Monthly Archives: June 2013

From flash mobs to ‘eco’ picnics: celebrating Climate Science Outreach

Dani Williams, Project Co-ordinator for the Climate Science Outreach Project, reflects on the success of the three year project as it draws to a close.

How do you engage teenagers in climate change? This was our challenge when we launched the Climate Science Outreach Project – a three year project run by the museum in partnership with the National Railway Museum in York, Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, At-Bristol science centre and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre.

Students from Beech House School, Rochdale with their artwork - The Whole World in Their Hands. Image credits: Science Museum

Students from Beech House School, Rochdale with their artwork – The Whole World in Their Hands. Image credits: Science Museum

The nationwide project was designed to inspire 13-14 year olds on the subject of climate change by equipping them with the skills to become climate ambassadors in their schools and communities. During each year of the project, schools were set a different challenge – allowing students to explore aspects of climate change on which they felt enthusiastic.

An artwork by Marple Hall School, Cheshire entitled The Last Tree. Image credits: Science Museum

An artwork by Marple Hall School, Cheshire entitled The Last Tree. Image credits: Science Museum

At the end of each year, the Science Museum turned the students’ finished work into a public exhibition or product, giving students an enormous sense of pride in their own achievements.

In year one, students were asked to create their own pieces of Sci-art on a climate change theme. Among the incredible artworks were a giant hand showing the five countries contributing the most towards carbon emissions and a homeless polar pear begging on the streets. The project was turned into a photographic exhibition which toured at each of the partner museums.

Homeless - an artwork of a polar bear created by Sale Grammar School, Manchester. Image credits: Science Museum

Homeless – an artwork of a polar bear created by Sale Grammar School, Manchester. Image credits: Science Museum

In year two, students from 50 schools across the country became science journalists, investigating and reporting on climate change stories affecting their communities. The result was a fascinating range of stories covering everything from community recycling initiatives to the use of sheep poo as a future energy source. The students’ stories were published in ATMOS – a special magazine for the project.

Students at the National Railway Museum see their articles in the ATMOS magazine. Image credits: Science Museum

Students at the National Railway Museum see their articles in the ATMOS magazine. Image credits: Science Museum

In the third and final year of the programme, students from 60 schools were set the challenge of organising and running a mass-participation event in their school or community to raise awareness of climate change.

Students from Shenley Brook End School with the results of their paintball workshop. Image credits: Science Museum

Students from Shenley Brook End School with the results of their paintball workshop. Image credits: Science Museum

Students were asked to submit proposals and bid for funding from the Science Museum. They were encouraged to think creatively and run unusual and exciting events that people might not ordinarily associate with science. The events included an endangered animal football match, recycled fashion shows, flash mobs and a cycle-powered cinema. Photographs from the events were displayed at a celebration party to mark the end of the project.

Students from Penryn School in polar bear masks for a performance in At-Bristol. Image credit: Science Museum

Students from Penryn School in polar bear masks for a performance in At-Bristol. Image credit: Science Museum

We are delighted with the results of the project. In addition to raising awareness of climate change, teachers have reported many additional benefits including increased confidence among the students, a greater interest in science and improved literacy.

Westminster comes to the Science Museum

Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group, writes about bringing Westminster to the Science Museum.

The Science Museum witnessed democracy in action this morning when it hosted a meeting of one of the committees used by the House of Commons to provide a means of impartial, systematic scrutiny of government.

Science and Technology Select Committee taking evidence at the Science Museum

Science and Technology Select Committee taking evidence at the Science Museum

The chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Andrew Miller MP, has held evidence sessions outside Westminster, notably in Sheffield for its “bridging the valley of death” inquiry into the commercialisation of research and one in Falmouth to take evidence for its inquiry into marine science, so more people can attend without the need to travel to London.

The Committee now wants to uncover what the public understand about climate, where they look for their information and how their understanding may impact policy.

