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Media Space unveiled to film, theatre and TV celebrities

Blog post by Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs

The museum’s plans to create a £4 million Media Space - a showcase for photography, visual media, technology and science - were outlined a few days ago to leading figures in drama, film and the arts, from Jenny Agutter and Imogen Stubbs to Terry Gilliam and Ben Okri.

Call the midwife actress with Ian Blatchford and Roger Highfield.

Call the midwife actress, Jenny Agutter OBE, with Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford (left) and Director of External Affairs, Roger Highfield.

Kathy Lette, Eammon Holmes and Michael G Wilson

Australian author Kathy Lette, Presenter Eamonn Holmes and Film Producer and Chairman of the Science Museum Foundation, Michael G WIlson.

Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group, give an overview of how the new venture will open on the second floor of the museum this September to display some of the finest collections on the planet while speaking at a lunch organised by Chris Hastings of the Mail on Sunday, also attended by Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries.

Ian Blatchford's speech.

Director of Science Museum Ian Blatchford welcoming guests to the lunch.

Media Space will draw on the National Photography Collection held by the National Media Museum, Bradford. The first exhibition will be Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr,  and the inaugural installation in the Virgin Media Studio will be by digital artist studio collaborators Universal Everything, supported by Hyundai Motor UK.

Michael G Wilson

Chairman of the Science Museum Foundation and executive producer of the James Bond movies, Michael G WIlson, addresses Dame Diana Rigg and guests at the Sixth Arts Media Lunch.

Also addressing the lunch was Michael Wilson, executive producer of the James Bond films, who has been one of the most passionate supporters of Media Space over the years through his interest in photography, which dates back to the 1970s.

Between 2004 and 2012, Wilson was a trustee of the Science Museum and it was during this time he conceived a plan to develop a 1800 m² space in the Museum to display photographs, a venture which has now grown to include new media.

Today, Michael Wilson is a member of the museum’s Foundation , which “ensures philanthropic leadership”, encouraging donors to give their support to  the museum’s development.

Other guests included Lord Bragg, Haydn Gwynne, Lesley Manville, Eamonn Holmes,  Prof Steve Jones, Duncan Kenworthy;  Kathy Lette, Arlene Phillips and Brigitte Hjort Sorensen.

Also present was Ali Boyle, Project Leader on Collider, a new exhibition on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. Opening in November 2013, Collider is being created with the help of Nissen Richards Studio, playwright Michael Wynne and video artist Finn Ross.

After lunch, many of the guests went on a tour of the museum’s award-winning Turing exhibition, given by curator David Rooney.

To view more photos from the sixth Arts Media Lunch at the Science Museum visit the Science Museum’s flickr gallery.

An artists impression of the immersive collision experience in the Collider exhibition. Image credit: Science Museum / Nissen Richards Studio

Science Museum visitors to step into the greatest experiment on Earth

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group

Plans are unveiled today for the biggest-ever exhibition in the UK to focus on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s greatest scientific experiment, where a 10,000 strong international army of scientists and engineers is exploring the fundamental building blocks of the universe, from the discovery of the Higgs particle to the nature of antimatter.

The King’s College theoretician John Ellis has suggested that the LHC, the most compelling scientific endeavour so far of the 21st century, could inspire a generation in the same way that the Apollo adventure did in the 1960s. That is precisely why the Science Museum is bringing the LHC to the public in its new Collider exhibition, opening in November 2013. Visitors will be transported right into the heart of the 27 km circumference machine – that straddles the border between Switzerland and France – with the help of an award-winning creative team including Nissen Richards Studio, playwright Michael Wynne and video artist Finn Ross.

An artists impression of the immersive collision experience in the Collider exhibition. Image credit: Science Museum / Nissen Richards Studio

An artists impression of the immersive collision experience in the Collider exhibition. Image credit: Science Museum / Nissen Richards Studio

The immersive exhibition, the result of a unique collaboration with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, will blend theatre, video and sound art, taking visitors to the site of the LHC where they can explore the Control Room and a huge underground detector cavern, meet ‘virtual’ scientists and engineers and examine objects up-close. “I particularly like the fresh, theatrical approach the Museum is taking to bringing the drama and excitement of cutting-edge science to the public,” said CERN Director General, Rolf Heuer.

