'Living lab' takes playful approach to serious science

Researchers from the University of Ottawa are moving their lab to the newly refurbished Canada Science and Technology Museum where children — and parents — are responding to their playful approach to serious science.

U of O researchers move laboratory to science museum where children — and their parents — can take part, too

University of Ottawa researchers at the Living Lab inside the Canada Science and Technology Museum hope their work can be used to inform families about their children's learning patterns. (University of Ottawa)

Researchers from the University of Ottawa are moving their lab to the newly refurbished Canada Science and Technology Museum where children — and parents — are responding to their playful approach to serious science.

The Living Lab was created by U of O professors Cristina Atance, Chris Fennell and Tania Zamuner, who were looking for a way to conduct scientific research outside the sterile laboratory environment.

We encourage them with this notion that they're doing research and they're little scientists.- Tania Zamuner, University of Ottawa

The idea is to introduce research-related activities into a setting where children won't be intimidated, and are already primed to play.

"We encourage them with this notion that they're doing research and they're little scientists, and we thank them at the end for having contributed to science and being a scientist for the day," said Zamuner.

(Left to right) Christopher Fennel, Cristina Atance and Tania Zamuner are co-creators of the Living Lab. (University of Ottawa)

Parents can also take part

The idea also gives the researchers easier access to parents, Zamuner said.

"They're are already here with their children, and we can invite them to come in and participate in a study. And we can share our knowledge directly to the public ... which is really important to us," she said.
The Living Lab at the Canada Science and Technology Museum welcomes parents and kids into a friendly, playful research environment unlike the formal, often intimidating confines of a university lab. (University of Ottawa)

So far, the activities have encompassed cognitive development and language acquisition, the research interests of the co-creators. Zamuner said they'd like to expand the experiment.

"By sharing this space with researchers from different perspectives we're going to be able to create new research that we haven't even thought about and generate new ideas."

At the moment, Zamuner's research is focused on how children acquire second languages. She uses eye-tracking technology created by a local company to determine how fast a child recognizes objects when they're asked to identify them. 

The Living Lab is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.