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Celebrating the opening of Information Age

By Laura Singleton, Press Officer

On Friday, we were delighted to welcome Her Majesty The Queen to open our pioneering new Information Age gallery at the Science Museum. The Queen opened the gallery by sending her first tweet, 76 years after her first visit to the Museum.

The Queen sends her first tweet to open the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The Queen sends her first tweet to open the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The historic moment took place in front of around 600 supporters of the Museum who had gathered to celebrate the opening of Information Age. The audience included communications entrepreneurs, authors and experts, from Baroness Lane Fox, Hermann Hauser and Mo Ibrahim to Prof Steve FurberJames GleickTom Standage and Sir Nigel Shadbolt.

Guests received a warm welcome from Ian Blatchford, Science Museum Director, before being treated to a performance of John Adams’ ‘A Short ride in a fast machine’ by the Philharmonia concert band.

Standing in front of the monumental aerial inductance coil from Rugby Radio which was donated to the Science Museum by BT, Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group, Lead Principal Sponsor of the gallery, spoke of his tremendous pride in seeing the iconic tuning coil reassembled and on public display.

The Queen meets Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group at the opening of the Information Age gallery.

The Queen meets Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

He used the opportunity to highlight some triumphs from BT’s history of pioneering new technologies, from the first electric telegram to the first transatlantic telephone call. He said that the “spirit of the Information Age creates a future of endless possibilities” and that BT was thrilled to be involved in the gallery.

Simon Segars, CEO of ARM, Principal Sponsor, stressed the growing need for more young people to take up careers in engineering, which he described as “vital to the future prosperity of the UK”.

The Queen meets Simon Segars, CEO of ARM. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen meets Simon Segars, CEO of ARM. Image credit: Science Museum

Mr Segars described how his first visit to the Science Museum as a child had inspired him to pursue a career in engineering. He expressed his hopes that today’s young people would take similar inspiration from the Information Age gallery.

The relationship between the arts and science was the focus of Patricia E Harris’ speech as CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Principal Funder of the gallery. Ms Harris spoke of Bloomberg’s interest in supporting institutions that harness the power of both arts and technology, praising Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s new digital and interactive artwork in the gallery. Information Age was, she said, a “perfect fit” for Bloomberg’s support, as the Science Museum is one of the most popular museums in the UK.

The Queen meets Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Brian McClendon, VP Engineering, Google at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen meets Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Brian McClendon, VP Engineering, Google at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The Museum’s ability to inspire the next generation, was further highlighted by Brian McClendon, VP Engineering at Google and the founder of Google Earth. Google is a Principal Funder of the gallery and has contributed a number of objects including a Google Corkboard Server which is on display in the Web section of the gallery.

On arrival at the Museum, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were greeted by the Lord Lieutenant, Sir David Brewer, the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Councillor Maighread Condon-Simmonds, Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum and Dr Gill Samuels, Interim Chairman of the Science Museum Group. Her Majesty also received a welcome cheer in the Energy Hall from a group of children from Marlborough Primary School who were visiting the Museum that day.

The Queen is greeted by school children as she enters the Museum with Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen is greeted by children from Marlborough Primary School as she enters the Museum with Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford. Image credit: Tim Anderson

Within the Information Age gallery, Lead Curator Tilly Blyth gave The Queen a short tour of some of the exhibition highlights, from a bright yellow call box from Cameroon to the BBC’s first radio transmitter from 1922. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh also visited the broadcast area of the gallery and listened for the first time to recordings of the personal recollections of people whose first experience of television was watching the Coronation in 1953.

Following the tour, Ian Blatchford welcomed The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, describing Information Age as “the beginning of a renaissance for the Museum”. He thanked BT for its generous donation of 80 objects to the gallery and expressed his delight that “our friends at CERN have lent us Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer, the first web server.”

Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford welcomes The Queen to the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford welcomes The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh to the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Carole Souter CBE, Chief Executive of The Heritage Lottery Fund emphasised the importance of collaboration between public and private donors and their £6 million contribution to the gallery. She spoke warmly of HLF’s “great respect and fondness” for the Science Museum and our commitment to bringing science and technology to life in a way that everyone can relate to.

The Queen meets Carole Souter, CEO of the Heritage Lottery Fund at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen meets Carole Souter, CEO of the Heritage Lottery Fund at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The Queen later accepted an Honorary Fellowship of the Science Museum from Dr Gill Samuels, Interim Chairman of the Trustees. The presentation was made by Michael G Wilson OBE, Chairman of the Science Museum Foundation and Ms Edwina Dunn, Trustee of the Foundation. The Fellowship is an honour normally awarded to outstanding scientists.

The Queen is presented with a Science Museum Fellowship at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen is presented with a Science Museum Fellowship at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Inviting The Queen to open the gallery, Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford remarked on how royalty had embraced communications technology, from the day Queen Victoria took an interest in the invention of the telephone, which was demonstrated to her in January 1878 by Alexander Graham Bell at Osborne House, Isle of Wight. “Your Majesty has followed in this tradition,” said Mr Blatchford. “You made the first live Christmas broadcast in 1957 and an event relished by historians took place on 26 March 1976, when you became the first monarch to send an email, during a visit to the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment.”

He then invited The Queen to join him to “send your first Tweet”. The Queen removed a glove to send her pioneering tweet from the @BritishMonarchy Twitter account.

Following a fanfare from the Philharmonia, The Queen was presented with a specially created bouquet of flowers by Catherine Patterson, the daughter of Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group. Made from punch cards and telegraph printing tape, the bouquet was designed by Mark Champkins, the Science Museum’s Inventor in Residence.

Catherine Patterson presents an 'information bouquet' to HM The Queen. Image credit: Tim Anderson

Catherine Patterson presents an ‘information bouquet’ to The Queen. Image credit: Science Museum

The Information Age gallery is now open to the public on the second floor of the Science Museum. More information can be found on our website.

Information Age has been made possible through the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, BT (Lead Principal Sponsor), ARM (Principal Sponsor), Bloomberg Philanthropies and Google (Principal Funders). Major Funders include the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Bonita Trust and Motorola Solutions Foundation. Additional support has been provided by Accenture (Connect Circle Sponsor) as well as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Cambridge Wireless (CW) Qualcomm Foundation, The David and Claudia Harding Foundation and other individual donors. The Science Museum would also like to thank the BBC for their assistance.

Revealing The Real Cooke and Wheatstone Telegraph Dial

John Liffen, Curator of Communications, blogs about an important discovery to be displayed for the first time in our new Information Age gallery opening 25 October 2014.

The Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery features over 800 objects spanning 200 years of telecommunications. Many have been on display before, but most are on show for the first time in this gallery. Among these are newly-acquired objects that show the latest developments in communications, while others are drawn from the Museum’s extensive collections.

One object in particular represents what we believe to be a major discovery.

The object in question is a large Cooke and Wheatstone electric telegraph dial, on loan from Kings College London since 1963. The object has never before been on public display because of doubts over its authenticity. However, I am now confident that it dates from 1837, the year that the practical electric telegraph was introduced in Britain.

Cooke and Wheatstone's Five Needle Telegraph © Science Museum

The newly-identified Cooke and Wheatstone Five Needle Telegraph, 1837 © Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

Since 1876, the Museum has displayed a smaller five-needle instrument and has claimed it to be one of the original instruments installed at either Euston or Camden Town in 1837 when Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke demonstrated their electric telegraph system to the directors of the newly-opened London and Birmingham Railway.

I had long been suspicious of this because there were several technical features which just did not ‘add up’. All the history books repeated the Museum’s assertion about its originality and yet there was no real evidence to confirm it. I decided it was time to find out for certain.

