How Eddie Redmayne Mastered Stephen Hawking’s Voice

Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, writes about upcoming Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.

Only one person is known to have used the voice synthesiser that now sits in the Cosmos and Culture gallery in the Science Museum: cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who describes the museum as ‘one of my favourite places’.

Voice synthesiser

Voice synthesiser, on display in Cosmos and Culture

Now a second person has mastered Hawking’s voice, that paradoxical blend of machine and personality: the actor Eddie Redmayne, who undergoes an extraordinary feat of transformation during The Theory of Everything (released on 1 January).

He depicts how Hawking changed from a lazy student into the world’s best known scientist who, as a result of motor neurone disease, has only the use of a few muscles.

Hawking caught pneumonia in 1985 and underwent a tracheotomy but regained the ability to ‘speak’ using a computer operated by a hand switch to painstakingly build up words, sentences and phrases so they could be read out by the voice synthesiser that is now in the museum.

Redmayne’s remarkable dedication to his craft can be seen in this biopic, which is based on the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Hawking’s first wife Jane.

Redmayne describes it as “an incredibly delicate and intricate and quite complicated love story.” One of the most extraordinary dimensions of that story is Jane’s determination to stick with Hawking despite his diagnosis with motor neurone disease, an apparent death sentence, at the age of 21.

Stephen Hawking

Still from The Theory of Everything with Jane (Felicity Jones) and Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne)

The film’s production design department took great pains to accurately recreate the progression of wheelchairs that Hawking used throughout his life, from regular to electric and then one adapted to include a computer and his voice synthesiser.

Redmayne had spent months studying archival material, from books to video; worked with the Motor Neurone Disease Association and a neurology clinic in University College London, meeting some 30 patients; rehearsed the change in his movements as the disease took hold with a dance teacher; and wore prosthetics to show how Hawking had aged and deformed with the disease, such as oversized ears that could, with oversized clothes, make his face look gaunt.

One of the pivotal scenes with Hawking’s first wife Jane (played by Felicity Jones) took 15 minutes during an intense day of filming using a hand switch to operate a replica of Hawking’s synthesiser system, he explained. Though only an edited version of his laborious original effort remains in the film, it speaks volumes about Redmayne’s attention to detail that he was prepared to go so far.

Hawking was so impressed with the film, said Redmayne, that he responded with a generous gift — allowing the filmmakers to swap the synthetic voice they had to create and replace it with his own, trademarked computerized version.

Trying to balance his science with his personal story presented some of the same challenges for the James Marsh, director of The Theory of Everything, as it did for curators three years ago, when the Science Museum put on an exhibition to celebrate Hawking’s 70th birthday.

While Stephen Hawking might be a celebrity, he is first and foremost a scientist and not only that but a theoretical physicist, one who deals with ideas rather than something tangible like technology. Redmayne admits that it was daunting getting the right balance between science and entertainment.

Still, the film shows how Hawking first captured the attention of his peers in the late 1960s, working with Roger Penrose (played by Christian McKay) on how the laws of physics – notably Einstein’s law of gravity – sometimes break down, resulting in something called a spacetime singularity. If general relativity was correct, they showed, then such singularities must occur inside black holes – and, most probably, at the start of the universe

This idea implies that singularities mark the beginning and end of space and time, which was created during the Big Bang and breaks down within black holes, where it is necessary to incorporate quantum theory – the theory of the very small – in order to understand what is really going on.

The film makes much of how Hawking was determined to find “a simple eloquent explanation” for the universe. One of Hawking’s long-standing goals has been to blend the theory of the very big (general relativity) with the very small (quantum theory) to produce an overarching theory known as quantum gravity.

As the film points out – with the help of its consultant, Jerome Gauntlett, former PhD student in Stephen’s group, who is now Head of the Theoretical Physics Group at Imperial College London –  Hawking moved on to a more radical formulation which incorporates some aspects of quantum theory, the no boundary idea, which says that the entire history of the universe, all of space and time, forms a kind of four-dimensional sphere. Thus speculation about the beginning or end of the universe is as meaningless as talking about the beginning or end of a sphere.

