Dot Everyone

Baroness Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of Lastminute.com and chair of the digital skills charity, Go ON UK, delivered the 2015 Richard Dimbleby Lecture from the Information Age gallery at the Science Museum. This is an excerpt from her speech. 

We need a new national institution to lead an ambitious charge – to make us the most digital nation on the planet.

I don’t say this because I’m a fan of institutions. I say this because the values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of the equation needs a boost. It needs more weight.

Martha Lane Fox rehearsing for the 2015 Dimbleby Lecture at the Science Museum.

Martha Lane Fox rehearsing for the 2015 Dimbleby Lecture at the Science Museum.

We have an opportunity to make Britain brilliant at digital. We’ve been going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services. We need to be bolder.

A new institution could be the catalyst we need to shape the world we want to live in and Britain’s role in that world. Today, we’re letting big commercial technology platforms shape much of our digital lives, dominating the debate about everything from online privacy to how we build smart cities.

In fact, I probably wouldn’t call it an institution at all. This is no normal public body.

It’s time to balance the world of dot com so I would create DOT EVERYONE.

I would prioritise three areas, that I think best demonstrate the opportunities we should be grabbing with both hands: education, women and ethics.

Firstly, DOT EVERYONE has to help educate all of us, from all walks of life, about the internet. The internet is the organising principle of our age, touching all our lives, every day. As the late activist Aaron Swartz put it, “It’s not OK not to understand the Internet anymore”.

We need to make sure that those in power understand how the internet can help us redefine public services, improve the lives of the most vulnerable, bolster our economy. Leaders and legislators cannot lay claim to grasping the power and potential of the internet just because they’re on Twitter.

Crucially, we must ensure that no one is left behind; that the 10 million adults who can’t enjoy the benefits of being online because they lack basic digital skills, no longer miss out.

Secondly, DOT EVERYONE must put women at the heart of the technology sector. Currently there are fewer women in the digital sector than there are in Parliament.

Something that is for everyone should be built by everyone. Do you think that social media platforms would have done more to stop abuse if they had more women in senior positions? I do. And how about the Apple Health Kit that went to market without anything to do with periods? Building an awesome cohort of female coders, designers, creators would help make us the most digitally successful country on the planet and give us a real edge.

Finally, we should aim for a much more ambitious global role in unpicking the complex moral and ethical issues that the internet presents. For example, what are the implications of an internet embedded in your home appliances? Do children need online rights? What is an acceptable use of drones?

Our rule of law is respected the world over; we should be world-leading in answering these questions.

DOT EVERYONE is new – it won’t and shouldn’t feel familiar. No grey suits, no dusty buildings. It will be an independent organisation. It will have a strong mandate from government, but also from the public – we will be setting its agenda, we will be informing it and taking part in it. It might produce written reports but it would also prototype services. It should show what is possible when you put the internet at the heart of design.

We should be making sure that the original promises of the internet – openness, transparency, freedom and universality – are a protected national asset, as integral to our soft power as Adele, JK Rowling, Shakespeare, or even Downton Abbey.

Britain invented the BBC, the NHS – let’s not have a poverty of ambition – we can and should be inventing the definitive public institution for our digital age.

You can find out more about DOT EVERYONE here.

A new vision: the influence of early scientific photography

With a major new exhibition at the Museum exploring the fertile ground in photography where science and art meet, Co-curator of Revelations: Experiments in Photography Dr Ben Burbridge looks at how scientific endeavour has had a profound effect on the visual languages of art.

The new Media Space exhibition, Revelations: Experiments in Photography, tells the story of artists’ changing engagement with early scientific photography, tracking a path through modern, postmodern and contemporary photographic art.

The first room of the exhibition, entitled ‘Once Invisible’, draws on the rich holdings of the National Photography Collection and the Science Museum collections to explore how early scientific photographs expanded the field of vision during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

'Once Invisible', Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

‘Once Invisible’, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

These photographs show the astronomically distant and microscopically small, reveal the nuances of rapid motion, and record the presence of invisible energy sources such as radiation and electricity.
After installing this part of the exhibition, it struck us once again how truly strange these images still seem, and quite how alien the world can appear within them.