Today Mr Miller and fellow MPs convened in the Atmosphere gallery of the museum – which has explained climate science to more than 1.7 million visitors since it opened in 2010 – to take evidence as part of its inquiry into Climate: Public understanding and policy implications.

‘This is a first,’ said Miller, referring to how the museum is an appropriate location for the inquiry, given its efforts to communicate climate science to a broad audience. The Science Museum has more than three million visitors each year, 37% which are children aged 15 or under.

Among the witnesses was former Science Museum director, Professor Chris Rapley, now of University College London, and Dr Alex Burch, the museum’s Director of Learning.

‘For our visitors, this subject is complex, with an emotional element, and can be overwhelming,’ said Dr Burch.

Former Science Museum director, Professor Chris Rapley, and Dr Alex Burch, Director of Learning giving evidence to the Select Committee

Former Science Museum director, Professor Chris Rapley (r), and Dr Alex Burch, Director of Learning (centre), giving evidence to the Select Committee

Dr Burch explained that ’Various lines of research, for instance at the museum, suggest that for many people climate change was something that happened elsewhere, to other people and in the future.’ 

The Atmosphere gallery, which has a carefully designed narrative, has been visited by leading figures, including Al Gore, the Chinese Ambassador, and a delegation of MPs from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Prof Rapley called the gallery ‘atmospheric’ and ‘unique’ and said it is aimed at everyone, not just the converted, so they can make up their own minds. ‘It is not the job of the museum to tell people what to think.’

In evaluation surveys, visitors described the gallery as ‘interesting’ (88% of surveyed visitors), ‘enjoyable’ (79%) and ‘educational’ (76%).

To accompany Atmosphere, the museum launched a three-year programme of schools outreach around climate science in 2010 with the National Railway Museum in York, Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, At-Bristol science centre and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Runcorn, which has engaged 3,193 secondary-school students with issues of climate science and its communication, notably through a magazine called Atmos.

The museum has also undertaken more unusual initiatives: an online education game about risk management, RIZK, which has been played 3.3m times since launch; A Cockroach Tour of the Science Museum, a participative art piece by Danish collective Superflex, where visitors explore the Museum and human history and society from the perspective of cockroaches; and Tony White’s e-novel Shackleton’s Man Goes South. White was present at today’s hearing in the gallery, which features his book.

The museum’s qualitative research with adult visitors suggests that understanding of climate science is patchy and disconnected, findings backed by other research, such as a nationwide survey conducted a decade ago by the Economic and Social Research Council which showed, for example, that 44 per cent of the public believe (wrongly) that nuclear power directly contributes to climate change.

Research suggests that while the public generally trust scientists as a source of information about climate change, there is evidence that negative stereotypes of scientists (such as poor communication skills and remoteness) hamper direct public engagement with researchers.

Research indicates an important role for trusted institutions such as the Science Museum that occupy the interface between the scientific community and the public. ‘We are trusted by the public, and by scientists,’ said Dr Burch.

In recognition of hypocrisy as another potential barrier to trust among the public, the Museum undertook various measures during the development of Atmosphere, which include employing a Sustainability Consultant, and setting up a Working Group that reduced the organisation’s carbon footprint by 17% between 2009 and 2010.

The Science Museum Group’s new Hemcrete storage facility at its Wroughton site recently won a Museum and Heritage’s Sustainability award and the Best Workplace New Build category at the Greenbuild Awards.

The Group also aims to generate energy both for our own use, and to send it to the grid. An example of this is the proposed 40MW solar array at the Wroughton site which will provide electricity for around 12,000 homes.

We want your telegrams!

Jen Kavanagh, Audience Engagement Manager, writes about the search for stories for our new Information Age gallery opening in September 2014. 

