Monthly Archives: August 2011

Racing Machines


Anyone for interactive pong, racing sewing machines, or dodging bullets from giant robots? Well it’ll all be possible soon because next month we’re teaming up with Trigger to host our first ever live gaming festival – PLAYER.

Racing Machines

Racing Machines

We’ll get you moving, inventing, interacting and networking digitally and physically in these real-life games – no hiding behind your game console here…

There will be games for adults and for kids – everything from taking part in a text adventure through the brain, finding the perfect love match on a life-sized love calculator or racing a pimped-up sewing machine around a paper track.

Alongside this we will also run our first ever Games Jam – a day-long event for gaming enthusiasts and theatrical types to develop a range of games inspired by our galleries. These new games will then be developed and play-tested over the weekend in a live gaming competition.

Check the festival page on our website for details of the games. There’s a sneaky taster below and you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date on the latest news.

Player Poster

Interactive Pong by Paul Maguire

One of the earliest 80’s video games, based on table tennis, will be projected onto the floor. Passers-by are heat sensored and will be able to kick and move the ball around.

Custom Avatar by James Houston, Winner of Scottish Bafter New Talent Award 2009

Looks like a normal video arcade game that you would find in the corner of a pub, but when you move the joystick, you realise you are moving a human avatar through the space of the museum.

Take me to your scientists (Ticketed midnight event)

Holly Gramazio, of acclaimed company Hide and Seek are inventing a game that runs in the closed museum for 100 players. The game will run up until the stroke of midnight, if the players make it that far…

The Interplanetary Postbox by Ordinary Adventures

Inspired by space travel and our need for a postal system, this is a reworking of a classic space game that asks the visitor to think about future communications. A computerised post box using magnets and cogs.

See you on the 28th of September!

A cornflour shower

Outreach team at the Lollibop Festival

Post written by Shane Craig, Schools and Communities Outreach Officer.

Lollibop is ‘the big bash for little people’, a 3 day under 10’s festival in Regents Park offering the best that the children’s entertainment world has to offer… or Glastonbury for kids!

As festival goers approached our tent they were met by a large paddling pool full of corn flour slime made with around 60 boxes of corn flour (that’s 30kg!). Kids could really get stuck in (not literally) and explore this strange non-Newtonian fluid acting like a solid and a liquid.

Once inside the tent, Science Museum classics such as the Egg Drop Trick and Alka-Seltzer Rockets were entertaining (and educating) the kids and adults. Both of these experiments can be found in one of our Kitchen Science Booklets.

The crowd could also hold a bubble of carbon dioxide sublimed from dry ice and make their own bubble wands from straws and string. 

Each day the Outreach team performed The Greatest Hits show in which we threw everything we have got at the crowd. Introduced by a human beatbox, we hit ‘em where it hurt with exploding hydrogen balloons, a cloud (liquid nitrogen) in a bucket and a rocket piloted by a frog.
Elsewhere in the festival I think it’s fair to say that we were overcome with Rastamouse fever. Along with Da Easy Crew he blew the crowd away and a photo-op was a must. We had to grab our chance and sneak a photo with this legendary star as he walked past…

If you missed us this time then we finish our festival season at Jolly Day Out at Hampton Court Palace, 26th – 28th August, we’re are on the line-up alongside McFly (but I’m sure you know that already).

Recreation of 1980s surgery techniques

Bringing surgery to life – if you’ve got the gall for it…

Post written by Katie Maggs, Curator of Medicine

Our 1980s operating theatre came back to life this morning, as we brought back together a surgical team from London’s Westminster Hospital to carry out three operations in the way they would have been performed in 1983. The idea is to capture how operations were performed in the past when surgery was very different from how it is today.

Live action surgery as visitors look on.

The surgery team – Professor Harold Ellis (surgeon), Professor Stanley Feldman (anaesthetist) and Sister Mary Neiland (theatre sister) – worked together for many years. They are now retired, but agreed to come together at the Science Museum, where a full-scale 1980s operating theatre is on show on the fourth floor. Other members of the team assisting them were present-day clinicians getting the chance of a lifetime to work with surgical legends like Harold and Stanley.

Professor Stanley Feldman

Sister Mary Neiland and Surgeon, Professor Harold Ellis

How has surgery changed? Well in the 1980s a surgical team (surgeon, anaesthetist and theatre sister) might have worked closely together for 20 years or more. Nowadays the team doing an operation may never have met until the day of the procedure, which can sometimes make communication a problem. Surgery itself is very different too. Then, all operations were done by ‘open’ surgery, often needing large incisions. Now, many operations use ‘keyhole’ surgery, where miniature cameras and instruments can be passed into the patient’s body through tiny holes in the skin.