Highlights include William Henry Fox Talbot’s exquisite photomicrographs, Arthur Worthington’s innovative use of flash to study the forms produced by splashes, Henri Becquerel’s photographs demonstrating the radioactivity of uranium salts, which border on abstraction and photographs by Étienne Jules Marey.

“Unlike Eadweard Muybridge, who had no interest in science, Étienne Jules Marey was a qualified doctor and there would have been no Italian Futurist movement without his extraordinary influence. Marey’s representation of locomotion and the movement of animals and human beings is wonderfully exhibited here – perhaps for the first time publicly. There are very few exhibitions where you can see his genius.” – Sir Jonathan Miller, speaking at the opening event for Revelations: Experiments in Photography

The pictures can be understood as both product and emblem of an extraordinary moment when new technologies changed experiences of the world in fundamental ways. They are best understood in relation to a wider technological landscape, which included the development of telegraphy, telephony and inter-continental rail travel.

The second room is entitled ‘The New Vision’. Here, visitors are presented with art photography made during a period spanning from the early twentieth century to 1979. It provides a rare opportunity to see iconic and lesser known works informed and inspired by the types of scientific imagery presented in Room 1.

The New Vision, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

‘The New Vision’, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

Drawing on numerous loans from museums in the USA and Europe, ‘The New Vision’ includes work by László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Laure Albin-Guillot, Carl Strüwe, Alfred Erhardt, György Kepes, Harold Edgerton, Berenice Abbott and Hollis Frampton. Seeing these important works come out of shipping crates and onto the walls was a memorable experience.

Many of these artists were drawn to scientific photographs based on the formal principles they suggested, particularly the radically abstract language they made available. For some, the photographs were also symbols of broader changes to culture and society: in the scientific photographs, technology helped to reveal and record things that could not be seen by the naked eye. The abilities of man were surpassed by those of machines.

‘The New Vision’ maps a course through twentieth century art, revealing a gradual shift in the meaning of science and technology. Painted in crude terms, it signals those ways in which an initial enthusiasm gave way to pessimism and uncertainty during the period after the Second World War.

Entitled ‘After the Future’, the final room focuses on the resurgence of interest in the revelations of early scientific photography within areas of art photography today. It includes works by Walead Beshty, Ori Gersht, Sharon Harper, Joris Jansen, Idris Khan, Trevor Paglen, Sarah Pickering, Clare Strand and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

After the Future, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

‘After the Future’, Revelations: Experiments in Photography at Media Space, Science Museum © Kate Elliott

By setting the contemporary work apart from that of the modernist artists in Room 2, we highlight the gap that separates our own moment from theirs, and the fact that the earlier photographic experiments no longer represent the vanguard of visual culture.

The exhibition thus concludes by posing a series of questions: If the early scientific photographs no longer symbolise the new, what do they mean for artists working today? And what should we make of the widespread interest in the earlier forms and techniques evident in the work of so many contemporary practitioners?

In reply, we point to the wider contexts that may have informed this ‘scientific turn’, particularly the rapid expansion of networked digital technologies, and the profound changes to photography and culture this has involved.

By reflecting on artists’ glance back to photography’s past, we hope to gauge something important about photography’s present.

Revelations: Experiments in Photography is at Media Space until 13 September 2015. Click here to book tickets. An accompanying book edited by Ben Burbridge, entitled Revelations and co-published with MACK, is available to buy online from the Science Museum Shop. The exhibition transfer to the National Media Museum, Bradford where it will run from 19 November 2015 to 7 February 2016.

Access All Areas: Family Events for Visually Impaired Visitors

Lucy Minshall- Pearson and Adam Boal from our Special Events Team write about developing a new series of events for families with children who are visually impaired.

In the Special Events Team we write, develop and present a large programme of events for families during school holidays and weekends. Our aim is to make the museum as accessible as possible. Part of this is running events like SIGNtific, where stories and workshops are presented in British Sign Language, and Early Birds, mornings where the museum opens early for families with children on the Autistic spectrum.

