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The seven wonders of Wonderlab, the new gallery at the Science Museum

Written by
Caroline McGinn

This Wednesday, the Science Museum open Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery. We got a first look.

If Stephen Hawking and Willy Wonka designed the ultimate science playground then it might go a little like this. The Science Museum's new ‘Wonderlab’ gallery is the best thing you can currently do in London with kids. This huge new gallery (tickets start at £6 per child) is dedicated to communicating the wondrous properties and principles of the physical world by encouraging you to play with them. If you don’t have kids then get some and go. If you have your own, then invest in an annual pass (£10 per child; £39 per family), because they will definitely want to come back. It is genuinely wonderful: here are the highlights.

The fun mirrors

A device for demonstrating reflection which also turns gurning children into an awesome constellation of geometric beauty? Expect to see this huge concave fractured mirror at the entrance to the gallery all over Instagram very soon.

The way you can really touch the science

All the principles demonstrated here can be grasped easily by anyone because they’re meant to be touched. You can blow tiny dry ice hurricanes across a lake. Stick your head in a box of fun mirrors to see infinite reflections. Bite on a metal prong and hear the sounds of a radio station vibrate directly into your brain. Lie on a roundabout next to the earth and spin round beneath a canopy of star lights curated by the European space agency. Hoist yourself up into the air on a pulley system. It’s is the ultimate science playground.

The theremin bollards

Jump towards them and make sounds like a metal bassist. Lean away and stop. Sweet.

The indoor thunderstorm

Forget about bottled lightning in plasma globes: this is colossal, noisy, and totally unsuitable for anyone with a pacemaker. Every hour, a Tesla coil is hoisted down from a ceiling to shoot a million-volt lightning flash, with thunderclap. Boom!

The chemistry bar. And the ice cream bar

The chemistry bar, covered in wipe-clean tiles which illustrate the periodic places, is awesome. It’s home to live experiments in which red-shirted ‘Explainers’ get very messy and spectacular with crystals, dry ice, bubble volcanoes and non-Newtonian fluids (you can make the last at home out of laundry detergent and glue; who knew?). The ice cream bar looks equally awesome for more practical reasons: it’s helpful to have a space to sit and snack without having to schlep out into the cavernous museum proper.

The colossal echo tube

It’s brilliant design ideas like this that mean this 1,350 sq metre gallery will still feel spacious even when it’s filled with thousands of schoolkids acquiring formative memories, the joy of discovery and making a lot of noise. This giant tube, running all the way up the side of the ample café area, cleverly channels that noise into controlled echo experiments.

The giant slide finale

If you think there's a more thrilling way for kids to learn about friction than sliding down three giant slides made of increasingly slippery substances, then you need to be strapped into a hemp sack and sent down the fast one. And the winner is…London, obviously!

Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery opens Wednesday 12 October. 

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