Monthly Archives: April 2012

Swiss Army Octopus - the perfect camping buddy

Visitor Inventions – Animals

They say the UK is a country of animal lovers and judging by what our visitors have drawn, it is most certainly true!  Why use a standard Swiss Army knife when a friendly octopus can help you instead?  Or why should we continue to burn fossil fuels when hamsters are happy to power devices for us?

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

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

Explainer Fact: The Museum has a large anatomical horse in the Veterinary section on the 5th floor

Stargazing Live Outreach

Post written by Explainer Kate

In January the Science Museum was asked to take part in the BBC’s Stargazing Live events at Woolwich and Charlton house. Events were held all over the UK to coincide with the second series of the very successful Stargazing Live show. Explainer Dan and I from the Science Museum Learning Team together with some lovely volunteers from STEM, attended the daytime event at Woolwich and the evening event at Charlton House.

On a very sunny day in Woolwich there were lots of free demonstrations, activities and telescopes for the public to look at. Dan and I set up Alka-Seltzer rockets and traced constellations. I also got to look at the sun through a telescope with a specially designed filter which was very exciting.

At Charlton House everybody was hoping for a clear night.  This time we knew that we were not going to be able to set off Alka-Seltzer rockets inside the beautiful Jacobean House, so we also brought a water rocket and arranged the launch pad on the lawn.  Dan had the clever idea of putting glow-in-the-dark sticks inside the water rockets so we could clearly see how high they were travelling up into the air in the dark.

Meanwhile inside the building we set out a huge piece of paper on which people drew constellations, planets and anything else they thought they would find in space. We also had some real NASA space food and the model of the Saturn V rocket for people to look at and we demonstrated how to make film-can constellations.

Unfortunately the night was pretty overcast so it was difficult to get a chance to see much through the telescopes but I did manage to catch a glimpse of Jupiter and some of its moons which was very cool!

Explainer Fact:  Nasa launched a spacecraft called Juno last year to help us learn more about Jupiter.

Our infamous Sound Switcher in action last Half Term.

The Open Lab experience

Entertaining stampeding children, discussing the complexities of the human mind, and making people marvel at incredible illusions – all part of a day’s work at Lottolab. For those of you who haven’t heard of Lottolab, it’s a perception research space and the only place in the Science Museum where multiple real science experiments take place. For the past few months I have volunteered at Lottolab and gained great insight into a totally unique and highly interactive museum experience.

Unlike other museum spaces, Lottolab doesn’t have many exhibits in the usual sense. In fact, on entering you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled into a forbidden section, perhaps a sort of experimental wing. And in a way you’d be right. Lottolab is experimental in so many ways; take a look at this video for an overview:

[yframe url='']

Rather than spending hours reading signs about old bits and pieces, here you’re more likely to find yourself approached by a rather charming volunteer and asked to take part in an experiment. Not just any old experiment though – a perception study (and they’re the most fun, because they’re about you!). You might even end up blindfolded, trying to navigate your way around a maze, using only an iPod application which converts colour into sound.

The most impressive part of the maze experiment is that it’s designed by kids. A key philosophy of Lottolab is that people shouldn’t only take part in experiments, but also make them. It’s this high level of public participation that inspires everything we do. Many of our studies end up published in scientific journals and so contribute to the formal advancement of scientific knowledge.

Our infamous Sound Switcher in action last Half Term.

During my time at Lottolab, I created the short video you can see above, with Program Manager David Robertson explaining the lab and its mission (as well as showing people attempting the blindfold experiment). Hopefully it gives you a sense of what a totally unique and truly interactive place Lottolab is. Whether you want to take part in an experiment, suggest your own or simply admire some incredible tricks of the mind, there’s something for you here.

Lottolab are open in the Science Museum until the 20th of April, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (12-4pm) next to the Energy Gallery on the second floor – though we hope to be reopening in a new-look gallery in the summer, so stay tuned if you don’t get to pay us a visit this time. We look forward to meeting you!

This post, and the associated video, were created by Lottolab volunteer Samuel Cavenagh.

Image of tuning forks

Hearing Artefacts – A Science Museum Radio Diary

Image of tuning forks The Science Museum is very pleased to announce our first ever Sound Artist in Residence, Aleks Kolkowski.

In recent years Aleks has explored the potential of historical sound recording and reproduction technology to make contemporary mechanical-acoustic music. His works for singers, instrumentalists and even singing canaries often feature live-made sound inscriptions onto wax cylinders and lacquer discs using Edison phonographs and old disc recording lathes.

Other activities include repurposing discarded digital CDs as 45rpm analogue records and both sound installations and performances where historic sound reproducing machines, mechanical musical instruments and archival recordings are combined with state-of-the-art electronics. Such practice-led research using antiquated audio technologies and investigations into little-known forms of mechanical amplification led to the award of a PhD from Brunel University.

His major project to date has been an archive of contemporary musicians, artists and writers recorded exclusively on wax cylinders. Begun in 2006 and continuing, the entire Phonographies collection may be listened to online.

Busily recording away, Aleks has developed a series of weekly radio programmes documenting the sounds of the museum. Granted unfettered access to our collections and in close co-operation with curators and staff, Aleks has recorded objects, machines and instruments and the stories associated with them. The radio series will be aired on Resonance 104.4 FM  at 4.30 on Thursday afternoons every week beginning March 22nd and repeated on Sundays at 11am.

 From the service corridors and basement workshops to restricted areas on the upper floors, the sounds of the entire building will be also be traced in an attempt to map the sounds of one of the world’s greatest museums.

 This week’s show: Thursday 5th April, 16:30 – 17:30, repeated on Sunday 8th at 11am

Machine Music: Sounds of Steam; Double Beam and Mill Engines; Loom

 This week’s show focuses on the giant steam driven mill engine in the Energy Hall on the ground floor of the museum and the largest working exhibit on display. Ben Russell, curator of Mechanical Engineering talks about its history and maintenance engineer and steam specialist John Shulver fires up the boiler and blasts some excess steam out into the museum courtyard. We hear the engine in all its glory from close up on the deck down to its thudding echoes in the basement. Also heard on the programme are the clamorous clacking sounds of the Toyoda Loom and the rhythmic chug and whir of an exquisitely engineered model double-beam steam engine from 1840. 

 Last week’s show: The Museum as a Sonic Space

 Tim Boon, the Science Museum’s Head of Research, muses on how sound operates in the museum, whether accidental, incidental or deliberately created, through a guided tour of particular galleries and exhibits. In the second half of the programme, Aleks  accompanies Exhibit Maintenance Manager Sean Wogan as he starts up the Water Garden and other delights.