Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) doesn’t pull its punches. While many museums seek to entertain, this one hits you with beautifully presented information that rewards your attention with real teaching.
The first exhibit I’ll mention is particularly relevant for readers of this blog. It’s dedicated to five types of innovation:
- Alternative: “New ideas unconstrained by traditional values give us the ability to create new things”
- Serendipity: “Unexpected developments give us the ability to make fortunate discoveries”
- Integration: “Combining and integrating things with different properties for a single purpose gives us the ability to generate new things”
- Associative: “Identifying qualities shared between things that seem at first to be unrelated can by association give us the ability to generate new perspectives”
- Mimic(ry): Mimicking existing solutions from the world and reproducing them in new ways
“The Spring of Wishes” Stunningly for a museum populated with both adults and children, each form of innovation is explained in detail. But first you should decide what you want at the spring of wishes, as the museum calls it. What do you want innovation to help you with? Out in the real world, this may well be the hardest step.
“The River of Creativity” Choose a path to follow, and you first get a small example (e.g. Le Corbusier’s domino system of supporting a structure with a framework of columns, an alternative to using the walls).
Then a bigger example (e.g. an electronic tree mimicking photosynthesis):
Then a (sometimes frighteningly) detailed explanation of the bigger example. Check out this cutesy book describing photosynthesis, and look carefully at the text. Quote: “Outside the village the skilled chef Rubisco traps carbon dioxide, mixes it with RuBP fruit and then adds the special ingredient NADPH. Simmering this concotion over the ATP flame, he makes his delicious GAP jam.”
Finally, a parting shot with three more examples of products generated through this process. Take the serendipitously discovered post-it notes, velcro or, of course (ahem), the large-scale synthesis of carbon nanotubes.
“The Sea of Fertility”. But wait! That’s not it. At the end of each curving paths through innovation takes you to a magnetic blackboard wall where visitors are invited to use the technologies they’ve just discovered to solve the world’s tortuous problems. Each blue disc has a technology (solar power, biocompatible materials, fuel cells, etc…). Can you connect them in a useful way?
As with most of the other exhibits in this museum, this one is almost shockingly in-depth, which is both its strength and its weakness. I was blown away by what I learned (I’d never quite got what a lab-on-a-chip was before it was introduced in the segment on integrative creativity), but I wonder if it got through to children. They had plenty of toys to play with, and while I was there I saw a bunch of them scribbling furiously on the wall of innovation, but how much did they get out of it?
Kids are smart, and adults are part of the audience too. What’s the right balance between condescending simplicity and depth you can really learn from?
More on the Miraikan coming up.