One strange consequence of quantum theory is that empty space isn’t empty at all: pairs of particles are constantly popping into and out of existence. If they appear on the event horizon – the point of no return from the gravity well of a black hole – they may find themselves on different sides, with one sucked in, and the other zooming free as “Hawking radiation.”

There’s a scene in the film showing when Hawking gets a sweater trapped halfway over his head and has an insight that leads to this discovery. “Hawking radiation is widely considered to be the single most important insight into quantum gravity that has been discovered so far,” says Gauntlett, who also helped to bring Redmayne up to speed with Hawking’s science.

The director James Marsh told me that he sees the movie as a human story first and foremost but he does hope, as does Gauntlett, that it will encourage those who are intrigued by the science to find out more. “To be honest, dramatic film is not the best place to explore theoretical physics” Marsh explained. “The idea was to make the science universally available and that meant simple. Better that than address a snobbish or elitist audience. Better that a 14 year old boy or girl watches the film and is intrigued to find out more.”

A Brief History of Time, on display in Cosmos and Culture

A Brief History of Time, on display in Cosmos and Culture

One way he used to lay out scientific thinking in lay terms was to allow the character of Jane to do some explaining, rather that Stephen himself. But, of course, Hawking himself has provided the most stellar example of how to bridge the gulf between the public and cosmologists with A Brief History of Time, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. To celebrate this remarkable achievement, a copy can be found in the Cosmos and Culture gallery.

The Theory of Everything will be showing at the Science Museum IMAX from 1 January 2015. Book tickets here.

Celebrating Dorothy Hodgkin: Britain’s First Female Winner of a Nobel Science Prize

Rachel Boon, Content Developer, looks at the legacy of one of Britain’s most famous scientists, one of the stars of a new exhibition, Churchill’s Scientists, which opens in January 2015

Today marks exactly 50 years since Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, on 10 December, 1964. Hodgkin won the prestigious prize “for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”. She was only the third woman to win the prestigious prize – the crowning achievement of a 30 year career spent unravelling the structures of proteins, including insulin.

Dorothy Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1964 for her studies using X-ray crystallography, with which she worked out the atomic structure of penicillin, vitamin B-12 and insulin. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Dorothy Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1964 for her studies using X-ray crystallography, with which she worked out the atomic structure of penicillin, vitamin B-12 and insulin. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Hodgkin first found fame when she finally solved the structure of penicillin on Victory in Europe Day in 1945.

Alexander Fleming had identified the anti-bacterial properties of penicillium mould in 1928 but thought the substance was too unstable to isolate as a drug.  At Oxford University Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and Norman Heatley proved otherwise and successfully purified the antibiotic for human use in 1941.

Once the potential was realised, vast amounts of the drug were needed. Chain spoke of his excitement and challenged Hodgkin to find its structure, promising ‘One day we will have crystals for you.’

Penicillin saved many lives during the Second World War. Allied governments recognised the potential of the ‘wonder drug’ and the race was on to convert a laboratory discovery into a mass- produced drug.

Hodgkin unravelled the structure of penicillin using a method called X-ray crystallography - a technique used to identify the structure of molecules. Hodgkin had been fascinated by crystals from a young age and on her sixteenth birthday received a book about using X-rays to analyse crystals, which greatly inspired her.

You can see Hodgkin’s three dimensional atomic structure of penicillin in our new exhibition opening in January.

Molecular model of penicillin by Dorothy Hodgkin, c.1945. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Molecular model of penicillin by Dorothy Hodgkin, c.1945. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Another notable molecular structure Hodgkin tackled was that of vitamin B12, which she cracked with the help of Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE computer, which is on display in our Information Age gallery.

The Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), 1950. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

The Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), 1950. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

These achievements had an immense impact on chemistry, biochemistry and medical science, establishing the power of X-ray crystallography, and changing the practice of synthetic chemistry.

She was one of the first people in April 1953 to travel from Oxford to Cambridge to see the model of the double helix structure of DNA, constructed by Briton Francis Crick and American James Watson, based on data acquired by Rosalind Franklin, which can also be seen in the Museum’s  Making the Modern World gallery.

