Science on the telly

The Science Museum is formally over 100 years old.

The Science Museum's permanent building under construction, 1916 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Over the century since 1909, it has had to compete with more and more media getting-in on the business of popular science.

A hundred years ago, popular science publishing was already a big scene, as Peter Bowler shows in his enlightening new book, Science for All.

Radio came along in the 1930s, and soon featured science. But our biggest competitor really got into its stride in the 1950s, when television began to get seriously interested, long before even Tomorrow’s World .

BBC producers had heated arguments about whether to treat science in highly-crafted documentaries, or as topical live programmes in the studio or out in the scientists’ labs.

Very often, the same subjects have been treated in books, radio, television and the Museum. Sometimes the same people crop up on television, in Museum displays, and also behind the scenes. One example is Lawrence Bragg, the distinguished physicist.

Bragg served on the BBC’s General Advisory Council, where he worked hard to promote the cause of science broadcasts. He was also on the Science Museum’s Advisory Council in the ’60s. His Royal Institution Lectures were the first to be broadcast live in 1959. There is a rare opportunity to see him in action, in Before Horizon, a special showing at BFI Southbank on Monday 7th June. Why not make a day of it and spend the afternoon at the Science Museum?

Our displays include at the X-ray spectrometer used by Lawrence and his father William in our Making the Modern World gallery.

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