How do you teach creativity to the next generation of scientists?
I have always had the feeling we can do better than simple frontal teaching and book reading. In particular for experimental science the conventional laboratory does not convey the excitement and frustration of a real experiment nor its open-ended nature.
With this in mind Matthew Howard from Robotics and I have started the The Wheatstone Innovation Laboratory (Wlab), as a scientific maker space for our students.
Wlab is an interdisciplinary laboratory with a novel bottom-up approach to science experimentation and innovation. It is named after Sir Charles Wheatstone, a scientist and inventor, who was constantly making new devices and instruments. By embedding artistic makers with skills in traditional crafts we recapture that creative and inventive spirit, giving our students the confidence to experiment and learn by making, as well as developing new skills in areas (such as enamelling, embroidery, or glass making) that would otherwise be inaccessible to them in the formal teaching of traditional science and engineering disciplines.
Wlab's first year has been a success, and it has stimulated our students to be inquisitive, to observe and ask scientific and artistic questions during the making process, not separately, as in the more academic way. Moreover, working side by side with makers, the students soon realised they have a common approach to research and a shared fascination with light, material and electronics. In this way they started to develop an understanding about the relevance of whatever they do within a much broader context.
Here below two of our first projects, an ultraprecise clock with nanosecond resolution and Kinba the robot receptionist, which we have also exhibited at the V&A, during the Digital Design Weekend in September 2016.