Crick and Watson's DNA molecular model, 1953. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Crick and Watson’s DNA molecular model, 1953. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Hodgkin was awarded the Order of Merit, only the second woman to be honoured in this way after Florence Nightingale. She was also the first woman to be awarded the Royal Society’s Copley medal, its oldest and most prestigious award.

She died in July 1994, aged 84. In her honour, the Royal Society established the prestigious Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for early career stage researchers.

The origins of the technique she used date back to when X-rays, one of the most remarkable discoveries of the late 19th century, had been shown to react strangely when exposed to crystals, producing patterns of spots on a photographic plate.

You can find out more about Dorothy Hodgkin in our new exhibition, Churchill’s Scientists, which opens on 23 January 2015. The exhibition will look at the triumphs in science during Churchill’s period in power, both in war and in the post-war era.

Space Oddity

A guest post from Kate Campbell-Payne, Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

Chris Hadfield is part of a very exclusive group – he is one of only 194 people in the history of our planet to have walked in the space around it. He’s spent 166 days outside our atmosphere and even recorded an album at 431km above the Earth.

On 9 December 2014, he’s landing at the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester for an on-air chat with BBC Radio 5Live’s Afternoon Edition to discuss his unique career and his stunning new book of photographs, You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.

The title refers to the time it takes for the International Space Station to orbit the earth, 16 circumnavigations a day taking around an hour and a half each, offering a different perspective to its small band of inhabitants every time. As he writes in the introduction ‘…I never tired of looking out of the window. I don’t think any astronaut ever has, or will. Every chance we have, we float over to see what’s changed since we last went around the Earth.’ In the process he took around 45,000 photographs, capturing the surface of where most we live from a place hardly any of us will ever see.

Hadfield began posting his images on Twitter and soon garnered over 1 million followers. His desire to share his experiences in space with others has meant that he’s become a bit of a social media celebrity with a popular Tumblr blog and YouTube channel (over 24 million people have watched his rendition of Space Oddity performed while floating in space). During a period where space travel has dropped off most people’s radar, Hadfield has reignited the ‘every man’ sense of wonder about space. Rather than focussing on the technology, he has, once again, shown us just how cool being an astronaut really is.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield. Credit: NASA/VICTOR ZELENTSOV

Astronaut Chris Hadfield. Credit: NASA/VICTOR ZELENTSOV

Hadfield’s interview with Dan Walker and Sarah Brett on Afternoon Edition will take place in MOSI’s historic 1830 Warehouse, part of a complex built around the terminus of a very different type of transport, the first passenger railway. He’ll be chatting in front of 50 year 10 students from local schools and answering their questions on life in space. Though retired, Hadfield remains a popular figure with a unique perspective on life.

In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, he revealed one of his philosophies: ‘… if someone is willing to teach you something for free, take them up on it. Do it. Every single time. All it does is make you more likely to be able to succeed. And it’s kind of a nice way to go through life.’ This is great advice, especially with so many fantastic museums nearby. Just like seeing one of Hadfield’s tweets, visiting museums can be a discovery point, a place to see something you’ve never seen before. Who knows where that might lead? Maybe even outer space.

If you love Chris Hadfield’s incredible photos from space, you can send a postcard of one for free (for a limited time via Facebook) by clicking here http://bit.ly/1CZk8IC.

Artist impression of new special exhibition gallery space at the Museum of Science & Industry.

Chancellor Announces £3 Million Investment in Museum of Science & Industry

By Kate Campbell-Payne and Roger Highfield

The Chancellor, George Osborne MP, today announced a £3 million investment to create a new special exhibition space at the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester.

Speaking in the Museum at the official launch and celebration of Manchester as the European City of Science 2016, Europe’s greatest scientific gathering, the Chancellor set out further Government plans to prioritise science investment in the North West.

Chancellor George Osborne MP with Professor Brian Cox , Sally MacDonald, Director of the Museum of Science & Industry and Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group.

Chancellor George Osborne MP with Professor Brian Cox , Sally MacDonald, Director of the Museum of Science & Industry and Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group.

Mr Osborne said that it was ‘great to be back’ in the Museum, not just in an official capacity but as a local resident who visits with his children.

