Monthly Archives: March 2012

School Storytelling Events

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away the Science Museum discovered the secret recipe for telling an awesome story.

The magical ingredients included:

• Pigs x 3
• Hedgehog (awake)
• An Enormous Turnip
• Rubber Chicken

Mixed together with a sprinkle of humour and a dash of razzle dazzle – whilst gently allowing the audience’s excitement to boil over.

Storytellings are charged events performed by Explainers aimed at a Key Stage 1 (aged 5-7) audience.  Each session is full of audience participation and volunteer opportunites.

The 3 Pigs storytelling follows the traditional fairytale (but with a happy ending) and covers the topic of materials.  It reinforces the idea that different materials possess differing properties e.g. strong, heavy, light, rough etc.

3 Pigs Storytelling

The Not So Sleepy Hedgehog is story about light.  It features a hedgehog that is trying to get ready for hibernation but is scared of ‘monsters’ that are only seen in the dark.  This story goes over what a light source is, introduces reflection and how we get a shadow.

Not So Sleepy Hedgehog Storytelling

The Enormous Turnip is an epic tale all about forces and recounts the efforts of an entire family in pulling an enormous turnip from the ground; using a variety of words to describe different actions such as pushing, pulling, turning, lifting and dropping.

Enormous Turnip Storytelling

Storytelling sessions are optional and there are plenty of free activities for schools to enjoy on their visit.  They can of course explore the Museum’s galleries and see objects ranging from Stephenson’s Rocket to the Apollo 10 capsule.

Groups can also book a visit to the Garden, Pattern Pod and Launchpad interactive galleries (depending on their Key Stage).

Whatever school groups plan to do, we always try our best to make sure their visit has a happy ending and we hope they all live happily ever after…

…The End

Explainer Fact: Nearly 7000 pupils visited a storytelling last year!

Visitor Letters – School children’s feedback forms

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible.

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).  This was especially true when we received letters from Hazelbury School.  In fact, the pupils used our feedback forms as a template to write down their views – things that they liked, disliked and what we could do differently.

Below are a selection of feedback forms we received from the children.  Click on any image to enlarge.

The letter below shows our response and appreciation towards the children’s efforts (click to enlarge).

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

David Hockney draws Stephen Hawking

The new David Hockney animated Hawking portrait

By Roger Highfield and Boris Jardine

Imagine being able to see David Hockney create a new work, stroke by stroke, before your very eyes.

David Hockney Drawing Stephen Hawking

Now imagine this work is a portrait, providing an insight into the way Hockney composes his famous likenesses. Even better, the subject is none other than the distinguished Cambridge University cosmologist, Stephen Hawking.

For the next three weeks the Science Museum will display an animated version of Hockney’s portrait to provide its visitors with a rare opportunity to see how the artist’s skill has evolved since he was first introduced to the Apple gadget, the iPhone, in late 2008 and then the iPad.

The story of how Hockney came to draw new portrait of Hawking began last December, as we were putting the final touches to a museum exhibit to celebrate Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday. We were going to show a rarely seen Hockney portrait, dating from 1978, owned by Hawking’s first wife, Jane. What about an iPad portrait too?

David Hockney drawing Stephen Hawking

Hockney and Hawking were excited by our idea. Arrangements were made to bring them together before the opening of David Hockney’s triumphant A Bigger Picture exhibition at the Royal Academy but they had to be put on hold as Stephen Hawking fell ill, also missing his birthday celebrations in Cambridge and the museum.

For his iPad art Hockney uses an app called ‘Brushes’, which removes the need to cart around supplies, easel and palette. This is faster than watercolour, or even than coloured pencils. He can use thumbs and fingers, or a stylus, modifying the hue and colour and layering brushstrokes of various widths and opacities.

From today the animated portrait will be on display to the public as part of the Science Museum’s Stephen Hawking: A 70th birthday celebration display.

The portrait begins at the top of Hawking’s head on a beige background. A simple sketch of Hawking’s bespectacled face peers out early on, adorned with violet eyes. Pencil-like strokes add detail, and paint-can sprays fill in his cobalt suit, a light blue cravat, computer screen and shadows. After a while, Hawking’s face gets its hue, polka-dots appear on his cravat and the broader contours of his wheelchair emerge. His hands are moved and a joystick, green background and overhead light installed before Hockney returns to work on his face. Again and again the artist plays with shading and skin tone before the final portrait of the world-famous cosmologist emerges.

Seeing the iPad portrait emerge next to the 1978 line-drawing offers an intriguing comparison — the technology is so different, but, whether paper or a digital drawing pad, it’s Hockney’s draughtsmanship and Hawking’s instantly recognizable face that are the focus.