To build on the successes of our SIGNtific and Early Birds events, we wanted to improve visits for families with children who are visually impaired (VI). Having identified our target audience, we did as much research as we could about how to best tailor our events. We set out to talk to as many people as possible, sharing ideas, experiences, and best practice. We looked into how science is taught at schools for partially sighted and blind children, how organisations that work with partially sighted and blind children run workshops and activities, and we sought out the best events at other amazing museums and galleries. Suddenly every visit to an exhibition involved asking around ‘what activities do you do for families with visually impaired children?’, every visit to a website involved scouring their accessible events pages, every meeting with a fellow museum professional involved asking them about what they were doing for this audience.

Visitors enjoying our newly developed workshops

Visitors enjoying our newly developed workshops. Credit: Science Museum

Most of the programmes for blind and partially sighted people we found were aimed at adults not families. This made us redouble our efforts, and that’s when we met Barry Ginley, the Disability Access Manager from the V&A, and his lovely Guide Dog, Skye. He gave us training on working with people with visual impairments and information on the issues children with VI can face. He had us walk around the Museum blindfolded, an experience which helped us realise how much more aware we became of our surroundings; objects, people and the giant Rugby Tuning Coil all became potential hazards.

With the research done, the activities developed, and miniature tactile versions of Mars built we were finally ready and the date, 15 March was set, Mother’s day, a perfect day for family activities. The day included four events: a touch tour and audio described ‘Rocket Show’, a hands-on workshop called ‘Backpacking to Mars’, a touch table of Information Age gallery objects, and a tour of the Information Age gallery.

Visitors enjoying our newly developed workshops

Visitors enjoying our newly developed workshops
Credit: Science Museum

Did the families enjoy it? Would further events like this be welcome at the Science Museum? It is a resounding yes for both. The feedback we received was extremely positive which made all of the hard work worth it. If you are interested in attending one of our future events for families with blind and visually impaired children, please drop us an email at familyprogrammes@sciencemuseum.ac.uk saying you’d like to be added to our ‘VI mailing list’.

The Special Events Team will be running a programme of events for families over the Easter holiday.  We’re also staying open until 19.00 (last entry 18.15) every day during the Easter holiday, from 28 March 2015 – 12 April 2015, although our interactive galleries will be closing at 18.00. 

What Makes a Winner?

On 16 March 2015, the Longitude Prize brought together a range of speakers to discuss what makes a Longitude Prize winner in an event at the Science Museum.


The event was hosted by Steve Cross, UCL’s Head of Public Engagement and 2010 Joshua Phillips Award winner for Innovation in Science Engagement. The speakers and panellists included:

·         Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum and Longitude Prize Committee Chair
·         Prof Mike Sharland, Professor of Paediatric Infectious Diseases at St George’s University and Longitude Prize Advisory Panel member
·         Imran Khan, CEO British Science Association, Longitude Prize Committee member
·         Melissa Sterry, Renowned Futurist
·         Prof Chris Toumazou, Regius Professor of Engineering at Imperial College

The event covered a range of topics and there were some great questions for the panel from attendees. You can listen to audio from the event here.

Scientists Meet The Media 2015

By Sian Worsfold

The most eagerly-awaited science party of the season took place a few days ago in the Science Museum once again, after a gap of more than two decades.

The first was held in the museum in 1992 and, last Tuesday, the ‘Scientists meet the Media’ party  returned as a joint venture with the Royal Society and with the support of the Observer newspaper and Guardian Media Group.

The event brings together the great minds of science and science journalism and is a unique meeting of the most influential opinion formers and thinkers, including  researchers, museum STEM experts, Nobel laureates, science journalists and editors, best-selling authors and broadcasters.

Speeches to  the audience of several hundred were given by Ian Blatchford, SMG Director, Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, and John Mulholland, editor of The Observer.

Ian Blatchford took the opportunity at the party to announce the international physics journalism prize of the Institute of Physics and the STFC to Lisa Grossman of New Scientist, who had flown in from Boston.

