Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Supernova

Lunchtime Reading 2011

A Supernova

We always knew our followers were a curious lot but now we have the stats to back it up! We started sharing Lunchtime Reading links on Twitter and Facebook back in June, below is a roundup of the 10 most popular.

Our most clickable links range from 10 questions for Stephen Hawking, Darwin’s contribution to our visual culture and how search engines are changing our brains.

It makes a great reading list and hopefully there are some articles you haven’t seen already. Happy reading!


Let us know which was your favourite in the comments below, or on Twitter with the hashtag #lunchtimereading2011. All our Lunchtime Reading links are also saved on delicious.

Pencil that does your homework for you!

More visitor inventions

A pencil that does your homework for you, clouds that rain chocolate and a levitating chair – just a few of the ingenious inventions that have been dreamt up by visitors to our Launchpad gallery.

Here’s a small selection – click on any image to see bigger pictures.

That last one was just us showing off…

The Garden Gallery (plus LEGO!)

There’s a keyboard player and a drummer ready to play some uplifting tunes below a giant disco ball.

No, I’m not talking about a 1970s inspired Glee episode. I am of course talking about our Garden interactive gallery!

It may not look like a typical garden – for a start it’s indoors. However, with a bit of imagination and some tenuous links, things are more similar than they first appear.

The giant shimmering disco ball on the ceiling represents our sun; tweeting song birds are replaced by musical instruments; long plastic yellow spaghetti is our flora; the water area is our pond and we have a tree house (without the tree part) as well. Throw in some giant LEGO and a big red skip and there you have it – a garden.

The Garden Gallery - Water area (left), Giant LEGO (far-centre), Treehouse (right)

The Garden Gallery – Water area (left), Giant LEGO (far-centre), Treehouse (right)

Our flora - yellow spaghetti

Our flora – yellow spaghetti

The water area is without a doubt the most popular exhibit within the Garden, although in my opinion it’s all about the giant LEGO. Our visitors can be so creative, building anything from animals to armchairs.

Below shows reconstructed creations that our visitors have built.

Explainer Fact: We have a selection of hand puppets that include a hedgehog, a red squirrel and a strange mutated crow that has separate arms and wings!

Visitor Letters – Flat Stanley’s adventures at the Science Museum

We love receiving letters from our visitors.

In fact, most of the letters we receive are from primary schools that have just visited the Museum.

Kids being kids, they can be brutally honest in telling us their likes (e.g. big bangs!) and dislikes (e.g. also big bangs). Most letters read like a story from when the kids got off the bus to the galleries they visited and then eventually concluding with what they bought from our Museum shop.

We always try our best to write back as soon as possible. Recently we received a request from a girl called Molly, whose school project was to have a character called ‘Flat Stanley’ being sent to the Science Museum for an adventure (click to enlarge).

Molly's letter telling us about Flat Stanley
It was our task to take photos of ‘Flat Stanley’ around different objects inside the Museum to keep a record of his epic adventure, as shown below:

Explainer Fact: If your little ones would like to send us a letter, please send it to: Launchpad Letters, Science Museum, London, SW7 2DD

The Pattern Pod Gallery

What do spirals, duck feet, computer animated fish and a dance room have in common? Yep, you’ve guessed it! They all feature in our Pattern Pod interactive gallery for kids aged 5 to 8.

As the name of the gallery suggests, this gallery is all about patterns. Patterns that you can see, hear and touch. It introduces the idea that there are patterns all around us and that recognising patterns is an important skill (especially in science).

Just like our other interactive galleries, when school groups book a visit, we provide a quick briefing before the kiddies go off and explore. The rules are simple. Don’t leave, don’t run and finally… have FUN!!!! And there’s a lot of fun to be had.

For starters in the centre of the gallery there’s a projection of animated fish that responds to movement. Children enjoy nothing more than to chase and stomp on the fishes. The magic of Disney is also evident when they shout out “Nemo!” to every clownfish that swims by. Some little ones also try and feed the fish with foam tiles from the nearby tessellation exhibit. But with some guidance, you can actually ‘hold’ and (with some dodgy slight of hand) even catch the fish!

Afterwards they can plant a pattern, walk like a dog or even strut their stuff in our psychedelic dance room that tracks your body movements and plays the same 3 tunes over and over again… a pattern as it were.