The smaller Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph instrument, now believed to date from about 1849 © Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

The smaller Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph instrument, now believed to date from about 1849 © Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

I researched the whole story again, this time using only contemporary records such as Cooke’s letters, other manuscript documents and press reports. After much work, I concluded that the large dial was almost certainly one of the two 1837 originals, whereas the smaller instrument was likely to be one of the working models made for demonstration at a High Court hearing in 1850 when a rival company was disputing Cooke and Wheatstone’s priority in the invention.

The layout of the dial was Wheatstone’s idea. Any of the 20 letters on the dial can be indicated by making the appropriate pair of needles point to it. No knowledge of a code is needed and the dial is big enough for a crowd of people to see it working. Then as now, good salesmanship was needed to put over new technology.

Sheet 1 of the drawings for Cooke and Wheatstone’s 1837 electric telegraph  © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library

Sheet 1 of the drawings for Cooke and Wheatstone’s 1837 electric telegraph © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library

So why is this discovery so important?

The electric telegraph was the first practical use of electricity and from the 1840s onwards it transformed world communications. After a transatlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1866, messages between Europe and North America took only hours to arrive rather than weeks. Moreover, Cooke saw the emerging railway system as a major customer for the new technology. To operate safely, the railways needed to observe a timetable based on a standard time system.

View taken from under the Hampstead Road Bridge  looking towards the station at Euston Square, 1837

View taken from under the Hampstead Road Bridge looking towards the station at Euston Square, 1837 © Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

The electric telegraph enabled Greenwich time to be distributed right across Britain, and within a few years local time, based on the times of sunrise and sunset, had been replaced by standard (Greenwich) time. The telegraph could also help catch criminals. In 1845 a message sent from Slough railway station to Paddington enabled murder suspect John Tawell to be identified, arrested, and in due course, executed.

After many years of doubt, I am now satisfied that one of the key inventions from the beginning of electric telegraphy has been authenticated and rightly takes its place in our new Information Age gallery.

Grand Designs For Information Age

Nick Rolls, Design Project Leader at Universal Design Studio, reflects on the design of the Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery.

Artist's impression of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Universal Design Studio

Artist’s impression of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Universal Design Studio

In early 2011, we were commissioned to work on the Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery.

From the outset, we knew this project would create a special challenge. With an impressive range of assets –  200 years of inventions, 800 unique objects and a vast gallery space measuring 2,500m2, this would be a unique gallery within the Science Museum.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was organising the huge empty space into a navigable gallery whilst giving each object and story a platform on which to shine.

We started with the largest and most impressive object of all – the aerial tuning coil from Rugby Radio Station, which we decided to place at the heart of the gallery.

Made from timber and webs of cables, this incredible object looks almost primitive in construction. This ambiguity made it a great tool for us to draw visitors into the centre of the gallery and make them question their preconceptions of modern communications. It is a world away from the common communication devices that spring to mind – mobile phones, micro-chips and digiboxes.

We learnt that the tuning coil was housed underneath a copper shroud – we think to dissipate heat and prevent the timber structure from igniting. This provided us with a material that resonated with the object’s history and a warm, reflective surface for the display. The coil is located where visitors can learn about the transmitter, signal and receiver.

From the centre you can see that the gallery is divided into six networks – each one telling stories from a specific section of communication technology. Placed around the outsides of the gallery, similar to the idea of a town square or plaza, we placed large double height display cases. These display structures are designed to house a vast array of objects.

Floorplan of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Universal Design Studio

Floorplan of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Universal Design Studio

These display structures serve several purposes. One function is to hold up the elevated walkway that encircles the gallery. More importantly, they allow visitors to engage with the incredible objects and stories told in each of the six networks. For this reason, they became known as storyboxes. To provide a varied experience, both a producer and a ‘voice’ were assigned to a storybox for each network, creating an installation of their conception.

The sheer quantity of objects on display within the gallery required meticulous planning of the space.

Stories with large numbers of objects fill showcases, which in turn create smaller spaces and routes throughout the gallery. A key concern was to ensure visitors knew where their attention should be focussed, especially in a gallery without a prescribed route.