The project has been led by Roger Kneebone, Professor of Surgical Education at Imperial College London. Roger was a surgeon in training in the 1980s. He now leads an unusual group of researchers with an international reputation in surgical simulation, bringing together clinicians, psychologists, engineers and prosthetics experts.

Talking about prosthetics – a realistic simulator (complete with silicone intestines, fake blood and pig’s liver – ick!) was used instead of a real patient (funnily enough we didn’t receive any volunteers willing to be operated on!).

Max Campbell, Director of Health Cuts Ltd, puts the finishing touches to the simulated patient he created. If you've ever watched Holby City - you've more than likely already seen Max's gory work.

Three operations were performed including a cholecystectomy (the removal of the gall bladder and a common treatment for gallstones), as well as a hernia repair (to fix a rupture of the muscles in the groin).

Jimmy, the surgical Registrar, shows us the gall bladder (the white blob) on the underside of the liver that sits inside the 'patient'.

Equipped with the latest technology, the Science Museum’s operating theatre was cutting edge when it was installed in the early 1980s. In fact it caused quite a media controversy that such new medical gear was going to a museum rather than into a hospital. Now it’s the perfect environment for simulating surgery of the 1980s.

You can usually see our diorama dummies performing heart surgery.

Ok – so where did the dummies go this morning? A glance to the side of the operating theatre revealed a rather unusual sight…

Conservator Ian Miles (who made this event possible) demonstrates how many surgeons can fit in one very small store room! As far as we know he hasn't had a Mannequin moment yet...

We hope to repeat this event sometime in the near future and also put films of today’s operations up on the web – we’ll keep you posted!

Andromeda Illustrated Graphic


Read the third post from our Space Curator Doug Millard as he talks about the mind-boggling Andromeda galaxy – one of the destinations on our Space trail.

Andromeda Illustrated Graphic

A few years ago we moved house from the light-polluted night skies of London to the darker zones of leafy Bromley. At the time comet Hale Bopp was resplendent (actually, we could see it in Wandsworth as well!) and as is often the way, a dormant interest in amateur astronomy resurfaced.

I started scanning the heavens with binoculars and telescope. I think Jupiter was up and I remember how amazed I was realising that the little points of light nearby were his large Moons: Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. You could even see them move over a period of an hour or two!

But then my attention was drawn to a little puff of light in the north-eastern sky, no more than a smudge. I needed to search for this with the binoculars but if we had moved to the Atacama Desert instead of Bromley then the naked eye would have done the trick. It was the Andromeda galaxy. Absolutely amazing. Mind boggling.

There, in the little whiff of white sat an entire galaxy of stars – about ONE Trillion of them. How many planets?! How much life? What sort of life? It gets better. The weak light that reaches our retinas from Andromeda is very, very old; 25,000 years old. We are seeing Andromeda as it was when we were frozen up in the last ice age, it has taken that long for the light to travel to Earth. So, in other words, Andromeda is a very long way away indeed: fifteen million, million, million miles – give or take a few. You know, there are some things that put life into a whole new perspective.

Don’t forget you can still come on our space trail, you just need to collect a passport and follow the clues. In the mean time why not create your own postcard from space and send it to your friends and enter our competition to win a trip to Cité des Sciences in Paris.


Inventor in Residence

Here at the Museum we recently appointed a new Inventor in Residence Mark Champkins. Now you may recognise Mark from his appearance on the popular TV show Dragon’s Den where he battled it out in the den to secure backing from Peter Jones for his company Concentrate.

Mark Champkins

Mark will be spending two years at the museum helping support our exhibitions and galleries and taking inspiration form the objects to help design new products and inventions.

We sat down and had a chat with Mark to learn a little bit more about what he’s up to.

What inspired you to become an inventor?

I had a brilliantly creative childhood. I’m one of three brothers with quite an eccentric Dad, and we used to make go-karts, peg-guns, dens, aerial runways, and all sorts of daft contraptions. My Mum also ran a business from home making Jack-in-the-Boxes, and then computer dust-covers, and my brothers and I were regularly part of the production line. When I look back we were always hacking things together, bodging up ideas and trying to create things which we thought would be fun. I ended up studying design at school, and it was the only lesson that didn’t feel like work, so I knew I wanted to design things for a living!

What is your favourite invention ever?

I think for its pure usefulness in everyday life, especially when I was younger, sellotape is my favourite invention ever.

What invention could you not live without?