To mark the approaching end of his presidency of the Royal Society, the museum’s Inventor in Residence Mark Champkins created a present for Sir Paul.

An engraved beer glass presented to Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society.

An engraved beer glass presented to Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society. Credit: Science Museum.

He designed an engraved beer glass with the help of fellow laureate Sir Tim Hunt and Roger Highfield of the museum to celebrate Sir Paul’s work on  Schizosaccharomyces pombe  yeast  that earned him the Nobel prize in 2001.

The glass was presented to Sir Paul by Dame Mary Archer, Chairmanof the Science Museum Group’s Board of Trustees.

To the delight of the audience, Highfield filled Sir Paul’s glass with champagne rather than millet (S. pombe) beer, an acquired taste.

An empathy experiment was also conducted on partygoers in the museum’s Information Age gallery by Prof Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, who has carried out many experiments at the event over the decades.

You can read the tweets shared at the event here.

Chancellor and Sir James Dyson Announce New School of Design Engineering

Chancellor George Osborne today visited the Science Museum with Sir James Dyson who announced plans to create the Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College London, basing it in the museum’s Post Office building.

The Chancellor (l), with Sir James Dyson and Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford (r). Credit: Science Museum.

The Chancellor (l), with Sir James Dyson and Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford (r). Credit: Science Museum.

The museum will use the proceeds from the sale of the building to Imperial to catalyse the biggest transformation in its history. In this way the sale will help the museum inspire the next generation of young scientists and engineers on whom the economy depends and who could go on to study at the Dyson School.

The new School has been made possible by a £12 million donation from the James Dyson Foundation. The Chancellor and Sir James were shown around the building by Science Museum Director, Ian Blatchford and Imperial Provost Professor James Stirling.

George Osborne, said: “Backing Britain’s world leading science, research and innovation is a key part of our long term economic plan.”

The Post Office Building is located next to the Science Museum and had been used by Royal Mail until last year as well as housing staff offices, which will be relocated to other parts of the South Kensington site.

The reinvestment of proceeds, approved by the Chancellor, will allow the Science Museum to invest more than £20 million in transforming around a third of the museum over the next five years. It will allow the museum to bring the standard of its buildings and infrastructure in line with the world-class visitor experience offered by new permanent galleries being created that include a new interactive gallery that will open in 2016 along with a new mathematics gallery as well as new medicine galleries due to open in 2019.

Ian Blatchford said: “Alongside the significant support we receive from our funders and DCMS, this investment will support bold plans for our museum to fire up the imagination of our million young visitors annually, inspiring a new generation of scientists and engineers. We hope many of them will aspire to study at the Dyson School. This is a win, win, win announcement for young people, our institutions and the UK economy which urgently needs more engineers to fuel growth.”

The Dyson School will teach a four year MEng course in Design Engineering with a curriculum, developed in partnership with Dyson engineers to give industry relevance, blending technical discipline with creativity.

James Dyson said: “We want to create engineers who are bold and commercially astute. They will use their skills, nurtured in the Dyson School, to develop future technology that will catalyse Britain’s economic growth.”

Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: “Design combines the best of technical expertise with creativity and the Dyson School of Design Engineering is uniquely placed to bring these together in its student experience and research. Imperial and Dyson passionately share a vision for educating engineers to elicit innovative thinking and problem solving. The James Dyson Foundation’s generous donation, along with Dyson’s industrial expertise, gives us the opportunity to create a world-leading School for a new kind of engineer to design the future.”

Last year 450,000 young people visited the Science Museum on educational trips or benefit from its outreach programme, more than any other UK museum. Among 3.3 million visitors to the museum last year, around 1.7 million people visited in family groups.

Fireworks And Fun For British Science Week

To mark British Science Week, the Science Museum hosted a special event with the British Science Association for over 400 children from the Kids Company London Centres. Kids Company Team Leader Lycia reflects on a day of science based fun

Bang! Whizz! Pop! What a fabulous time we spent at the Science Museum earlier this week as we joined forces with the British Science Association to give a group of young people a wonderful day out to celebrate British Science Week.