We crafted a space that used solid forms and open apertures within the gallery, providing clear groups of objects along with vistas from one section to another.

Lastly, we designed a large encircling walkway that loops around the gallery. We introduced this to provide an overview of the space and an alternative perspective of the gallery. We felt it was important for visitors to understand the context of each story within the scheme of the gallery – allowing them to connect objects from one end of the space to the other.

Fundamentally, this is a gallery about incredible objects, people and stories. The format of the gallery plays a supporting role to these awe-inspiring exhibits. We hope visitors will enjoy experiencing the gallery through the space we have designed.

The Information Age gallery will be welcoming visitors from 25 October 2014. For more information visit sciencemuseum.org.uk/informationage.

Life on the Exchange – Stories From The Hello Girls

Sunday 5 October marks the 54th anniversary of the Enfield Exchange switching from manual to automatic exchange. To celebrate, Jen Kavanagh, Audience Engagement Manager, spoke to telephone operators from the 1950s and 1960s who shared their stories for the new Information Age gallery.

Today when we pick up the telephone, the digital automated system makes connecting a call quick and simple. But before this automatic system was introduced, telephone exchange operators had to help us on our way.

Manual Telephone Exchange Enfield. October 1960. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Manual Telephone Exchange Enfield. October 1960. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

In the first half of the 20th century, women worked across the country, connecting calls and helping people get in touch with one another. The work required concentration, patience and an excellent manner, but the community created within these exchanges was fun and social once shifts had ended.

Women working on the Exchange at Enfield. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Women working on the Exchange at Enfield. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

One of the last manual telephone exchanges was based at Enfield, north London. The Enfield Exchange’s switch from manual to automatic exchange, marked the end of an era in communication history. A section of the Enfield Exchange, donated to the Science Museum by BT, forms a part of the Museum’s collection, and will go on display in the new Information Age gallery.

To bring this amazing piece of history to life, we spoke to women who worked as telephone exchange operators in the 1950s and early 1960s, recording their stories through oral history interviews.

These former ‘hello girls’ gave their insight into how the exchange worked and what the job of an operator involved, but also shared wonderful stories about the friends they made and the social life they experienced once they’d clocked off.

A switchboard from the Enfield Exchange, which will go on display in the Science Musuem's new Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

A switchboard from the Enfield Exchange, donated to the Science Museum by BT, which will go on display in the new Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

One of these former operators, Jean Singleton, shared her thoughts on what made a good telephone operator, even if she didnít feel she was one!

‘How do I know? [Laughs] I wasn’t a good telephone operator, I was a naughty telephone operator! Well, first of all, you had to have a nice speaking voice, you couldn’t go there if you were a Cockney, speaking in a Cockney way, or a Northern way, you had to speak the Queen’s English, or King’s English as it was then. I suppose I had a decent enough voice. You had to be polite, and the customer sort of was always right, more or less, you know, you didn’t swear back at somebody if they swore at you, you weren’t allowed to do that sort of thing. If you found you were in trouble with a person on the telephone, you just passed them over to your supervisor, and they would deal with it.’

A close up view of the Enfield switchboard. Image credit: Science Museum.

A close up view of the Enfield switchboard. Image credit: Science Museum.

Another former operator, Rose Young, talked about some of the kit that was used whilst working on the exchange.

‘The first headsets were very heavy, you’d have a mouthpiece that came up in front of you on a plastic piece that had a tape on that you hung round your neck. And then the headpiece was like a metal band with a very heavy earpiece, you had one ear free so that you could hear what was going on around you and one that you covered, that covered your ear, but they were very heavy.’

Visitors to Information Age will have the opportunity to hear more from these incredible women through an interactive audio experience which will sit alongside the original section of the Enfield Exchange. We’ll just have to make sure we edit the cheeky bits!

Discover more about these stories when the Information Age gallery opens on Saturday 25 October.