I don’t think I could work or be inspired nearly as regularly or effectively without the internet. It’s a cliché to talk about how much it has transformed the world, but it really has opened up the exchange of ideas and information in a way that even 20 years ago, would have been unimaginable.

Which object in the museum is the most inspirational or influenced your time here so far?

I am constantly noticing new and fascinating inventions in the Museum. I was in the Making of the Modern World gallery and it occurred to me that it contains a collection of the most influential artefacts in human history - and they are the actual items.

The tool that Jenner used to do the first ever vaccination. A sample of the very patch of penicillin that led Fleming to develop antibiotics. The actual Rocket, the very first train. All of these changed the world.

The latest I have noticed is the first ever Davy Miners lamp. It’s a simple, elegant solution to a problem that was well identified and was causing hundreds of deaths a year. Humphry Davy figured out a safe way to make lamps that used naked flames, but did not ignite the flammable dust and gases often present in mines. Using a fine mesh he tested and refined his lamp until it proved a safe solution for miners to light their work underground.

Keep an eye on this blog and follow Mark on Twitter to find out how he is getting on in the Museum and how you could get involved in his inventions in the future

School groups inside Launchpad

Launchpad is our main interactive gallery that focuses on the topic of physics.  Visitors of all ages enjoy seeing how hot they really are in front of our thermal imaging camera and are amazed to hear music through their teeth – to name just a few exhibits!

Visitors in front of the thermal imaging camera

Visitors in front of the thermal imaging camera

Once the summer holidays are over, the flood of families are soon replaced by school groups.  To stop the big kiddies frightening the little ones we have different Key Stage (KS) days during term-time.

On KS1 (5-7) and KS2 days (7-11), everyone is enthusiastic with large beady eyes gleaming at the wonderments of science. On KS3 days (11-14) the attitudes are totally different – and that’s just the staff…

We have shows about bubbles, explosions and err, structures (it’s a good show folks, honest!) in our show space for those at primary school age and a show all about rocket science for the children in double digits.

There are obvious differences between interacting with 6 year olds and teenagers that I won’t go into detail here but there are many, perhaps surprising, similarities as well.

Kids playing with the Big machine

Kids playing with the Big machine

For a start, all age groups run inside the gallery despite you strictly telling them not to before they enter. They all ask you where the toilets are (but don’t we all?) and they all love the Big Machine, which involves moving grain around with simple machines such as pulleys.

The slang used amongst the schooling public is also consistent.  I have simply lost count of the number of times I’ve heard primary and secondary school children use the phrase ‘oh my days!’ and ‘it’s sick!’ and even combine them both together to form the ‘Oh my DAYS!, It’s SICK!’ super combo.  Whatever happened to the days, well in my days anyway, when it was cool to just say ‘cool’?

Explainer Fact: Over 2600 science shows were performed in the Launchpad show space last year.

Science Museum Spaceship Illustration

Exploring Space – Spaceships

Read our Space curator Doug’s second guest post where he talks about the second stage of our Space trail and discusses his favourite object in the Museum.

Science Museum Spaceship Illustration

One of my favourite objects in the Museum? The Apollo 10 command module, of course – what else could the space curator say? Its current display rather underplays its remarkable story: what it did, how it did it, why it is the shape it is and why it is that strange colour of cold tea.

Well, first things first: it is a REAL spaceship and – yes – it has actually been in space. In fact it has visited another world – our Moon. This isn’t a model or a replica – it’s the real thing. In May 1969 it carried three men – Tom Stafford, Gene Cernan and John Young – all the way to the Moon and back. When they were there the crew did everything but land – Apollo 10 was the dress rehearsal for the landing mission of Apollo 11, two months later.

The Apollo 10 command module (call sign Charlie Brown) was attached to a cylindrical service module, full of supplies and systems, and then docked to the lunar lander or module (call sign Snoopy).

All had been launched in the titanic Saturn V rocket, as tall as St Paul’s Cathedral in London and as powerful as a small atomic bomb. In lunar orbit Stafford and Cernan climbed through the docking hatch and into the lunar module, leaving Young behind in Charlie Brown. They flew down close to the Moon’s surface and then back up to rejoin Young having successfully tested the vital computing and radar systems.

The three then ditched Snoopy and the service module before hurtling back to Earth at 24,791 miles per hour (an all-time record). So, this museum object has many, many stories to tell … and we haven’t even begun to explain who built it, why it looks the way it did and how it worked. Another time…

Don’t miss Doug’s next post where he talks about the third part of our space trail Andromeda. You can find out more about our space trail and if you enter our competition you could win a trip to Paris. Good luck!