And finally we have the kaleido-patterns, where visitors can showboat their artistic flair and investigate rotational symmetry.

Whatever you choose to do within the gallery, always remember the very important third rule – have FUN!!!

Explainer Fact: Over 1000 pupils can visit the Pattern Pod with their school groups each week

Hands up!

From students to scientists in just three months

Call me crazy, but getting together a group of students aged 8 to 17 and making them work through the same set of tasks seems like a recipe for disaster. The huge differences in educational background and maturity would derail the process from the start. Right?

I thought so. But over the past 3 months, 20 students from four schools have proven me wrong in our i, Scientist program at the Science Museum. I think it came down to one important point: when you’re asking real, new science questions, no-one knows what the answer will be.

"What have you noticed?"

The program focuses on human perception, which we can all relate to.

It’s the ultimate level playing field. In the program’s final day, a ten year old noticed a key trend in a data set that a PhD-educated scientist four times his age had missed. More importantly, he immediately put his hand up and explained what he’d spotted to the whole group, including Lottolab staff, teachers and his peers.

Hands up!

Some hands are up, some heads are down...

The i, Scientist program is much more than an exercise in getting students to do an experiment. It focuses on breaking down the idea that you need to ‘know a lot’ about something to ask a good, genuine question. In the words of a 12 year old, “I realised that science isn’t just facts in a classroom. But that it’s everywhere and there are so many things to be asked.”

These new questions led to real experiments, designed by the students. I worked with the oldest school group, who used members of the public as their experimental subjects. “Nerve-wracking”, was the one-word response from one of the group when they were asked how it felt to lay out their science to public scrutiny.

In the half hour before they brought in their first participants, the group were asking critical questions about every part of the experiment, cutting out all unnecessary bits. They were trying to find out if different people preferred either ‘familiar’ or ‘new’ routes when they were navigating. With results and demographics from 40 subjects, they had the meat and bones of a genuine science study – the last update I heard was that there were clear differences in preference, but the demographic analysis was still underway.


A young participant, navigating by sound, approaches the first 'decision point' in one of the experiments.

i, Scientist can be seen as an experiment itself: can people, of any age, engage with a scientific approach and collectively come up with new, answerable questions about the world? Do we really need years of training to be scientists?

It’s a challenging journey both for the students and the facilitators, because it’s not clear where it will lead. In science, results can be negative. But the development of the group, and individuals within it, was really noticeable. In the words of one 13 year old, “My learning in every subject has changed. I don’t see the obvious, I look at all the possibilities.”

David Robertson manages public programmes at Lottolab, and helped with the organisation of the latest i, Scientist program. Lottolab are looking to expand the program, with more schools participating in 2012. If you would like to know more, please email for updates on the wider development of the program.

Lottolab at the Science Museum

Post Written by Explainer Dominique

Think a science lab is full of glass beakers and Bunsen burners? You obviously haven’t been to Lottolab!

Lottolab is the world’s first public perception research space set up by Beau Lotto and his team here at the Science Museum. Through their research, they seek to deepen both our scientific and philosophical understanding of human perception. Helping them is a team of young budding scientists from the ‘i, Scientist’ project.

The ‘i, Scientist’ project is a series of workshops that encourages school children to change the way they think about science and themselves. As an Explainer, I’ve been assisting with the project - showing the children and the Lottolab team around the Museum and generally helping out.

Pupils working on the 'I, Scientist' project

The project takes children aged 5-18 from different schools and gets them to work together to ask questions, design real experiments and analyse data before coming to their own conclusions. It’s been great to see the children develop their understanding and appreciation of science.

iScientist blindfold game

A student scientist gives guidance to a test participant, who is attempting to follow a path using sound alone. In the background, other students carefully gather data on the accuracy and speed of the participant as part of their experiment.

One of the schools – Anson Primary made this ‘trailer’ for their experiments.

The ‘I, Scientist’ project is currently in its 2nd year with the aim of extending the programme to many more schools around the country. Check out some of the work done in last years ‘I, Scientist’ project in this film.

Come along and experience the weird and wonderful Lottolab for yourselves.