He told the audience of leading figures that Manchester was the first great scientific city in the modern world and that it was developing into a global force.

Today’s investment will allow the Museum to take forward ambitious plans to convert the brick-vaulted basement of its historic 1830 Warehouse – the first ever railway warehouse – into a venue for world-class exhibitions that will inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Artist impression of new special exhibition gallery space at the Museum of Science & Industry.

Artist impression of new special exhibition gallery space at the Museum of Science & Industry.

This will help shift the centre of gravity of the Science Museum Group towards the north and enable the Museum of Science & Industry to develop its own touring exhibitions, along the lines of Collider. ‘It is a real pleasure to be here as a near local MP and someone who believes passionately in the future of the city,” he said.

Director Sally MacDonald said the investment would enable the iconic site to create a ‘really stunning’ gallery: “With the support of our partners, we want to develop ground-breaking exhibitions that can tour internationally, shining a global spotlight on our collections and our great city of Manchester.”

She hopes the new gallery will help boost the current audience of around 700,000 visitors by tens of thousands more. “This is a place where ideas can change the world, from industrial revolution to today and beyond.”

Today’s announcement comes just days after the Chancellor announced plans for a £235 million Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials Research and Innovation at the University of Manchester. “I want it to be the best in the world,” he told the audience.

This, the centrepiece of investment plans for the region announced last week, will build on two centuries of innovation in developing materials that has underpinned Manchester’s rise as one of the first globalised industrial cities.

The £3 million Government investment in the Museum is in addition to an £800,000 grant that funded preparatory work, including the selection of the best location for the new exhibition space from across the Museum’s historic 7.5 acre site.

It was at the Museum’s Power Hall in June that George Osborne announced his intention to create a “Northern supercity” to rival London, New York and other major cities by building HS3, a high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds.

At the launch was Professor Brian Cox, who still lectures in the university and conducted a bioluminescence experiment in the Museum for primary schoolchildren, along with the Chancellor. He remarked on how, over the past decade, more and more children were inspired by STEM.

Professor Brian Cox and the Chancellor conduct a bioluminescence experiment with local school children.

Professor Brian Cox and the Chancellor conduct a bioluminescence experiment with local school children.

Prof Cox laid down a challenge to all the political parties in the coming election to ring fence the science budget, or indeed increase it, to match the huge research budgets of Germany and America.

Prof Cox said that the UK can indeed be the best place in the world to do science, building on its infrastructure of world class schools, universities and museums. “I am extremely optimistic about the future.”

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said that the city has a tally of around 25 Nobel Prize winners. “Science is at the heart of Manchester, its past present and future,” he said, adding that around 50,000 people in Greater Manchester are employed in science and technology.

Manchester is the home of many world changing science achievements:  John Dalton’s atomic theory of the 19th Century; the pioneering work of James Joule in thermodynamics; Rutherford’s work to reveal the atomic nucleus by smashing helium nuclei into gold foil;  the world’s first programmable computer in 1948; the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby, in 1978; and in 2004 when Manchester made headlines with  ’graphene’ an atom-thick wonder material.

That long history is celebrated throughout the Museum of Science & Industry and in its collections, ranging from Richard Arkwright’s spinning frame (1775) to the creation of Terylene, the world’s first wholly synthetic fibre (1941) , and the isolation of graphene just a decade ago.

The Museum is constantly innovating new ways to tell this story so as to make science accessible and enticing for its visitors, from its partnership with the largest STEMNET contract outside of London to the annual Manchester Science Festival.

The Museum’s major partnerships include relationships with the Wellcome Trust and the University of Manchester with whom the Museum is working on a new exhibition on graphene, which will open in 2016.

The Museum audience was also addressed by Rowena Burns, CEO of Manchester Science Partnerships, on the ‘limitless opportunities’ for life sciences in the region.  Plans for the European City of Science, “an unmatched opportunity to showcase our science and innovation to the world”, were outlined by Prof  Luke Georghiou, vice president for research and innovation at the University of Manchester; and Professor Colin Bailey, Vice-President of the University of Manchester, told the audience that the new Sir Henry Royce Institute will “ hit the sweet spot in the innovation chain of materials” to speed their delivery from lab bench to market.