Matthew Tosh entertains an audience of children from the Kids Company's London Centres in the Science Museum's IMAX theatre

Matthew Tosh entertains an audience of children from the Kids Company’s London Centres in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre. Image credit: Megan Taylor

On arrival we were welcomed into the Museum’s famous Launchpad gallery, which we had entirely to ourselves and where the children were allowed to roam around playing on the various exhibits before being taken to the IMAX theatre for a special science show. The children adored exploring the Launchpad exhibits and the room buzzed with excitement with comments such as, “This is awesome!”, “I wish we could spend a week here!” and “I’m going to get my mum to take me back!”.

It was particularly wonderful to see the reactions of children who normally report to not liking science, enthralled by the mass of exciting experiments to explore.

We were then lead into the impressive IMAX theatre where we were greeted with soothing music and comfortable seats as one of the Science Museum’s Explainers gave a warm welcome to Matthew Tosh, our entertainer for the morning. For the next hour Matthew captured our attention from start to finish with an array of bangs, flashes and pops, all interspersed with digestible nuggets of fascinating science. His enthusiasm for his work was infectious and it was great to see the children listening attentively as he spoke about the importance of following career paths which excite them.

Matthew Tosh explains the science behind fireworks in his show in the Science Museum's IMAX. Image credit: Megan Taylor.

Matthew Tosh explains the science behind fireworks in his show in the Science Museum’s IMAX. Image credit: Megan Taylor.

After being dazzled by an incredible show, we left the IMAX feeling uplifted and inspired. On leaving the theatre, it was great to hear some of the comments from the children – “That was so good!”, and “I really want to be a scientist in the future!”

We wish to say a big thank you to the Science Museum and the BSA for such a memorable day.

British Science Week is a ten day programme of science, technology, engineering and maths events and activities across the UK for people of all ages and runs until Sunday 22 March. 

Inspiring the Next Generation

Dame Mary Archer (Chairman, Science Museum Group), Ian Blatchford (Director, Science Museum Group), Terry Morgan (Chairman, Crossrail) and Paul Kirkman (Director, National Railway Museum) © Science Museum

Dame Mary Archer (Chairman, Science Museum Group), Ian Blatchford (Director, Science Museum Group), Terry Morgan CBE (Chairman, Crossrail) and Paul Kirkman (Director, National Railway Museum) © Science Museum

“This agenda around skills is vital. We have to create a generation with the right skills to satisfy the economic need for great engineers and the Science Museum Group is playing a really important role in getting young people excited about science and engineering.”

That’s Terry Morgan CBE, Chairman of Crossrail, speaking at the Science Museum Group Annual General Meeting in York last week.

Held in the conference centre at the National Railway Museum, the meeting gave Science Museum Group staff an opportunity to share the ambitious strategic plans being shaped at the Group’s sites around the country and, in Terry Morgan’s presentation, to hear how Europe’s largest construction project is being kept on time and on budget.

Alongside Mr Morgan, the other highlight of the day was the formal introduction to the Group of our new Chairman, Dame Mary Archer.

Dame Mary Archer (Chairman, Science Museum Group) © Science Museum

Dame Mary Archer (Chairman, Science Museum Group) © Science Museum

In conversation with Roger Highfield, the Group’s Director of External Affairs, Dame Mary gave a fascinating account of her route into science and governance within large and ambitious organisations.

This ranged from her long experience as a chemist in academia, notably in Oxbridge and the Royal Institution, London, to being on the Board of Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for two decades, and Chairman for the last 10 years.

The Group’s Director, Ian Blatchford, also held a question and answer session in which he addressed the opportunities and challenges facing our museums, which have seen a cut in Government support of more than 30 per cent in real terms since 2010.

He left the audience of more than 140 people from across the Group in no doubt that our approach to the challenging financial climate would continue to be characterised by audacity and not retrenchment.

Fitting then that the meeting’s final keynote speaker, Terry Morgan, is guiding a project that currently employs over 10,000 people and aims to transform rail transport in London.

