When Gonzales first contacted the museum, he said he was met with open arms. He started running experiments on folding tables with an ASU psychology department banner. The museum has since adopted the educational model of the National Living Laboratory, an organization that works to increase public access to science by placing researchers in local museums. Funds from the Living Laboratory have provided a moveable exhibit that encourages interaction between ASU scientists and museum visitors.

“We engage with families and ask them if they want to help a scientist and learn about children with hands-on activities,” Gonzales said. “We can show them a demo, or they can participate in the scientific process.”

The presence of ASU psychologists in the museum benefits both scientists and the public. The scientists have participants that represent the community. The public learns firsthand what ASU researchers are studying. Fabricius and Gonzales said that over 1,000 families have chosen to participate in experiments so far, and they have explained their research to at least twice as many families.

Experiments at the museum also benefit scientists worldwide because the lab archives data with Databrary, a video library for research on development. When parents choose to participate in an experiment, they can also agree to allow the video recordings to be used by other scientists.

To date, the Fabricius lab experiments at the museum have contributed data for two undergraduate honor’s theses. Museum experiments have also provided undergraduate research opportunities to almost two dozen students, like Benner, with the Fabricius lab.

“We have had about 12 to 24 undergrads working with us, spending 10 to 15 hours a week to help at the museum,” Gonzales said. “We go in and test on the weekends, and during the summer, we tested every day.”

The groundwork Gonzales laid at the museum will continue to link ASU scientists with the public for the foreseeable future, said Melanie Martin, early childhood specialist with the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.  

Science writer, Psychology Department