How do you send a message? Text? Email? What was used before computers? During the reign of Queen Victoria, it was the telegram. Do you have one tucked away somewhere at home that you could bring in and talk about? The Science Museum is inviting you to bring your telegrams into one of our collecting days at the Dana Centre (behind the Science Museum on 165 Queen’s Gate) from 11.00-16.00 on 28 June and 29 June.

Motorcycle telegram messenger, c 1930s

Motorcycle telegram messenger, c 1930s. Image: Daily Herald Archive / National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

We are looking for telegrams dated from Victorian times to the 1980s. There is no limitation on the length or content of each message and you will not be expected to donate your telegram. Instead, our team want the chance to chat to you about its background and history and take a digital scan of the card. 

Telegram operators transpose messages on to typewriters, 1 June 1935.

Telegram operators transpose messages on to typewriters, 1 June 1935. Image:
Daily Herald Archive / National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

Considered to be the quickest and most efficient way to send short messages, topics could range from local gossip to family announcements to business orders. Although small, these printed cards are now recognised as an important part of the history of communication, which is why the Science Museum has launched a search for telegrams and the stories behind them. Find out more about the search here: sciencemuseum.org.uk/stories

#TuringTour: Tweeting our Turing Exhibition

To celebrate Alan Turing’s birthday this week, curator David Rooney gave the #TuringTour, a tweeted live tour of our Codebreaker exhibition.

The full tour can be seen here, but we’ve pick out a few highlights for you below…

Next on the #TuringTour, we turned to computing before computers, when computers were actually people and mostly women

War is, as ever, a powerful stimulus for innovation. Examples include this bomb aiming computer:

But if Alan Turing is famous for one thing, it is his work at Bletchley Park on naval Enigma and German ciphers

We ended the tour with a rather poignant question…

Over 370 tweets were sent using #TuringTour from as far away as Denmark, Chile and the USA. We also had some great feedback from followers:

Thanks to all of you who followed the tour, and you can discover more about the Codebreaker exhibition here.

Calling former telephone operators!

Jen Kavanagh, Audience Engagement Manager, writes about the search for stories for our new Information Age gallery opening in September 2014. 

Calling former telephone operators!

We want to speak to the ladies who worked as telephone exchange operators in the 1950s and early 1960s, particularly around Enfield, London. We would like our visitors to be able to listen their memories alongside a display of the last manual telephone exchange in our Information Age gallery.

Before automated systems were introduced in the 1960s, phone calls were manually connected by young female telephone exchange operators. Their concentration, patience and friendly manner ensured calls were placed across the country and each telephone exchange developed into a small social community.

Manual Telephone Exchange Enfield, October 1960

Manual Telephone Exchange Enfield, October 1960. Image: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

The last manual telephone exchange was in Enfield, north London, and marks the end of an era in communication history. A section of the Enfield Exchange forms a part of the Science Museum’s collection and will be put on display in the Information Age gallery. We would like to bring this amazing piece of history to life through the memories of the women who worked with the machine.

Do you know of anyone who worked as a telephone exchange operator? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Please visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/stories to get in touch.

Lyons Tea Shop Managers needed!

We are also looking to speak to Lyons tea shop managers that worked with Lyons Electronic Office (LEO I), the world’s first business computer, in the 1950s. Brought to life on 17 November 1951, LEO I played a crucial role in the development of a new computer age and we would love to hear from its female workforce. If you are a former manager (or relative), please get in touch and share your stories.

Lyons Tea Shop Manager Alice Eleanor Bacon, 1897

Lyons Tea Shop Manager Alice Eleanor Bacon, 1897. Image: Peter Bird

Wonderful Things: The Drug Castle

Kate Davis, a Learning Resources Project Developer, discovers the story behind one of our more unusual objects.

The fifth floor of the Science Museum is a fascinating area, full of gory and often unusual paraphernalia related to the history of medicine. One of the more unusual objects lurking in this gallery is the Drug Castle.

How long did this take to build?

A castle constructed from pills, capsules and medicine containers.

