The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History has a new learning space, where kids get some unusual playmates:  scientists and researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington.

The KERA radio story.

Museums in California, Massachusetts and New York already have partnerships that support academic research, but this is new for North Texas. Van Romans, president of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, says it’s no stodgy classroom.

Van Romans, president of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, says the new Research and Learning Center is alive, fun and engaging.

Doualy Xaykaothao

Van Romans, president of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, says the new Research and Learning Center is alive, fun and engaging.

“You step inside our studios and they are alive, fun, and engaging,” Romans says. “And yet the information that will be gathered will be very serious and brought out of those studios and studied.”

One of those learning studios is called Imaginer. It’s like a giant fish tank, the size of a small playground, where people can see what’s going inside. But instead of water, it’s filled with learning toys. There are magnets, colorful snap circuits and a larger than life Lite Brite. A big screen is a kaleidoscope. The back walls are painted magenta. The learning studio even looks out to a water park.

“And you’ll see the signage on the ceiling are great quotes from wonderful thinkers,” Romans says. “For instance, Carl Sandburg – Nothing happens unless first we dream. To invent, you need a good imagination, and a pile of junk – Thomas Edison. So all of that creates a very informal [learning] environment.”

And that’s great for experiments, says Marc Schwartz, director of UT-Arlington’s Southwest Center for Mind, Brain and Education. He explains that each Saturday, for the rest of the year, researchers and guest scientists from other universities will set up 15-minute studies, inviting museum guests to participate and interact with items ranging from the simple (a hammer) to the complex (a small robot).

“We want to build a very positive relationship where the outcomes include people understanding science as a powerful tool,” Schwartz says. “We want to be more circumspect about the kinds of solutions that might be too easy or too quick.”

It’s not about using kids as guinea pigs, he says. It’s about how the mind works.

“We’re all part of this collective, and collaborative exercise,” he says. “Of advancing knowledge so it benefits all of us. So if you already mistrust science, then we have some work ahead of us.”

Michael Connell, CEO of Native Brain, and Marc Schwartz, director of UTA's Southwest Center for Mind, Brain and Education, at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Doualy Xaykaothao

Michael Connell, CEO of Native Brain, and Marc Schwartz, director of UT-Arlington’s Southwest Center for Mind, Brain and Education, at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Michael Connell is CEO of Native Brain, a company that uses an iPad app to teach kids how to master math. He worked with students one recent Saturday at the museum’s new center. The goal is to create a space where all sorts of benefits can’t be anticipated, he says.

“The idea is definitely to create the opportunity for parents and kids, and teachers and researchers to come together and have interactions … that you don’t usually see,” he said.

Starting this Saturday, kids can visit the museum and play with Zeno, a toddler-sized grey robot that looks like a Japanese animation character. Zeno’s part of research by a UT-Arlington professor studying how to use robots in the treatment of children with autism.