Explainer Fact: The experiment developed in the 1st year of ‘I, Scientist’ involved finding your way around a path whilst blindfolded.

The hamster powered vegetable garden

Visitor Inventions

Hamster-powered vegetable gardens, multi-tasking hats with limbs and rubber-producing clouds. Our visitors are a creative lot.

We give our visitors the tools (colouring pencils and paper) to doodle down any ideas they have whilst in our Launchpad gallery.

Some creations are pure genius. Others, lets face it, are a bit weird. However, there is definitely a common theme. Most of the inventions we get from the kiddies are either about food or homework/housework robots. Basically anything that makes their lives easier.

Here’s a small selection of the inventions drawn up by some of our imaginative visitors. Click on any image to see bigger pictures.

Explainer Fact: We get through 100,000 paper trace cards every year (used ones get recycled).

Mick Jackson

Writer in residence

Mick JacksonMick Jackson is a prize-winning author and screenwriter, who has recently become our new writer-in-residence.

His first novel, The Underground Man, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and won the Royal Society of Authors’ First Novel Award. He has published three novels and two illustrated collections of stories with Faber and Faber, his most recent being The Widow’s Tale in 2010. He also writes screenplays and has directed documentaries.

Mick will be at here until September, 2012. Some of his interests which he hopes to explore during the residency are early photography, astronomy, airships, submarines and the history of medicine (particularly The Common Cold Unit).

Throughout his residency he will be keeping us up to date with blog posts. His first post is below. 

Being the writer-in-residence at a major London museum can be pretty demanding. There are people to meet, notes to be made, etc. – and all the thinking on top of that. When the stress threatens to overwhelm me I tend to head for ‘Agriculture’ on the First Floor. In one display case a series of tractors slowly turn in their own small circle, constantly tilling the same grey soil. It’s my equivalent of a Japanese raked gravel garden. After a couple of minutes, a sort of English pastoral Zen settles upon me and I’m right as rain.

To be honest, when I began the residency I was hoping for a hat of some description, with my title printed on it. And maybe a special phone on which I could be notified of potentially-interesting events: ‘There’s something weird going on in Marine Engineering. Grab your notebook and get yourself down there.’ As I approached the crowd I would say, ‘Let me through, please, I’m the writer-in-residence. This scenario may have potential as a short story, or a quirky piece for Radio Four.’

Instead, I am left to wander round the galleries in hatless anonymity. There’s the odd perk, of course. As a member of staff I get 20% discount on my lattes. And curators, who possibly have better things to be getting on with, seem quite prepared to sit down with me and discuss their specialist field. This morning I have been contemplating sidereal time and horary quadrants. Anything to do with Time or Cosmology, I find, can easily bring on a bout of brain-ache. But the moment I feel the pressure building I head back to the tractors – the slowly-turning tractors – and within five minutes my equilibrium is restored.

Mick Jackson
Writer in Residence

Alexei image

In Interview: Alexei Shulgin

Alexei image Alexei Shulgin, artist from media art production company Electroboutique responds to Head of Science Museum Arts Projects, Hannah Redler’s questions about his exhibition at the Museum, ‘Electroboutique Pop up’.

Electroboutique pop-up at the Science Museum consists of art objects, ‘products’ as you call them, slogans and texts. On the surface this seems like a move away from the area for which are particularly known, as a pioneer of net art. Can you say something about the shift in the focus of your practice, from bits and bytes and online environments to ‘(art) marketable products’, perhaps starting with a brief outline of what net art is (or was)?

Well net art was an avant-garde movement in the 90’s; that came to life after the emergence of the internet. I think net art was an ultimate modernism, an art practice that existed without institutional borders and was addressed to everyone (who had a computer and internet). I believe many of the net artists’ inventions were later used in construction of “web 2.0” which marries social networking and online shopping.

I think net art had served its role in the development of online capitalism and has become marginal around 2002-03. In the virtual world dominated by heavily controlled social/ commercial sites such as Facebook and eBay very little space is left for artistic exploration. That was one reason for me to search for the new. Another one was that by that time I was looking for new economical conditions of art production and making “commercial”, art-market ready art appeared to be the best option. Especially considering the almost non-existent support of art by the state in Russia where I was living by then. I was lucky to meet Aristarkh Cernyshev then and we decided to make a project together, Super-I real Virtuality Goggles. It went really well and we decided to go on with a collaboration, formed Electroboutique, rented a studio together and started developing our unique style on the intersection of pop art, design and interactive electronics, something that has not existed yet in the market.

