Stefania Ferroni and Riccardo Vittorietti of Lofficina are the kind of people who could be successful in anything they take up. Makers whose creations remind us of some of Leonardo da Vinci's projects, it seems no surprise that Lofficina was founded in Milan, the Leonaresque city par excellence. In fact, their educational science kits come straight out of this city's Museum of Science and Technology, dedicated to Leonardo - both Riccardo and Stefania worked there in the didactic team.

During their museum experience, they realized that they'd like to have their own business in order to invent and make possible all their ideas. They also came to the conclusion that teachers and schools would benefit very much from being able to conduct more scientific hands on activities in in-school laboratories rather than necessarily through a trip to the museum. Stefania explains: "For a school, field trips produce logistical problems like dealing with students outside of the school for numerous hours, organizing transportation, etc."

Thus was born the idea of interactive laboratories for home or school use that are characterized by their inventors' technical ability, allowing them to constantly create new 'machines' (they use the technical term 'exhibit', in fact). The Maker side of Lofficina shines through here, mostly in the hands of Riccardo who is responsible for the physical side of making many of the devices, some of which are quite complicated, in fields that go from electrostatics (the Van de Graaff generator) to astronomy (like the galilean telescope) but also include the apparently mundane recycling of paper.

For the moment, the majority of their time is spent not making the exhibits but taking them into schools where they organize laboratories, proving that their intuition about this need was correct. Stefania says the response to this offering has been excellent especially "considering that if a teacher proposes a trip to an official place like a museum or exhibit this will be firmly accepted by the school, whereas some might wonder if hiring us is a risk. But all the schools that have worked with us have called us back, and word of mouth is bringing us new occasions."

A replica Van De Graaff machine by Lofficina

Ideas for new machines come from experience during the educational labs. Riccardo explains: "We started out by replicating the most important labs that schools were already familiar with. The ideas for new models come out of the experience we have in schools and their need to propose new things. Of course, we need to carefully target what exhibits to make, since it takes a lot of time to think through the details, plan and make each exhibit."

Some of their kits have in fact already had commercial success due to this correct targeting. A significant example is the Galilean telescope and the story of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. Riccardo says "We figured there would be a lot of instruments just like ours on the market for the occasion, but it turned out that the only other kits were Chinese versions which were less well constructed and most of all, they had plastic lenses while ours has glass lenses. For this reason, numerous planetariums purchased multiple copies of our kit in order to allow their visitors to use an instrument that functions in a way very close to that used by Galileo to observe the sky."

Il planetario portatile di Lofficina, con sullo sfondo la sua cupola

Again in the field of astronomy, their most important exhibit yet is the portable planetarium that costs a whopping 12,000 euro. A huge price if you're used to the plastic projectors that you can pick up for 30 or 40 euros at an educational toy store. But Lofficina's planetarium, as you might imagine, is a whole other story, worth dedicating a whole article.

Ready to bring science education in your home with a kit from Lofficina? Buy one today on the Lofficina MakeTank shop.


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