David Hockney draws Stephen Hawking

This animated tablet art is the latest in Hockney’s long flirtation with technology which has seen him work with multi-screens, high definition video, colour photocopiers, faxes and, of course, the iPad and iPhone too. One is left in no doubt that science has a profound impact on art and culture through its application in technology.

The movie joins other artefacts in the 70th birthday display, which also includes a specially recorded message for the Science Museum and a selection of photographs from Hawking’s life and career that haven’t been seen before. The celebration ends on April 9.

Photographs Copyright Judith Croasdell


Make your own tape loop

Guest blog post from Robert Sommerlad, a musician and Science Museum research assistant.

The Science Museum’s exhibition Oramics to Electronica: Revealing Histories of Electronic Music charts the evolution of electronic music and details the fantastic lengths that its creators often went to in order to push the boundaries of sound. In the days before synthesisers, open source software and pirated soft-synths, electronic music pioneers such as Daphne Oram had very few resources with which to forge new and exciting sounds. The use and abuse of reel to reel tape players, and the splicing of magnetic tape were soon adopted by some of music’s most adventurous minds and became a vital weapon in their war against the sonically mundane. Composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Terry Riley, and also the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were all keen tape splicers, stretchers and loopers.

Nowadays reel to reel tape players are hard to find and incredibly impractical to use. However, their dinky portable cousins, Walkmans, are easier to find, and cassettes are readily and cheaply available in most charity shops, as well as some cupboards, and a few trendy music stores. Cassette tapes are fairly easy to modify too, and doing so provides a fun insight into the early development of electronic music and a chance to get in touch with its roots. Making a tape loop is one of the easiest and most satisfying tape experiments that you can do, and it takes little more than a few bits of a stationery, a steady hand and half an hour of your time. The process is relatively fiddly and the results will be largely dictated by chance (exciting in itself!), but it’s all worth it for the thrill of feeling the spirit of early electronic music experimenters flowing through you. The results are somewhat unpredictable, but sometimes you stumble upon a perfect three or four second-long loop that you can listen to over and over without ever getting bored, its sound appearing change and alter over time…

Step One:

Fish out an old Walkman from you or your parent’s attic, shed or cupboard-under-the-stairs. Everyone has one lurking around somewhere.

Step One

Step Two:
Buy a cassette from your local charity shop. Do judge a book (cassette) by its cover, but make sure that you also check that it is held together with screws, as sealed plastic ones are much harder to open. I chose an Ottawan Best Of, partly because it had a great cover, and partly because there wasn’t much else to choose from. However, the cassette turned out to be sealed with plastic, so I had to resort to my back-up choice, a home-recorded copy of the soundtrack to the (terrible) 1977 film Black Joy, one of the few examples of British Blaxploitation cinema.

Step Two (a)

Step Two (b)
(Note the lack of screws on the Ottawan cassette!)

Step Three:
Have a quick browse while you’re there.

Step Three

Step Four:
Find a tidy place to work (this gets messy) and gather up all of the necessary equipment: a ruler, some sellotape, a pair of scissors and a screwdriver small enough for the cassette’s tiny screws. I have chosen the Science Museum curator’s library.

Step Four

Step Five:
Take out the cassette’s screws, putting them carefully to one side.


Step Six:
Take off the top half of the cassette, being careful not to disturb any of its mechanisms (the funny metal bit at the front).

Step Six

Step Seven:
Take out the tape and detach the ends from the white spools.

Step Seven

Step Eight:
Cut a 23.5cm chunk out of the tape.

Step Eight

Step Nine:
Carefully join the two ends of this strip of tape together with selotape. It is worth taking your time over this bit as the smoother the join is the smoother the sound of the loop will be. Although conversely, sometimes a rhythmic clunk at the end of each repetition can be just what a loop needs to give it shape. I recommend using a tiny piece of selotape on the underside of the tape, and trimming off any excess.

Step Nine

Step Ten:
Carefully place the loop back inside the tape, hooking it around the four white spools: both the larger central pair and the smaller two on each side.

Step Ten

Step Eleven:
Position the tape so that it hooks round all of the spools but is also in front of the cassette’s metal mechanism. It must be held taut, or else it won’t play smoothly.

Step Eleven

Step Twelve:
Close up the tape and re-screw the screws. Make sure that the tape is held behind these plastic teeth at the front and not trapped in them.

Step Twelve

Step Thirteen:
Listen and enjoy!*

Listen and Enjoy © NMeM / Kodak Collection / Science & Society


* As many great experimental musicians from Philip Glass to Mark E. Smith will tell you, repetition can be fascinating. As I have said, this process produces random results which vary in quality so you may have to fiddle around until you find something that works for you. But when you do stumble upon that perfect loop the results are extremely rewarding. And of course, this is only the beginning; there are many more modifications you can make, and who knows where you will end up once the spirits of Oram and Co. have gotten hold of you!