Apparatus used by R Watson Watt to detect radio echoes from aircraft, 1935. Image credits: Science Museum / SSPL

Robert Watson-Watt and the Triumph of Radar

BBC2 recently broadcast a drama about Robert Watson-Watt’s fight to invent the radar. Curator Andrew Nahum takes a closer look at this incredible story, soon to feature in a new exhibition, Churchill’s Scientists, opening at the Science Museum in January 2015. 

In the 1930s, as the German air force grew in strength, the fear of air attack became intense. Prime Minister Baldwin had warned that ‘the bomber would always get through’, but a minority, including Winston Churchill and his scientific adviser, Frederick Lindemann, argued that some new form of technical defence must be possible. Surely Britain’s scientists – affectionately known as boffins – could devise a countermeasure?

Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, Scottish engineer, 1935. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, Scottish engineer, 1935. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

In February 1935, a pilot from the flight research establishment, Farnborough, was told to fly a bomber to the Midlands and back. He was not told why, but the course took the aircraft past the BBC’s short-wave transmitter at Daventry.

Hunched in a van on the ground nearby, Robert Watson-Watt from the National Physical Laboratory and his colleague, Arnold Wilkins, intently watched a cathode ray tube on a cumbersome radio receiver. They hoped that the powerful BBC signal would be reflected strongly enough from the bomber to be detected. As the aircraft flew past about eight miles away, a green spot on the screen appeared, grew, and shrank away again.

The two men had ‘seen’ the aircraft by its electronic echo. Watson-Watt turned to Wilkins and reputedly said ‘Britain is an island once more’. Following this trial – the Daventry experiment – cash secretly began to pour into developing radar technology. Research took off at immense speed, first at Orfordness in Suffolk and then nearby at Bawdsey on the mouth of the Deben river. Just a year after the first trial, the detection range had improved to 75 miles and 120 miles was later achieved.

Robert Watson-Watt's radar apparatus, 1935. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Robert Watson-Watt’s radar apparatus, 1935. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Soon, a series of stations with massive 360 feet (110 m) radar masts began to spring up around the coast until there was an unbroken chain watching out to sea for enemy aircraft called the ‘Chain Home’. This radar system was not, for its time, especially ‘hi-tech’, but it was designed to be built fast. It was incorporated into a comprehensive control system for reporting and plotting raids, for steering RAF fighters to their targets and for directing the air battles of World War II in real time. It was this integrated system that changed the nation’s fortunes in the Battle of Britain.

Apparatus used by R Watson Watt to detect radio echoes from aircraft, 1935. Image credits: Science Museum / SSPL

Apparatus used by R Watson Watt to detect radio echoes from aircraft, 1935. Image credits: Science Museum / SSPL

During radar development, Henry Tizard, the Air Ministry’s most trusted scientist, shared the secret with John Cockcroft who had been first to ‘split the atom’ in Cambridge in 1932.  ‘We met at lunch at the Athenaeum and Tizard talked to me about new and secret devices. These would be troublesome and would require a team of nurses. Would we [the Cambridge physicists] come in and act as nursemaids, if and when war broke out?’ That is how it turned out and British radar became closely linked with the nation’s best scientists. This electronic war proved to be a powerful intellectual challenge. The physicist R V Jones, described it as the ‘the best fun I ever had’.

Of course science came to the aid of war in many other fields including nutrition, the production of penicillin and antibiotics, sea warfare and the Bomb.  However, this war also helped launch a post-war scientific renaissance in Britain. Returning scientists achieved striking results in the fields of molecular biology, radio astronomy, nerve and brain behaviour and much more.

Watson-Watt’s original radar apparatus will be on display in our exhibition, Churchill’s Scientists, which opens on 23 January 2015. The exhibition will look at the triumphs in science during Churchill’s period in power, both in war and in the post-war era.

A Hedonistic Night at the Museum

Louis Buckley from Guerilla Science blogs about the August Lates, which was themed around the science of sex, drugs and music.