Science Museum IMAX plays host to Christopher Nolan and his Interstellar team

World-renowned director and blockbuster auteur Christopher Nolan visited the Science Museum last night for a special screening of his latest acclaimed feature, Interstellar, in our IMAX Theatre.

He was joined by the film’s editor Lee Smith, visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema for an exclusive Q&A with BAFTA members hosted by writer and journalist Mark Salisbury.

Mark Salisbury, Christopher Nolan, Lee Smith, Paul Franklin and Hoyte van Hoytema at the Science Museum IMAX for a screening of Interstellar © Katherine Leedale

Mark Salisbury, Christopher Nolan, Lee Smith, Paul Franklin and Hoyte van Hoytema at the Science Museum IMAX for a screening of Interstellar © Katherine Leedale

The Science Museum IMAX is one of only four screens in the UK to show Interstellar in Nolan’s intended 70mm IMAX format, with one of the other three at our sister museum, Bradford’s National Media Museum. Presented in the highest quality resolution and combined with specially made IMAX sound, the experience is the most immersive presentation of Nolan’s most ambitious film to date.

On making his films a spectacular experience for audiences, Nolan has said: “IMAX is the gold standard and what any other technology has to match up to, but none have, in my opinion.”

Christopher Nolan during the making of Interstellar.

Christopher Nolan during the making of Interstellar.

Featuring an outstanding cast led by Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar draws on the scientific research of eminent physicist Kip Thorne whose theories centre here on traversable wormholes through space and time.

Screenings of Interstellar in IMAX 70mm continue at the Science Museum until Sunday 14 December. For tickets click here.

Human Spaceflight Enters a New Era

Doug Millard, Deputy Keeper of Technology and Engineering, reflects on Orion’s maiden voyage in space and NASA’s first step on the Journey to Mars.

THE ORION spacecraft that could loft humans to Mars in coming decades has made its maiden flight.

The conical craft, which looks Apollo on steroids, was launched on a Delta rocket out of Cape Canaveral in Florida on a short test flight in which it reached a height of 3,600 miles—15 times higher than the International Space Station and the farthest anyone has sent a human-spaceflight capsule since Apollo 17 returned from the Moon in 1972—and orbited the Earth twice.

The craft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, where it was recovered with help from the US Navy.

The launch marked the first mission of its type for almost half a century and will test key technologies to ensure that Nasa can send astronauts into Earth orbit and beyond – to the Moon, asteroids and ultimately to Mars.

Nasa’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, outlined Nasa’s vision during a talk in the Science Museum last month.

Currently the United States has no operational human-rated space launch system; astronauts are launched to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz rockets.

Engineers installing the heat shield on NASA’s Orion spacecraft prior to its maiden space flight.  Orion is similar to the Apollo capsule design but larger, heavier and capable of carrying four astronauts – one more than Apollo could.  Image Credit:  NASA/Daniel Casper

Engineers installing the heat shield on NASA’s Orion spacecraft prior to its maiden space flight. Orion is similar to the Apollo capsule design but larger, heavier and capable of carrying four astronauts – one more than Apollo could. Image Credit: NASA/Daniel Casper

Orion, built by Lockheed Martin, will be a successor to the Shuttle, which acted as NASA’s human-rated launch system for 30 years but could not go beyond Earth orbit. Nasa administrator Charlie Bolden called the Orion test “a giant day for us.”

The Orion craft it is clearly an enlarged and improved Apollo command module, as on display in the Science Museum (Apollo 10) – the blunt-bodied ballistic capsule the took the first humans to the Moon and which was launched atop of a rocket and, at the end of its mission, hurtled back to Earth for a splash down.

Gene Cernan with Curator Doug Millard (l) in front of Apollo 10. Credit: Science Museum

Astronaut Eugene ‘Gene’ Cernan with curator Doug Millard (l) in front of Apollo 10. Cernan was Lunar Module Pilot on the Apollo 10 mission and flew also on Apollo 17 as commander and the last man to walk on the Moon. Credit: Science Museum

Orion’s first manned mission is planned for 2021 – a rendezvous with a captured asteroid  as part of a plan to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon.

