" by matching objects with their inventors and the disciplines from which the ideas came. Inventor stories include those of John Fabel, an avid hiker and backcountry skier who came up with a more stable and comfortable backpack design by studying suspension bridges; and Samuel Morse, a portrait artist who used familiar materials to invent the electric telegraph.


Many Heads Are Better than One
IDEO is a product design company known for a corporate culture that exemplifies the value of social play, collaboration, and teamwork. Products designed by IDEO include the first Apple mouse, the Palm V, and the Neat Squeeze toothpaste tube. A story panel introduces the visitor to the IDEO team, the company's philosophy, and the backgrounds of the team members. Each wall segment represents one part of IDEO's five-step innovation development process: Understanding, Observation, Visualization, Evaluation/Refinement, and Implementation. Photos, notes, drawings, storyboards and scenarios, models, and physical prototypes are mounted to the walls. Photos of the IDEO team members and quotations help visitors understand what each team member brings to the project and how they work together to arrive at a truly innovative product. Short sidebar stories of other group inventors and inventions-such as Edison's Menlo Park lab team and Linus Torvalds and the Linux computer operating system-are also featured in this area.

 
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