Being accustomed to working at music festivals, the rest of the Guerilla Science team and I are, shall we say, not unfamiliar with the hedonistic themes explored at this month’s Science Museum Lates.

For those of you who haven’t heard of us before, Guerilla Science is an organisation that specialises in taking science to summer festivals all across the UK – from Glastonbury and Green Man to the Edinburgh Fringe and the Secret Garden Party.

Visitors mingling at the August Lates. Image credit: Science Museum

Visitors mingling at the August Lates. Image credit: Science Museum

Working in unfamiliar and often unexpected settings, we set out to challenge audiences and scientists alike, getting them to consider and experience scientific ideas in new ways that are enlightening, inspiring and – we hope – entertaining too!

While not our usual habitat, bringing a sex, drugs and music themed programme of events to the raucous and exhilarating environment of the Science Museum Lates was an offer far too good for Guerilla Science to turn down.

So, what did we get up to on the night itself? Guerilla Science put on 14 workshops, demonstrations and talks across the museum, from mapping erogenous zones and anatomical life drawing in the fourth and fifth floor medical galleries to crocheting chromosomes among the strange and challenging materials gallery on the second floor.

Lates visitors crocheting chromosomes at August Lates. Image credit: Science Museum

Lates visitors crocheting chromosomes at August Lates. Image credit: Science Museum

It isn’t possible to go through them all in detail, but I’ll pick out a few of my personal highlights from the night to share with those that couldn’t make it – or can’t remember being there!

First up, Guerilla Science’s own Zoe Cormier filled the Museum’s theatre with tales from her new book Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll’, while chemist extraordinaire Andrea Sella treated audiences to a bubbling and explosive journey through the science of distillation.

On the third floor we ran a range of hands-on activities, from experimental hangover cures with food scientist Becki Clark to examining drugged-up fruitfly mutants with Dr James Hodge and sniffing a range of mystery fragrances with chemists Rose Gray and Alex Bour.

My personal favourite, though, was up among the aeroplanes of the Flight gallery, where sexologists Soazig Clifton and Clare Tanton discussed the findings of their national survey of sexual habits and attitudes and tested these against the audience’s own experiences and perceptions.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a fantastic opportunity to create something for the Museum’s wonderful audience. Most importantly, we hope the Lates punters enjoyed Guerilla Science’s attempt to bring a little bit of festival magic into the galleries of this grand old institution, and might be tempted to check out one of our events in future.

Guerilla Science’s book ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll, the Science of Hedonism and the Hedonism of Science’ is out now, published by Profile Books.

The next Lates is on 24 September and is all about Magic and Illusion

 

A WEEE waste recycling challenge?

Sarah Harvey, Project Curator of The Rubbish Collection, talks to Dr Philip Morton, Chief Executive of REPIC about the challenges of dealing with growing volumes of electrical and electronic waste.

REPIC is the largest not-for-profit WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) recycling scheme in the UK. Instead of letting valuable or harmful waste and scarce raw materials go to landfill, REPIC’s job is to recover and transport used electrical goods and batteries to specialist treatment plants. Upon arrival at the plant, the WEEE waste can be safely handled and recycled into new usable raw materials.

What is WEEE waste?

Every year, people in the UK buy around 1.5 million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment, like toasters, TVs, washing machines and computers. We throw away about one million tonnes of equipment, so WEEE waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the UK and in the EU. It’s important that we take action now to stop it from piling up.

Some of the components used to make electronic goods can be hazardous and harmful to the environment, while others can be recycled and reused. Some are even precious and contain gold, silver, indium or palladium. It’s amazing to think that WEEE contains 40 times more gold than gold ore!

WEEE waste in The Rubbish Collection exhibition. © Katherine Leedale

WEEE waste in The Rubbish Collection exhibition. © Katherine Leedale

What are the biggest challenges faced by the industry in recycling and recovering these materials?