What is the significance for you of this exhibition being in a Science Museum rather than an art gallery? How do you think the museum context and its very wide general audience might change the way the works will be experienced or received?

Yes, the Science Museum is great for us! Firstly, as I have already said before, the Science Museum shows at its best an unbreakable connection between history of capitalism, science, engineering, and design. With the Science Museum art programme we get all ingredients: we consider art an important institute of a capitalist society, one of its driving forces. This unity of art and capitalism is one of the focuses of our artistic exploration, which is why the Science Museum context works so well for us. And of course, being real modernists, we want to bring our art to the masses, to ordinary people, and not just to the snobbish art crowd. And where on earth we can find more diverse audience than in the Science Museum. We believe our works affect people on different levels. The first, entertaining one is addressed to all; but if you like to reflect a bit on the state of the world today – we offer this option too!

Can you say something more about your appropriation of the language of corporate social responsibility in the work, or why it became important subject matter for you? It’s not immediately the most obvious bedfellow for works which play so expertly with the outputs and aesthetics of mass media. But when one starts to think about the corporate world as a major driving force within new media and communication spaces, lots of questions start to arise. Is this in any way related to the political drivers that originally led you to practice as a net artist?

Perhaps. You know, you start being an artist because you feel the world around you is unbearable, you don’t see how you can participate in this circus. Then, you discover that art world is not any better, and you start looking for new frontiers. In the 90’s the internet was such a frontier; then after few years it has become a part of a banal and rude reality. I think it’s a kind of evil loop: you look for a new “temporary autonomous zone” to quote Hakim Bey, and you start exploring it and then, after a while and thanks to your efforts  it becomes eaten up by progressing capitalism.

When working on our electronic gadgets/art objects we have discovered that our production is quite similar to that of a “real” electronics company: same kind of chipboards, plastic, cameras. We work with contractors, we hire engineers and workers, we use a chinese labour force. We work on the market, we try to be innovative and offer new exciting products… Another world, our art production looks exactly like any other creative capitalist production. That’s why we decided to go further and use the current corporate marketing strategies such as declaring social responsibility and sustainability. And it all is true – we do care about world around us and we do try to make it better!

Your position also fluctuates quite irreverently between being sharply anticapitalist and a full-on creative entrepreneur luxuriating in the benefits of capitalism. In the text that goes along with your work ‘Commercial Protest’ you even promote this contradiction with the words “We protest against this state of affairs with this piece and set a fair price on it!” Tell us more!

Oh yes. Being anti-capitalist is a luxury, it’s a privilege of a first world citizen. You don’t see any “Occupy …” movements outside the Golden Billion countries. By sharpening the contradiction you are mentioning we want to emphasize the situation where critique of capitalism is in fact an essential part of the capitalist itself.

How do you think your takes on corporate marketing speak actually critique rather than reiterate the ideologies you’re commenting on?

We think we do both. By our creative critique we point out the weak points of capitalism and offer patches for them. We believe that contemporary art, along with science, is an avant-garde institute of a capitalist society. And one of its most important missions is developing new aesthetics and communications techniques for future use in product design, advertising and politics. Look globally – what is called ‘contemporary art’ flourishes in the societies with innovative capitalism, and is rather marginal and derivative in the others.

Many of the works in the exhibition either respond to, reflect or re-version viewers in real-time. How do the works create individualised experience for each audience member and how is it that these are a reflection of the audience themselves?

Well the initial reason for us to start making works like that was our desire to please the viewers, everybody just loves to appear in an art work. Such a ‘populist’ approach was our deliberate choice when we were starting. Also, placing an audience in an artwork makes communication between the two much easier. Today, media personalities and celebrities appearing on screen are very popular and attractive social figures, so we are playing with people’s desire to be one of them too. And yes, by including a viewer into our artworks we make their experience unique, and they appreciate it by loving (and buying) our works. And finally, it’s a practical trick, by pleasing our audience we manage to keep their attention for longer than average three seconds and communicate our critical messages while entertaining.