KU Natural History Museum to host VENOMventure, a new science-themed escape room
LAWRENCE — A venomous plant is invading the University of Kansas Natural History Museum in August, and the public is invited to help discover an antivenom before it takes over the world. A biological mystery is at the heart of a new, immersive escape room game that will be at the museum Aug. 8-27.
VENOMventure — or aVENENOtura, in Spanish, is a bilingual STEM-themed experience designed as mobile laboratory. Visitors will use science to solve the biomedical challenge. Much like standard escape rooms, groups of participants work together to solve puzzles and discover information. Throughout the experience, fun surprises and new challenges will be revealed as players learn about important concepts in biology, specifically evolution.
Participants will also receive a STEM-themed comic book to take home. It features spotlights of real researchers who use evolution to solve biomedical problems, including Folashade Agusto, associate professor in KU’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Puzzles, stickers and cutouts are included to encourage ongoing discussions of science themes. Visitors will also help educators better understand methods to improve public understanding of biological concepts through this unique experience.
The escape room adventure was developed by educators at both the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum and lead institution the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) at the University of California, Berkeley.
The game is supported by about $1 million from the National Institutes of Health through its Science Education Partnership Award. A key part of the five-year project is to assess with families how well such STEM-based immersive experiences convey biological and scientific concepts. It was also designed to encourage an interest in biomedical science careers with youths between 8 and 14 years of age.
“Our core goal is for families to have a fun, memorable and engaging experience while exploring some important science ideas. From a learning perspective, we are interested in exploring how and in what ways an immersive game can communicate important biological concepts, specifically evolution,” said Teresa MacDonald, associate director of Informal Science Education at the KU Natural History Museum, who co-developed the project.
Both MacDonald and co-developer Anna Thanukos of UCMP enjoy escape rooms, an interest that inspired VENOMventure. The two worked closely with Lisa White, assistant director for education and outreach at UCMP, as well as museum and library personnel, evolutionary scientists and a game designer.
“It’s a lot of fun. For groups unfamiliar with escape rooms, they are fast-paced and active games that require a team of players to look, listen, share, discuss and work together to find clues, make connections and solve puzzles. VENOMventure is all that, while exploring science,” MacDonald said.
After August, the escape room experience will head to other museums and libraries, including the Independence Public Library in Independence, Kansas; the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut; and other urban and rural communities.
The escape room experience takes approximately an hour and is open to families and other groups of two to five players, ages 8 and older. Minors must play with an adult. VENOMventure/aVENENOtura is free; however, reservations are needed. Online reservations will open at the end of July.
Photo: University of California, Berkeley, graduate students José Adan Arevalo and Emily Lam are shown outside the inflatable escape room that is traveling to museums and libraries across the country to provide a fun way for families to learn about biology and evolution. Arevalo voiced some of the Spanish-language audio used in the game. Credit: Anna Thanukos