The last time Nasa launched a flight of this significance was in November 1967, when it launched the very first Saturn V rocket and with it the Apollo 4 command module on a very similar mission.

That pioneering sixties mission was a great success with both the rocket and spacecraft performing largely to plan. Within a year, Nasa had launched the Apollo 7 mission – the first crewed flight of a command module.

One of the key differences between the two programmes is the rate of development: Apollo had billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of personnel all working frantically to meet President Kennedy’s commitment of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth before the end of the 1960s.

Orion has no such political underpinning and still less the huge amounts of money Apollo was granted. Progress is and has to be slower, and it may be that a momentum of successive missions will be hard to maintain.

And yet, if humans are to have a future in space such large, state-directed programmes will almost certainly have to continue, even if they are extended over many more years than the decade or so invested in project Apollo.

Asteroid Day Declaration at Science Museum

Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, writes about the launch of Asteroid Day at the Science Museum.

Asteroid Day was unveiled last night in the Science Museum, as part of a global news conference lead by Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and former trustee, and the astrophysicist and Queen guitarist Dr Brian May.

 Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, Director Grigorij Richters and Dr Brian May, astrophysicist and guitarist from Queen took part in the launch event at the Science Museum.

Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, Director Grigorij Richters and Dr Brian May, astrophysicist and guitarist from Queen took part in the launch event at the Science Museum. Image: © Max Alexander

Launching an international awareness day and accompanying declaration the organisers hope to draw more attention to the threat posed by the million or so asteroids in our solar system that have the potential to destroy a city. To date, we have discovered around one per cent, fewer than 10,000.

The event in the museum’s Cosmos and Culture gallery, chaired by organiser Grigorij Richters,  was linked to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco where astronauts Tom Jones, Ed Lu, and Apollo 9 Astronaut Rusty Schweickart addressed the meeting.

A focus was the release of the “100x Declaration”, read out in the museum by Lord Rees, calling for a 100 fold increase in the detection and monitoring of near Earth asteroids that threaten human populations.

Lord Rees said: “We must make it our mission to find asteroids before they find us.”

“The human race has been living on borrowed time,” added May, who said he was honoured to be in the museum. “Nobody knows when the next big one will hit. It takes just one. We have a huge bridge to cross. But we do have all the technology to avert disaster.”

They urged the adoption of Asteroid Day on June 30, 2015 – the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska  explosion, caused by an impact which destroyed 800 square miles, the equivalent size of a major metropolitan area,  in Russia.

The 100x Declaration was signed by more than 100 noted figures from 30 countries, including Richard Dawkins, Anousheh Ansari, Stewart Brand, investors Shervin Pishevar and Steve Jurvetson, Alan Eustace and Peter Norvig of Google, Peter Gabriel, Jane Luu and Jill Tarter.

There were also many who had links with the Science Museum including Brian Cox, Kip Thorne (through Interstellar), and Helen Sharman.

The declaration was signed by around 40 astronauts and cosmonauts, such as Chris Hadfield and Jim Lovell. “We have the technology to deflect dangerous asteroids through kinetic impactors and gravity tractors but only if we have years of advance warning of their trajectories,” stated Dr Ed Lu, Shuttle astronaut, designer of the gravity tractor and cofounder of the Sentinel Mission, a space-based infrared survey mission to discover and catalogue larger asteroids.

The point, he said, was not to push any one particular technology or project but rather to raise awareness and encourage the discovery of asteroids in any way possible.

Currently, governments around the world spend up to $50 million per year toward this end, and scientists find about 1,000 near earth objects annually, said Lu.

Rusty Schweickart, who with Lu co-founded the B612 Foundation as part of their mission, said the magnitude of the threat dawned in the wake of the pioneering work of Profs Luis and Walter Alvarez, who linked an impact 65 million years ago to the demise of the dinosaurs, and when Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9  broke apart and collided with Jupiter in July 1994. “We need to accelerate the discovery of these objects.”

Press conference attendees in London and San Francisco listen to ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye, live from New York.

