Home > News > NSF grant for research and engagement at Planet Word

NSF grant for research and engagement at Planet Word

Franklin School building

The Maryland Language Science Center has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support a collaborative project across researchers from UMD, Gallaudet and Howard Universities, and the new Planet Word museum in Washington DC. This project, led by Charlotte Vaughn, builds upon LSC’s existing partnership with Planet Word to advance research and public understanding about the science of language. 

Researchers increasingly recognize the importance of including a diverse cross-section of people in their studies, and want to increase public engagement with language science. Students value experiences that put their knowledge to work outside the ivory tower. Museums want visitors to understand that new knowledge is being discovered all the time. The new partnership project serves all of these goals by creating a “living language laboratory”, with interactive language research studies and accompanying educational activities. 

As a part of the grant funded project, research teams from participating universities will design studies that are well suited to the diverse ages and backgrounds of Planet Word visitors. Students from DC-area universities can enroll in a course where they will learn how to combine research and public engagement. The project team will develop infrastructure and best practices that will allow other language researchers to work in a public setting at Planet Word and other similar sites.

Planet Word is an innovative new start-up museum, which opened in late 2020, housed in the historic Franklin School building in downtown Washington DC. It aims to inspire and excite visitors of all ages through immersive experiences around words and language spanning the sciences, arts, humor, civic engagement, and more. The museum has already won multiple accolades, and was recently featured in a segment on CBS Sunday Morning.


Charlotte VaughnProject leader Charlotte Vaughn, an expert in social and psychological aspects of language, said: “I have been involved in research and public engagement projects at museums previously, but never where language was already the topic at hand. I’m excited for our project to enhance visitors’ experiences at Planet Word by offering them a chance to participate in language research first hand, leaving them with new ways to think about language in their own lives.”

Planet Word founder and CEO Ann Friedman said: “We’re designing a completely new system that addresses the needs of university researchers to collect data, and the need for a museum to provide a positive public educational experience. This new partnership will lay the foundation for how language research can be done in museums now and in the future. Our collaborators and our visitors will both be a part of crafting the communications science of tomorrow.” 

Maryland Language Science Center director Colin Phillips said: “It has been a privilege for us to be involved in plans for Planet Word since the early stages 6 years ago. We need no convincing that language is as cool as it is complex. The museum will help others to share that joy. We are really excited to partner with the museum and institutions like Gallaudet and Howard to offer high quality research and communication experiences for a diverse range of students.”

The $330,000 award to UMD supports one component of a three-part collaborative project that is supported by awards to UMD, Gallaudet University, and Howard University, and which is funded jointly by three NSF programs: Advancing Informal STEM Learning, Build and Broaden, and Linguistics.

UMD personnel on the grant include PI Charlotte Vaughn (LSC), Co-Pi Yi Ting Huang (HESP), Post doc Julie Cohen (HESP), and Senior Personnel Jan Edwards (HESP), Rochelle Newman (HESP), and Colin Phillips (Linguistics), along with Howard University PI Patrick Plummer (Psychology), Gallaudet University PI Deanna Gagne (Linguistics), and Senior Personnel Laura Wagner (Psychology, The Ohio State University). Through this collaborative partnership, the project will broaden participation of underrepresented minority students in the language sciences. 

For more information, please contact Charlotte Vaughn at cvaughn@umd.edu