A big problem is the difficulty in separating the complex scarce trace metals using the technology currently available. Different proportions of trace materials are present in different bits of WEEE and some materials bind together, making separation a challenge.  At present, only a tiny percentage of these metals is captured in the recycling process, so it isn’t sustainable. 

What can people do to help?

Just as we separate our plastic bottles and tins from paper and compostables, we need to separate our old electrical appliances and take them to a local recycling centre.

As with electricals, it’s easy for batteries to end up in landfills if the proper recycling channels are not used. Batteries contain chemicals that can be hazardous if released into our soil, water and air.

Batteries in The Rubbish Collection exhibition. © Katherine Leedale

Batteries in The Rubbish Collection exhibition. © Katherine Leedale

But there is an alternative. You could save your batteries and take them to special battery bins at shops, schools and recycling centres. This ensures the batteries are recycled responsibly.

Our top three tips are:

  • Repair or re-use used electricals if possible
  • Recycle, but don’t make a special trip (check our website www.responsible-recycling.co.uk).
  • Choose energy and eco-efficient products where possible when buying replacements

What do you think the industry will be like in 50 years time? 

To meet the new EU directive we need to recycle 85 percent of WEEE generated in the UK by 2018. The value of WEEE will be higher as there will be less rare metals and raw materials to extract from the Earth.  Advances in technology will mean that electrical goods will be even lighter, more compact and flexible. Think projected keyboards, flatter TV screens – we’re already seeing roll up TV screens – so expect more to come.

 

 

Your future without antibiotics?

Georgie Ariaratnam, Assistant Content Developer, blogs about the rise of antibiotics, the subject of a display in the Museum’s Who Am I? gallery

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest challenges of our time. It affects all of us, so perhaps unsurprisingly, it was declared the winner of the Longitude Prize 2014.

The new antibiotics display in the Museum's Who Am I? gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The new antibiotics display in the Museum’s Who Am I? gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

At the Science Museum, we decided to examine this topic in more depth with a new exhibit, Your future without antibiotics?, which explores the rise of antibiotic resistance and the latest research to tackle it.

The exhibit, currently on display in our Who am I? gallery, changes every few months, giving the Science Museum the opportunity to explore current and significant research stories in health, genetics and neuroscience. With over a million people visiting the Who am I? gallery each year, it’s important to design exhibits that are interesting and relevant to our visitors’ lives.

We chose to tell three main stories in the display case. The Rise of Resistance looks at how bacteria have become resistant, Radical Research focusses on the latest research to tackle resistance and Stop the Spread explores how to prevent the spread of infection.

A close up look at the new antibiotics display case in the Who Am I? gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

A close up look at the new antibiotics display case in the Who Am I? gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The display features unique and intriguing objects to tell these stories. You can see a Star Trek-inspired hand-held ‘tricorder’ which uses a virus to identify bacterial infection.  Alongside, you can spot a keyboard and mobile phone cover coated with the world’s first light-activated antimicrobial surface that also works in the dark. Other items include a bio-engineered medical honey which can kick start the healing process in wound treatment. There is even a giant, lime green stick insect, whose guts researchers are studying for new antibiotic compounds.

To develop the display case, we spoke to many institutions that focus on tackling antibiotic resistance including the World Health Organisation, Department of Health, Public Health England and Antibiotic Action. The exhibit also features research from scientists at University College London, University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester.

Your future without antibiotics? opened on 18 July and will be on display in the Science Museum’s Who Am I? gallery until late November 2014.

Sending messages across the Atlantic: 156 years on from the first transatlantic cable

Chloe Vince, Science Museum Volunteer, tells the dramatic story of the laying of the first transatlantic cable, one of the highlights of our new Information Age gallery, which opens in October.

If you needed to send a message to North America, you wouldn’t think twice about drafting an e-mail, hitting ‘send’ and your message arriving in the recipient’s inbox almost instantly.

In 1858, however, communications were much slower. In those days, a message would take up to 10 days to arrive. This was the time it took for a ship to travel across the Atlantic.