Terry Morgan CBE (Chairman, Crossrail) © Science Museum

Terry Morgan CBE (Chairman, Crossrail) © Science Museum

Mr Morgan offered an inspiring insight into the logistical challenges of keeping a £14.8bn project on track, the engineering challenges of the project’s eight huge boring machines, while outlining some of the more extraordinary opportunities for archaeology and the creation of Europe’s largest artificial coastal reserve.

He also stressed the challenges of finding sufficient skilled engineers to deliver the project and underlined his personal commitment to both sustainability and the workforce legacy that will be delivered by Crossrail’s apprentice scheme.

Ian Blatchford commented: “There’s much that we, as the world’s leading group of science museums, can learn from Crossrail’s approach as we continue to transform our sites through ambitious permanent galleries, inspiring temporary exhibitions and impactful live programming. We’re also playing a critical role in inspiring the next generation of engineers who will work on the major projects that follow Crossrail.”

Around 600,000 young people in educational groups visit our museums in London, Manchester, York, Bradford and Shildon each year.

Join our Eclipse Twitter Tour

On Friday 20 March 2015, a solar eclipse will be visible across the UK (and Europe, parts of Asia and Africa). It’s the last chance to see a major solar eclipse event in the UK until 2026.

Photograph of an eclipse taken from Skylab in 1973.

Photograph of an eclipse taken from Skylab in 1973. Credit: SSPL / NASA

To celebrate the solar eclipse, curator Ali Boyle selected her favourite objects from our collection and shared them in a Twitter tour. Ali picked out key objects and images to show how the UK has celebrated eclipses in the past. You can read the tour below.

In the UK, the eclipse began at approximately 8.30 GMT, reaching its maximum obscuration at 9.30 GMT (although the times will vary slightly across the UK). Remember it is vital to protect your eyes when watching the eclipse, and there is more advice on how to see the eclipse safely here.

Wonderful Things: Penicillin Powder

Laura Body from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.

Inside this little bottle is a substance which marked a huge turning point in medical history: Penicillin. The first antibiotic to be discovered and mass-produced, it appeared to be a wonder drug which enabled doctors to effectively treat infection for the first time in history.

Glass bottle of penicillin powder, 1943

Glass bottle of penicillin powder, 1943
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

In 1928, Dr Alexander Fleming returned from holiday to find a mould growing in one of the Petri dishes in his lab. Upon closer inspection under a microscope, he discovered the mould was preventing the growth of bacteria in the dish, and he came to a remarkable conclusion: the Penicillium mould could potentially be used to fight infection.

It was 10 years later that Fleming’s discovery was picked up and worked on by a team at Oxford University. The team, in collaboration with American scientists, developed Fleming’s discovery into an effective drug which could be mass produced. This crucial breakthrough came during World War II, when vast quantities of the lifesaving antibiotic were desperately needed for treating a range of war-related infections.

The substance in our bottle is some of the first penicillin to have been manufactured, clinically tested and used by the military. In an effort to begin mass producing the drug, a solution was made by a chemical company and then sent on a truck to a team in Oxford University. Their job was to take the weak solution, extract the valuable penicillin from it and purify it.  The browny-yellow colour is due to remaining impurities in the sample.

Advertisement for penicillin production from Life magazine, 1944

Advertisement for penicillin production from Life magazine, 1944
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

However, as Fleming correctly predicted in his Nobel Prize Lecture, the misuse of Penicillin would cause harmful microbes to become resistant to the antibiotic.

Today, antibiotic resistance poses a serious threat to progress, as people are dying from bacterial infections which used to be treatable. It is thought 25 million courses of antibiotics are incorrectly prescribed every year in the UK for ailments such as coughs and colds that don’t require the use of this valuable treatment. To combat this growing issue, the Longitude Prize set a challenge to design a test that will help healthcare professionals administer antibiotics correctly, with a £10 million prize for the winning idea.

Do you think the development of Penicillin was the most important medical breakthrough in history, or are there other more important advances?

To see this object and discover more about the story of penicillin, visit the Churchill’s Scientists exhibition, open until March 2016.