Our knowledge of medicine and how civilisations have treated illness and disease stretches all the way back to the earliest writings on the subject from Ancient Egypt. However, the ways in which people have treated illness has not changed very much over the centuries. It is only during the last 200 years that scientific developments have gathered pace and enabled doctors to make huge breakthroughs in treatments. It is often easy for us, living in the 21st Century, to forget that as little as 100 years ago there was no penicillin, nobody knew the cause of rickets and there was no vaccine for tuberculosis. 

Now, we can mass produce a whole range of pills and potions for a variety of different ailments that had previously been untreatable. All of the syringes, pill bottles and tablets used to create the Drug Castle are real and it is a brilliant visualisation of how central the use of drugs has become to the treatment of illness in the developed world. However, this shift in how we treat disease does not come without its controversy.

The Drug Castle itself is a reminder of this as it was created to feature in a poster campaign by the East London Health Project in 1978. This campaign aimed to raise questions about whether pharmaceutical companies were more interested in making money or making their medicines available to all. Health care is extremely costly and is frequently an issue that is considered and debated by governments worldwide as they try to provide the best health care they can for their citizens with the funds that they have available to them.

There are also significant issues with the effectiveness of the drugs that are prescribed by doctors.  One of the primary examples of this is with antibiotics, that when first manufactured, were very effective at treating infections, but now are less so because the bacteria has mutated so that antibiotics, such as penicillin, are not as useful. Therefore, in order to keep treating infection scientists will need to develop new drugs that can combat these more virulent illnesses.

Should we keep creating new drugs for antibiotic resistant bugs – or do we need to change the way we take medicines?

Happy birthday, Z boson

Alice Lighton, content developer for our Collider exhibition, writes about the history of quantum physics. Collider: step inside the world’s greatest experiment opens in November 2013 with a behind-the-scenes look at the famous CERN particle physics laboratory. 

The air brimmed with excitement on this momentous day. The discovery of the particle confirmed a theory that had taken years to devise, and justified the toil of hundreds of scientists.

You might think I’m referring to the Higgs boson – the particle that explains mass, discovered at the LHC last year. But thirty years ago this month, another event shaped modern physics – the discovery of the Z boson.

In the 1960s, physicists predicted the Z and W bosons, as a way to link the electromagnetic and weak forces. There was plenty of evidence the theory was correct, but the lynchpin would be the discovery of the Z boson.

A section of the 4.3 mile-round Super Proton Synchrotron, at CERN near Geneva. Image: CERN

To make a Z boson, two particles are smashed together. The energy of the crash creates new, heavy particles. If a Z boson is produced, it sticks around for only a fraction of a second before it decays into other particles. To claim the prize of discovering the Z boson, physicists would need to be able to forensically reconstruct what happens in a collision, never seeing the Z directly.

Europe and America built machines to discover the Z, including the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) at CERN. “The idea of creating this massive object (the Z) and letting it decay…was a riveting idea (well at least for me in the late 1970s),” said Crispin Williams, a physicist who now works on the ALICE experiment at the LHC.

Two CERN physicists, effusive Italian Carlo Rubbia and Dutchman Simon Van der Meer, realised that to beat the firepower of the newly-opened Tevatron in Chicago, the SPS had to take risks. The pair devised an audacious plan; rather than fire beams onto a fixed object, they would collide two opposing beams, each only a hair’s width across and both travelling at almost the speed of light.

What’s more, one of the beams would be made of antimatter, which destroys ordinary matter. Creating and manipulating a beam of antimatter was a revolutionary concept.

Williams remembers when Rubbia and Van der Meer announced their plan to collide two beams. “This was to a packed auditorium at CERN and I suspect that most people thought he was out of his mind,” said Williams.

