Monthly Archives: January 2012

An amazing astronaut

Space – as seen from our Launchpad gallery

Astronauts, rockets and multi-coloured stars – visitors to our Launchpad gallery seem to have space on the brain.

Here’s a small selection of their space-inspired artwork – click on any image to see bigger pictures.

Colorful telescopic view of spiral galaxy

Go Beyond the Stars at the Science Museum

If you were setting out on a journey to space what would your soundtrack be? For one night only on Thursday 26 January the Science Museum will be exploring just that.

 Colorful telescopic view of spiral galaxy

Credit & Copyright: Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Observatory)

Beyond The Stars is a stunning audiovisual journey through space taking you from the first lunar landing to the outer reaches of space.

The show will include stunning Hubble Space telescope images and never before seen footage from NASA, all intertwined with incredible CGI images of space projected on to a large screen in the Museum!

The show will be set to iconic music performed in a large orchestral setting by renowned composer Craig Leon.

Expect to hear popular classical pieces from Richard Strauss’, modern day space songs (think along the lines of Elton John’s Rocket Man) and the iconic Thus Spake Zarathustra from 2001 A Space Oddessey.

[yframe url='']

We have 20 exclusive tickets to give away on Twitter for this one-time only screening. To be in with a chance make sure you are following us on Twitter where we will be running a range of space and music related competitions!

We are also creating a playlist of space songs on Spotify to get us in the mood for Thursday, share your space tracks with us in the comments below or on Twitter! #spacesongs


Professor Stephen Hawking

Leading contemporaries pay tribute to Stephen Hawking

By Roger Highfield

As part of the Science Museum’s celebration of Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday, leading contemporaries have paid tribute to his remarkable impact on the field of cosmology.

Hawking, director of research at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, has seen cosmology rise from a niche subject in the 1960s to being perhaps the most compelling of all the sciences – not least thanks to his own inspirational contribution.

Professor Stephen Hawking

One of Hawking’s overarching goals has been to take general relativity (Einstein’s law of gravity), which controls the large scale structure of the universe, and blend it with quantum theory, which rules the world of atoms, molecules and the very small, to produce a grand theory of everything, known as quantum gravity.

Hawking first caught the attention of his peers in the late 1960s, working with Roger Penrose on how general relativity sometimes breaks down, resulting in something called a singularity. They showed that 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.

In his most famous work, celebrated in a 70th birthday gift from the Museum, Hawking raised the intriguing possibility that black holes are not as black as once thought. The reason is down to one strange consequence of quantum theory: empty space isn’t empty at all: pairs of particles are constantly popping into and out of existence. If they appear on the border of event horizon – the point of no return from the gravity well of a black hole, as described by general relativity – they may find themselves on different sides, with one sucked in, and the other becoming part of “Hawking radiation”.

The same mathematics can also be applied to the ‘echo of the Big Bang’ which took place 13.7 billion years ago, the splash of residual microwaves that still warm today’s universe,  and to the way in which a soup of ultra-hot matter crystallised to form the visible universe.

In spring 1982, Hawking made a bold proposal: that fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation could be traced back to Hawking radiation, as the tiny seeds around which the large scale structure of the universe coalesced.

That summer, this “fluctuation theory” was developed at a workshop organised by Hawking and his colleague Gary Gibbons. Remarkably, their efforts – and those of two Russians who came up with the same result independently – predicted these fluctuations in the fabric of the cosmos a decade before a purpose-built satellite called COBE observed them in the heavens.

Leading figures remark:

“Hawking’s revolutionary discovery that black holes radiate was the first spectacular result in quantum gravity, suggesting a startling unification of space-time, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics that has set much of the agenda for fundamental physics in the past four decades. It is impossible to overstate how profound these ideas are, how influential they have been, and how they continue to drive our 21st century quest to more deeply understand the nature of space-time and quantum mechanics.”

Nima Arkani-Hamed, Institute for Advanced Study,Princeton, front rank theoretician

Stephen Hawkings’ discovery of black hole evaporation was a very special insight.  By now it influences work in many areas of physics –  heavy ion physics, quantum critical phenomena in condensed matter physics, cosmology, and of course the search for a fundamental understanding of quantum gravity, which was Stephen’s original motivation. After almost forty years that Stephen’s discovery has been a source of fresh thinking,  we still are far from really getting to the bottom of things.  So we still need Stephen’s insights! Happy Birthday, Stephen! There is a lot to celebrate and I wish I could be present for this occasion.

Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study,Princeton, string theory pioneer

“Stephen Hawking’s name will life in the annals of science because he has probably done as much as anyone else since Einstein to extend our grasp of gravity, space and time; millions have had their cosmic  horizons widened by his bestselling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against  all the odds-a manifestation of amazing willpower and determination.  His “three score years and 10″ deserve all the accolades they are getting.”