Specimens of the first Atlantic submarine cable, 1858. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL.

Specimens of the first Atlantic submarine cable, 1858. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL.

Things changed in the August of 1858, when the first message was sent via a transatlantic telegraph cable, which ran from the east coast of North America to the West Coast of Ireland. Messages could now be sent in a matter of minutes, dramatically changing the history of transatlantic communication.

A section of the original transatlantic cable, encrusted with marine growth. Image credit: Science Museum.

A section of transatlantic cable, encrusted with marine growth. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL.

Experimenters had been investigating batteries and electromagnetism to develop a communication system since the early 19th century. The first practical system was executed successfully in the UK by the partnership of Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke. They used an electrical current to deflect magnetic needles which could be made to point to letters on a backboard. By the time of the 1858 transatlantic cable, their system had been developed and widely adopted for railway signalling across Britain.

Cooke and Wheatstone's Double Needle Telegraph, 1844. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Cooke and Wheatstone’s Double Needle Telegraph, 1844. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

American experimenter Samuel Morse (of Morse code fame), was also working on developing telegraphy. His system used a single circuit to send an electric signal along a wire to a receiver at the other end. Instead of using needles indicating letters of the alphabet, Morse’s system used a code of dots and dashes to spell out words. Morse received funding to use this technology to set up a telegraph system between Washington and Maryland in the USA. The telegraph became an instant success. People relished the ability to send and receive information much more quickly than before, and as a result the telegraph system expanded across America and Europe.

Morse key, c 1850-1870. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Morse key, c 1850-1870. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Soon after, in 1856, the Atlantic Telegraph Company was set-up with the objective of laying a cable across the Atlantic Ocean, connecting America with Europe. Luckily, opinions of the technology were high, which meant shares in the company sold quickly. As soon as enough money was raised, the first transatlantic cable, consisting of seven copper wires and recorded as weighing one ton per nautical mile, was laid from America to Ireland.

(Lord Kelvin) Thomson's mirror galvanometer (land type) used at Valentia Island end of the original Atlantic cable in 1858. Made by White & Barr, Glasgow. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL.

(Lord Kelvin) Thomson’s mirror galvanometer (land type) used at Valentia Island end of the original Atlantic cable in 1858. Made by White & Barr, Glasgow. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL.

Queen Victoria sent the first official transatlantic telegram. She sent a message to US president James Buchanan congratulating him ‘upon the successful completion of this great international work.’  The message travelled through 2,500 miles of cable and took 16 hours, a dramatic improvement on the 10 days it would have taken beforehand. The same message was repeated back to Valencia in Ireland in only 67 minutes.

Unfortunately, the success enjoyed by this first transatlantic cable did not last. There were problems with the cable, and within a month it had failed completely. However, the desire for speedy transatlantic communication was great enough to attract more funds to try again.  A further attempt in 1866 was successful.

The consequence of this new form of communication was huge. By the end of the 19th century, new technologies began to emerge. The telegraph was replaced by telephony and these days we rely on the internet for high speed communication. However, the telegraph was the first technology that allowed us to communicate quickly and reliably over long distances, and acted as a turning point in communication history.

You can explore more about the laying of the first transatlantic cable in our Information Age gallery, which opens on 25 October.

 

#UnlockingLovelock Twitter Tour

Update: You can see the full #UnlockingLovelock tour below

Are you a fan of maverick scientist James Lovelock? To celebrate Lovelock’s 95th birthday, curator Alex Johnson conducted a live Twitter tour of our Unlocking Lovelock exhibition on Friday 25 July.

During the tour of the exhibition, Alex shared the objects, letters, notes and drawings that reveal Lovelock’s extraordinary life and scientific career through the Science Museum’s Twitter account (@sciencemuseum) using the hashtag #UnlockingLovelock.

Unlocking Lovelock: Scientist, Inventor, Maverick is a free exhibition open at the Science Museum until 9 April 2015. You can find out more via sciencemuseum.org.uk/lovelock.