Rubbia and Van der Meer celebrate receiving a Nobel prize for their efforts. Image: CERN

Despite the technical challenge, the new collider worked. One visitor to CERN in 1982 described the intense excitement the new development created. “I went to the CERN cafeteria for a coffee and there I saw something that I had not noticed before. There was a monitor on the wall and people were watching the screen with great interest. The monitor was showing the rate of proton–antiproton collisions in CERN’s latest challenge – a bold venture designed to produce the intermediate bosons, W and Z.”

In January 1983, the risk-takers received their reward, when the W boson was discovered.  On 1st June 1983, scientists at CERN announced they had seen five Z bosons in their detectors.

The tracks left by the decay of the Z boson in a detector. Image: UA1/CERN

The route to the discovery had revolutionised particle physics, with more intricate detectors and the ability to manipulate antimatter. For Williams, the discovery of the Higgs boson was much less elegant. “In comparison the Higgs at the LHC is just brute force,” he said.  “Maybe I am just getting old and cynical: and I look back at the Z discovery through rose tinted glasses.”

Celebrating 100 Years of the Medical Research Council

A guest blog post by Vivienne Parry, MRC Council Member

This year the Medical Research Council (MRC) celebrates 100 years of life-changing discoveries. The MRC has its roots in the National Insurance Act, passed by Parliament in 1911. At the turn of the last century, TB was as great a concern to the Edwardians as cancer is to us today. Desperate for cures, government proposed that one penny per working person per year should be taken from their national insurance tax and put into tuberculosis treatment and research. We would call it ring fenced funding today. By 1913 it was recommended that this research should be extended to all diseases. An advisory council and executive committee was convened to oversee this research and administer funds — and thus it was that the MRC was established.

X-rays showing the healing effects of cod liver oil and sunlight on the lower leg bones of a child with rickets. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

X-rays showing the healing effects of cod liver oil and sunlight on the lower leg bones of a child with rickets. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

And what a 100 years it has been. You can read about some of our outstanding achievements on our Centenary Timeline including the 1916 discovery that rickets is caused by a lack of Vitamin D, the 1933 finding that flu is caused by a virus, the unravelling of the structure of DNA by MRC researchers in 1953, and the invention of the MRI scanner in 1973. Our scientists also invented DNA fingerprinting in 1984 and helped Parkinson’s disease patients with deep brain stimulation in 1995. More recently we have developed the phone app Txt2stop which doubles a smoker’s likelihood of quitting.

A reconstruction of the double helix model of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

A reconstruction of the double helix model of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Although it’s great to look back, MRC-funded research continues to have a huge impact on health both in the UK and globally. Less well known is the profound impact that this research has had on our economy and society. We want to share these successes and our birthday celebrations with the British public who today continue to provide the funding for our research through their taxes.

A scientist analysing DNA microarrays. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

A scientist analysing DNA microarrays. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

So far this year we have hosted an installation at Imperial College London looking at the past, present and future of science; saw Her Majesty The Queen open the new building for the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (51 years after opening the original); and revealed that antibiotics won the public vote in our Centenary Poll on the most important medical discovery of the past 100 years. We’ll be celebrating our official birthday on 20 June with our Centenary Open Week, which will see more than 60 public events taking place around the country.

Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic penicillin in 1929. Antibiotics were voted as the top invention in the MRC's Centenary Poll. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic penicillin in 1929. Antibiotics were voted as the top invention in the MRC’s Centenary Poll. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

To launch Open Week we are offering a ‘teaser’ of MRC research by joining forces with the Science Museum to host The Life Game – a free festival taking place this weekend. Visitors will be able to enter Life and take their character (pal) on a journey through the years talking to our scientists, taking chances and making choices as they progress through the festival, creating the story of a long and healthy life for their character.

Visitors will be able to meet scientists to find out about how friends and family can affect health; ground-breaking research on the brain; the impact of living in different social and physical environments; antibiotic resistance; the allergens that can be found by exploring inside a giant nose and how a disease outbreak can spread. People can also gain an insight into how MRC research is helping to improve the lives of transplant patients, and find out how they compare to other visitors in our health tests.

