Gulf of Maine Research Institute


Located at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in Portland, Maine, LabVenture is an interactive learning environment that exposes Maine’s fifth and sixth graders to scientific investigation and the fundamentals of data literacy. Upswell led the experience strategy, design and production effort to reimagine the space for a new generation of students, delivering a blend of content, design, technical, and environmental solutions.

LabVenture has a unique format. Neither an exhibit nor a classroom, but partaking of elements of both, the program involves a series of time-based and sequenced scientific investigations. Every visit, over 50 students collaborate on activities that require them to emulate the life-cycle of science inquiry. These range from data collection and observation, to formulating hypotheses and making conclusions, to interpreting and understanding data.

In recasting the experience, Upswell extracted, and stayed true to, design principles that have been integral to the program from its inception, including:

  • We Are Scientists: Students conduct authentic science.

  • A Narrative Environment: Storylines connect science to broader human and ecosystem contexts.

  • Fuse Digital and Physical: Activities use hybrid virtual and scientific tools.

  • Promote Group Dynamics: Screen-based and spatial affordance facilitate teamwork

  • Sense-making with Data: Students are exposed to multiple representations of data.

Guided by these fundamental qualities, we designed an experience that is driven by parallel storylines that focus on an individual species and the scientists that study them, as a point of entry into understanding environmental change. These storylines flow through a scaffolded, three-act structure, with each act motivated by a single question: What do we know?, Why is this happening?, How does this affect our future?

The old version of LabVenture was more akin to a traditional museum exhibit, where students rotate between four stations. The new LabVenture has a more focused and structured approach, where groups of up to 6 students collaborate around designated interactive tables. These tables are the focus of data-driven scientific activities, punctuated by educator-led active discussions, film projections on a panorama screen, and round trips to an aquarium where they conduct underwater surveys.

The new LabVenture opened its doors to the first student visit on September 2018. Post-inaugural, Upswell has been collaborating with the GMRI team on on-going optimizations and iterating around baseline accessibility implementations.

LabVenture exposes students to an authentic, positive, and memorable experience of science.

Students looking at plankton samples under a microscope
Students comparing their lobster data findings.
Collaborating on a digital dissection of black sea bass.
Students measuring live lobster and entering data on the table
Learning how lobstermen sort bycatch.


  • Cohen Center for Interactive Learning


  • Portland, Maine


  • 2018


  • Art Guild
    • Fabrication
  • Control Concepts Inc.
    • Crestron Programming
  • Lassel Architects
    • Architect of Record
  • Open Studio Collective
    • Design Architect
  • Ouellet Construction
    • General Contractor