Here’s the loop I made in the Science Museum curator’s library, as well as a couple that I made earlier:

Have fun and let us know how you get on!

Raspberry Pi Model B

From the BBC micro to the Raspberry Pi: Campaigning for Computer Literacy

Guest blog post from Alison Hess, research assistant on our new BBC Micro Project. Learn more about the research and how you can contribute below

Raspberry Pi Model B

Raspberry Pi Model B, image courtesy of the Raspberry Pi Foundation

Last week, a new computer was launched, and within seconds, not only sold out, but also crashed the website! The Raspberry Pi is a British designed device, roughly the size of a credit card and costing a miniscule £22. It has been designed to inspire a new generation of schoolchildren to learn about programming. As their website explains, the idea for this grew out of concern about, “the year-on-year decline in the numbers and skills levels of the A Level students applying to read Computer Science in each academic year.”

While this modest device could be set to revolutionise the way computing is taught in schools today, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is not the first organisation to want to improve our computer literacy. The 1980s marked a boom in personal computers, and many people became concerned that the UK would fall behind. The BBC Computer Literacy Project was launched on the 11th of January 1982, with the transmission of the television series ‘The Computer Programme’. At the same time, Acorn released a BBC licensed microcomputer, called the BBC micro.

BBC micro hardware and software from the Science Museum collection.

BBC micro hardware and software from the Science Museum collection.

By 1985 it had been adopted in 80% of UK schools, and along with a range of BBC educational software, was teaching a generation of children about the creative possibilities of computer programming. Today, this generation of programmers has grown up to populate a thriving computer industry in the UK. Places such as ‘Silicon Fen’ in Cambridge, and ‘Techcity’ in East London are known internationally as dynamic and innovative technology hubs.

In a new piece of research sponsored by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), the Science Museum is investigating the legacy of the BBC Computer Literacy Project, and the BBC micro. To do this we need your help!

Do you have experience of working in the computer and creative industries? Have you set up your own software, design or games company? We’d love to hear about your experiences: Please take our survey and contribute to our research.

The Oramics Machine during conservation

Results from the OraMIX competition

The Oramics Machine during conservation

New post from Merel, Associate Curator of Public History

On October 10th 2011 the Science Museum opened the exhibition Oramics to Electronica: Revealing Histories of Electronic Music. One of the key objects in this exhibition is the Oramics Machine, a unique instrument made by composer and musician Daphne Oram. As part of this exhibition that celebrates music, inventiveness and the search for new sounds we wanted to give people the opportunity to share their own musical creativity.

We invited people from all over the world to remix samples from the Daphne Oram Archive. We challenged them to create a soundtrack for the 1967 TV Programme Our World, the first television production performed and broadcast live, from studios across the world. Musicians and producers Brian Eno and DJ Spooky as well as music magazine The Wire were kind enough to be our star judges.

We were overwhelmed by and very excited about the great amount of submissions we received. An incredible 156 tracks were posted on the competition page and our panel experts had a hard time creating a shortlist that could be sent to the star judges. In fact, they found it so difficult that they decided to double the number of tracks on the shortlist and 12 songs were chosen for the next round of judging.

And now… the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Who won the competition and who will receive that great collection of prizes?

It was a close call, but in the end there can be only one winner. And that winner is… Telescopic Moon by Chris Weeks

DJ Spooky said about this track: “Using nothing but the stems from Daphne Oram’s work, but taking them to places she would have enjoyed, this piece is a journey into some of the overtones [...] Oram used with powerful effect.”

Because it was such a close call, we would also like to applaud our number two, Atomic Shadow, with his track O3, which Brian Eno called ”A really interesting piece – deep, entrancing. I wanted more of it.”

Our number three, with only 0.3 points difference was Obe:lus. DJ Spooky said of his track Satellite Oramix: ”Great use of the stems from the original material, and it’s a beautiful track that lets you hear how poly-valent Daphne Oram’s work is. Polyrhythm plus the beautiful use of the original material made this track a standout.” Brian Eno said:”I keep humming it.”

Finally a special mention for the tracks submitted by The Audible Smile and Astrogarage. The Wire said of Sattelites Cry by The Audible Smile: ”I like the idea of satellites crying to each other across the void of space.” According to Brian Eno the song has “the sort of mysteriousness that Daphne liked.”

Astrogarage’s Orbit was described by Brian Eno as “Very engaging, intricate, and complex in mood. I wanted this to go on and on.”

We would like to thank everybody for submitting their tracks and taking part in the competition.

The OraMIX competition was made possible by Soundcloud; Goldsmiths, University of London; Sound and Music; Boomkat; and the Daphne Oram Trust and the Daphne Oram Archive.