Press conference attendees in London and San Francisco listen to ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye, live from New York. Image © Max Alexander

Meanwhile, Bill Nye, the Science Guy and CEO of the Planetary Society, joined the event via Google Hangout from New York.  He told the meeting: “Let’s get going.

‘Objects at an Exhibition’: experience the Science Museum as never before

Tim Boon, Head of Research & Public History, blogs about an exciting new project at the Science Museum for 2015.

The Science Museum will be the venue for an exciting musical event in autumn 2015. Six contemporary composers are writing new pieces of music inspired by key objects and spaces in the Museum. On the night of the concert, audiences will travel through the Museum to hear the pieces performed live next to the objects of inspiration. This unmissable event is a collaboration between the Museum, NMC Recordings and the Aurora Orchestra, which are both renowned for their support for innovative music and engaging musical events.

Music is a natural subject for the Science Museum: intellectually it provides a powerful example of the interaction of technology and culture; practically it has the power to deeply enhance the variety of what we can offer our visitors; and emotionally it has the potential to move and deepen engagement with our collections and spaces.

Together, we have commissioned Gerald Barry, Barry Guy, Christopher Mayo, Claudia Molitor, Thea Musgrave and David Sawer who – with their diverse approaches, techniques and styles – will offer Museum visitors, Aurora audiences and NMC listeners new and interactive listening experiences in a setting overflowing with landmark achievements and innovations in science and technology.

Barry is working on an extraordinary graphic score based on Charles Babbage’s difference engine workings.

Difference engine No.2

Difference engine – Image Credit: SSPL, Science Museum

Claudia is exploring ‘non-music’ inspired by the BBC 2LO transmitter and the idea that music was originally prohibited on BBC radio.

2LO

BBC 2LO transmitter – Image Credit: SSPL, Science Museum

Gerald’s piece is about ‘the mysterious and unnameable aspects of outer space’Chris’s work will be presented in the Flight Gallery where he hopes the audience will make some of the same connections he’s making ‘on the journey from idea to inspiration’; reflecting on a world where there’s an increasing emphasis on speed David has chosen the mail coach in the Making the Modern World gallery to seek clarity in time standing still; and Thea says: ‘I do like the idea of composing something for the Energy Hall… I plan to place two or perhaps three performers on the upper level with the rest on the lower level facing people as they enter the Museum. I am thinking generally of the wonders of discovery, with soloists ‘taking off’ with flights of fancy against the more earthbound group below.’

To find out more about the project and how to support it, please visit our Oramics Machine Facebook page.

Objects at an Exhibition Big Give

The end of AIDS?

Nicola Burghall, Content Developer, blogs about HIV and AIDS, the subject of a new display in the Museums Who Am I? gallery

December 1st 2014 marks the 26th World AIDS Day. The UNAIDS ‘90-90-90’ initiative sets ambitious global targets to end the epidemic by 2030. So how far have we come since the epidemic gained global attention in the 1980s? Here at the Science Museum we decided to explore this question with our new exhibit - The end of AIDS?

The new display ‘The end of AIDS?’ in the Museum’s Who Am I? gallery. Credit: Science Museum

The new display ‘The end of AIDS?’ in the Museum’s Who Am I? gallery. Image Credit: Science Museum

The focal point of the exhibit is an animation called ‘Growing up with HIV’. It was created in collaboration with an inspiring group of young people who live with HIV and the National Children’s Bureau. It tells the story of a young mum-to-be looking forward to the birth of her first child, while she reflects on her life and what it was like to grow up with HIV.


The group created the animation in just four workshops. First they visited the Who Am I? gallery, where they learned about our visitors and science communication. We then discussed what HIV means to them and interviewed an expert about what it does. Over the following sessions we narrowed down what were the most important messages and how to help visitors relate to them.

A key idea was to challenge some of the commonly held misconceptions by explaining what HIV does and the success of current treatment. They decided to tell a personal story about the struggles we can all face growing up.

Struggle and progress turned out to be a strong theme for the animation – referring both to science (trying to improve treatment for HIV) and people (trying to live full, healthy and happy lives).