To celebrate the centenary of the Medical Research Council, visitors at the Science Museum were given the chance to create a pal and take them through a unique life journey. If you would like to see all the different pals created during the The Life Game, then please click here.

Costume design for The Energy Show

This summer, our IMAX theatre will be transformed into a steampunk world for ‘The Energy Show’. This theatre show for families explores the different forms of energy through some explosive experiments live on stage. It stars futuristic science students Annabella and Phil plus their lab assistant Bernard.

Science student Annabella. Credit: Janet Bird

Science student Annabella. Credit: Janet Bird

These initial sketches from designer Janet Bird demonstrate the distinctly steampunk feel to The Energy Show.

 

Science student Phil

Science student Phil. Credit: Janet Bird

Science Museum Live presents ‘The Energy Show’ at the Science Museum from 22 July – 31 August. You can find more information and tickets here

T. Alva Edison and his Amazing Phonograph!

Jared Keller, a researcher and former Science Museum Explainer, discusses some of our hidden objects and the science behind them. 

Today we’re looking at the Sound Section of Launchpad and one of my favourite exhibits, “Sound Bite”. If you’re a bit rusty on your Sound Bite science, HERE is an old BBC refresher course on the principles of sound travelling through a medium/solid.

Launchpad’s World Famous ‘Sound Bite’ – Credit: Man Chiwing

The important thing to remember is that sound waves can travel through a solid material like a metal rod the same as they can through the air. Proof of this lies in the fact that you can feel the rod vibrating if you pinch it with your fingers. When you bite down, those vibrations are passed up through your teeth, through your jaw, and up into your ear where they vibrate the same bones in the inner-ear that normally vibrate from sound waves in the air.

Edison stares intently at his new invention - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Edison stares intently at his new invention – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

In 1877 a very ‘bright’ man named Thomas Alva Edison put this principle to use in what he called a phonograph. Whereas the more familiar gramaphone ‘records’ are flat two-sided discs of vinyl, Edison’s original phonographs used 10 cm cylinders made of soft tin-foil (and later wax).

Edison's original phonograph cylinders - on display in the Secret Life of the Home gallery

Edison’s original phonograph cylinders – on display in the Secret Life of the Home gallery – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Whatever you call them, the science is simple: he knew, just like you, that sound travelling through a metal causes it to vibrate. His great insight, was in realising that vibrations in a metal could then be turned back into vibrations in the air – what we normally hear as sounds!

The first words spoken into Edison's new phonograph recorder? ... "Mary had a little lamb" - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

The first words spoken into Edison’s new phonograph recorder? … “Mary had a little lamb” – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

In the drawing above you can see Edison speaking into one of his phonographs. As he spoke into the cone and tube, it captured his voice and funneled it down until it was intense enough to vibrate a small, incredibly sharp piece of metal. As the metal vibrated with the sound of his voice, the soft tin cylinder was rotated underneath the vibrating tip which caused the tip to cut into the tin. If you want to see a real phonograph player and its cylindrical record, simply head to the ‘Secret Life of the Home’ gallery in the basement.

Closeup of the grooves on a phonograph cylinder - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Closeup of the grooves on a phonograph cylinder – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Edison knew that once the vibration of his voice had been carved into the soft tin, passing another tip through those grooves in the now hardened tin would make the needle vibrate in exactly the same way! All he had to do then was take those vibrations and amplify them so they were loud enough to be heard by the human ear. But being the veteran Sound Biters that we are, we know that if Edison had simply attached small metal rods to that vibrating tip we could bite down on them and let the vibrations pass up our teeth, through our jaws, and up to our ears, just like with Sound Bite!

A dapper Edison pumps music directly into our skulls! – Credit: Matteo Farinella

Though maybe Edison was right: listening to a song through the air is much more satisfying than biting down on a metal rod!