Martin ReesUniversity ofCambridge,  Astronomer Royal

The most spectacular of Hawking’s discoveries was the emission of radiation from black holes. This caused a fundamental advance in our understanding of gravitation and thermodynamics. The Hawking equation, telling us that the entropy of a black hole is proportional to the area of its horizon, is as important as the Einstein equation telling us that the energy of an object is proportional to its mass.

Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study,  mathematical physicist and pioneer of quantum electrodynamics

 Stephen Hawking himself remarks:

“ It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics. Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 70 years, and I’m happy if I have made a small contribution.”

The below film features Stephen Hawking talking about the new display at the Science Museum alongside exclusive photos from his family archives and lifelong works.

[yframe url='']

Science Museum Live on Tour

Post written by Explainer Amanda

A spotlight follows a child as he or she makes their way to the stage. The audience chants “Push the button! Push the button!” A giant red button is pushed, thus beginning not only a chain reaction machine, but also Science Museum Live on Tour.

Science Museum Live On Tour Poster

Science Museum Live, the Science Museum’s first ever live theatrical tour, toured theatres throughout England and Wales from January to May 2011. Mark McKinley and I (Amanda Mahr) performed almost 100 shows in just under 50 venues.

Incorporating Key Stage 2 (7-11) and Key Stage 3 (11-14) science, Science Museum Live was aimed mainly at families on a night out to the theatre with school groups largely attending during matinees.

The show flip-flopped between silly scenarios and serious science with fun as the underlying element to both. For one scene, Mark and I dressed up in sumo costumes as Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton in order to wrestle over who truly discovered gravity. In another, I played a magician while Mark played my glamorous assistant (complete with feather boa and heels of course) as we demonstrated the “magic of science” through a series of experiments.

Amanda and Mark demonstrating an experiment

Amanda and Mark demonstrating an experiment

More serious scenes included using liquid nitrogen to create a banana hammer (proved by its competency at hammering a nail into a block of wood) and by building a hovercraft onstage using a slab of wood we “just had lying around” and a leaf blower in order to help an innocent volunteer re-enact Christopher Cockerell’s (hovercraft inventor) maiden hovercraft voyage from Dover to Calais!

Using liquid nitrogen to make a banana hammer

Using liquid nitrogen to make a banana hammer

Science Museum Live was extremely fast-paced and fun. It was enjoyed by both young and older audience members throughout the UK, as well as the crew members from each new theatre! We managed to reach out to many families who would be unable to visit the Museum. Through Science Museum Live, the Science Museum was able to branch out from schools and the Museum itself into a whole new means of entertainment: live theatre.

Explainer Fact: The second season of Science Museum Live (complete with new demonstrations) will be touring again beginning in January 2012 (tour dates).

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking pictures released

Stephen Hawking

Post written by Roger Highfield

The Science Museum has commissioned a series of photographic portraits of Professor Hawking to celebrate his 70th birthday at the end of this week.

He is best known for his work on time, black holes and the Big Bang. But in a New Scientist interview to celebrate his birthday, he admits he spent most of the day thinking about women. “They are,” he says “a complete mystery.”

In the background of this photograph, there’s Marilyn Monroe, whom Hawking describes as “an old girlfriend of mine.”

The birthday portraits were taken by Sarah Lee in Prof Hawking’s office at the University of Cambridge, where he directs research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.

Another of Sarah’s images will adorn a new display at the museum, which he calls ‘one of my favourite places,” to celebrate his life and his achievements.

A few days ago, I myself found in his office in the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Mathematical Sciences, seven curving, stylish pavilions of brick, metal, steel and stone, along with Ian Blatchford and Heather Mayfield, Director and Deputy Director of the Science Museum  to thank Prof Hawking in person for his help.

Hawking has contributed to the new display at the museum, which opens on January 20, along with his daughter Lucy, with whom he has worked on science books aimed at children.

Curators Boris Jardine and Alison Boyle have selected objects and papers from his archives for this celebration of his life and science, along with audio of his synthetic voice.

Tributes to the world’s best-known scientist and author of the runaway bestseller, A Brief History of Time have poured in.

Hawking has had a research centre named after him at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and, earlier this week, eminent researchers expressed their respect for his life and achievements

The BBC Radio 4 has invited the public to ask Hawking questions and aired a series on the thoughts, concerns and humour of this icon of modern science

A scientific conference started today on the state of the universe which will culminate with a public symposium on his birthday, 8 January, when he will be joined by Astronomer Royal Lord (Martin) Rees, newly-minted Nobellist Prof Saul Perlmutter and Prof KipThorne, who gave the world wormholes and time travel.