The rest of the display was built up around the conversations we had during the workshops and from talking with experts. A key message is the importance of testing. In the UK 20% of the estimated 100,000 people who live with HIV are not aware of their infection. In the display we included a postal sampling kit from the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is available for free to high-risk groups.

You can also find a concert programme from the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, held in 1992. It was at this event that 100,000 red ribbons were first distributed in the UK. The ribbon is now the iconic symbol of public awareness and support for people living with HIV and AIDS.

From our stores we brought out a collection of drug packaging which represents all the drugs an HIV patient may have taken in one month in 1999. Today some patients can take just one pill a day and trials have begun for a monthly injection. The last section of the display looks at the latest research and includes the story of Timothy Ray Brown – the only person to have been cured of HIV.

I hope you will be able to visit the display and find it as enlightening and inspiring as I have working on it. I’d like to end this post with a few words from our group:

‘We are all going through our own struggles, but we can achieve anything we want’.

The end of AIDS? opened on 28 November and will be on display in the Science Museum’s Who Am I? gallery until late February 2015.

From Morse Code to Wikipedia – The Information Revolution Hits November Lates

Laura Singleton, Press Officer blogs about the last Lates evening of 2014, which celebrated the Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery

A crowd gathers as a woman standing on a plinth points a mobile phone up to the ceiling of the Information Age gallery. In her other hand is a cable, connected to a device which produces a mesmerising electronic sound. The sound changes in pitch and frequency as the woman and her performance partners make careful movements as if playing a musical instrument. Above people’s heads a faint chorus of voices can be heard, while the light beacons on the ceiling twinkle.

Visitors watch a musical performance of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Fiducial Voice Beacons artwork. Image credit: Science Museum

Visitors watch a musical performance of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Fiducial Voice Beacons artwork. Image credit: Science Museum

This ‘sound art’ performance by Professor of Media Computing at Goldsmiths, Atau Tanaka and his team is a musical interpretation of a new art commission,  Fiducial Voice Beacons by BAFTA award winning artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The performance was one of the highlights of the November Lates evening, which was designed around the theme of information and communication technology to celebrate the new Information Age gallery. The subject matter certainly seemed to capture people’s imagination, drawing in a crowd of 3,728 visitors to the Museum and providing a perfect close to our 2014 programme.

 

Charlotte Connelly, Content Developer gives a tour of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Charlotte Connelly, Content Developer gives a tour of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

In an evening that managed to squeeze in 200 years of technological innovation into just over three hours, visitors were invited to hear Iain Logie Baird’s account of the first ever outdoor public broadcast by the BBC – the famous Nightingale broadcast of 1924, and the innovative microphone that made it possible. Elsewhere, Morse code and jewellery lovers could combine their interests to make special bracelets. Visitors exploring Information Age were encouraged to share their new pictures for a new Wikipedia page on the gallery too.

Those after a hint of nostalgia were drawn to a traditional looking telephone box supervised by BT, where people could enter the booth for photos to take away as personal mementoes of the evening.

Visitors queue up to take part in BT's Phone Box Photo Booth. Image credit: Science Museum

Visitors queue up to take part in BT’s Phone Box Photo Booth. Image credit: Science Museum

Meanwhile, on the second floor others were excited by the prospect of being able to handle iconic mobile phones from the 1980’s whilst browsing around the Information Age gallery and enjoying curators’ talks and drama character performances.

 

The Claude Shannon drama character entertains visitors in the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The Claude Shannon drama character entertains visitors in the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Keen readers were challenged to take part in Accenture’s fun speed-reading game and could even record their voice on Wikipedia in a separate test.

One of the 21st century’s latest milestones – the quest to explore Mars, was represented by the ExoMars Rover Bridget, where visitors were invited to meet the team from Airbus Defence who built her and ask questions about their work.

How old were you when you first went online? Have you ever been dumped by text message? These were the questions that generated a wall full of post-it notes as visitors of all ages were eager to share their memories of the technological milestones that unite all of us.

The next Lates evening will be on Wednesday 28 January 2015 and will look at the incredible world of engineering. You can find out more on our website.