View of the LHC tunnel. Image credit: CERN

View of the LHC tunnel. Image credit: CERN

For the first time, visitors can get up close with exclusive access to part of the large 15-metre magnets that steer the particle beam, and elements from each of the LHC’s ‘eyes’, four giant detectors housed in caverns around the machine, notably CMS and ATLAS, where collisions take place. They will also be able to follow the story of sub-atomic exploration through the Museum’s collections – on display will be J.J. Thomson’s apparatus which led him to the discovery of the electron in 1897, and the accelerator used by John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton to split the atom in 1932.

JJ Thomson (1856-1940) at work. Image credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

JJ Thomson (1856-1940) at work. Image credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

When in operation, trillions of protons race around the LHC accelerator ring 11,245 times a second, travelling at 99.9999991% the speed of light. Evidence for a Higgs-like particle was found in the aftermath of the resulting collisions between protons.

Named after the British physicist Peter Higgs who postulated its existence more than half a century ago, and who will help launch the new exhibition with other leading figures, the particle is the final piece of the Standard Model, a framework of theory developed in the late 20th century that describes the interactions of all known subatomic particles and forces, with the exception of gravity.

The highlight of the exhibition, according to Alison Boyle, the Science Museum’s curator of modern physics, will be a 360-degree projection taking in both extremes of the scale of the LHC. ‘We are going to take our visitors from an enormous experiment cavern to the very heart of a proton collision.

Artist's impression of the immersive detector experience. Image credit: Science Museum / Nissen Richards Studio

Artist’s impression of the immersive detector experience. Image credit: Science Museum / Nissen Richards Studio

Key figures from CERN, such as Professor Heuer, attended a gala ceremony held last month by the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation at the Geneva International Conference Centre, hosted by Hollywood actor and science enthusiast Morgan Freeman with performances by singer Sarah Brightman and Russian pianist Denis Matsuev. Freeman mused that it was “a bit like the Oscars” and made the best joke of the night when referring to complaints about physicists ‘playing god’: “I have done it twice and I don’t see the problem.’

Yuri Milner, the Russian theoretical physicist turned internet entrepreneur who backs the prizes through his Milner Foundation, said it “celebrates what is possible in humanity’s quest to understand the deepest questions of the universe.”

The evening celebrated two Special Fundamental Physics Prizes of $3,000,000, one for Prof Stephen Hawking, who himself has been the subject of a special exhibition here at the Science Museum, for his discovery of Hawking radiation from black holes, and his deep contributions to quantum gravity and quantum features of the early universe, based on his efforts to combine theories of the very big (general relativity) with the very small (quantum theory). In his acceptance speech, Hawking thanked Milner for recognising key work in theory with what is now the most lucrative academic prize on the planet.

The second special prize was shared by the leaders of the LHC project, CMS and ATLAS experiments from the time the LHC was approved by the CERN Council in 1994: Peter Jenni, Fabiola Gianotti (ATLAS), Michel Della Negra, Tejinder Singh Virdee, Guido Tonelli, Joe Incandela (CMS) and Lyn Evans (LHC), for their role in the epic endeavour that led to the discovery of the new Higgs-like particle.

After they all took the stage Mr Matsuev performed Edvard Grieg’s “The Hall of the Mountain King”, presumably a reference to the great caverns in which the Higgs-like particle was first spotted. The award-winning biographer Graham Farmelo, who has advised on the development and launch of Collider, said it was ‘the most impressive gathering of great physicists for almost ninety years – since Einstein and most of the other discoveries of relativity and quantum theory met at the famous Solvay Conference in 1926’.

The Museum’s £1m Collider exhibition is part-funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Winton Capital Management, the Embassy of Switzerland in the United Kingdom, and is supported by a number of individuals.

Collider will open in November 2013 and run for six months. Visits to Collider will be timed and, to avoid disappointment, please visit sciencemuseum.org.uk/collider to book tickets.

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

will.i.am, The Prince’s Trust and Science Museum launch education initiative

Musician and philanthropist will.i.am has launched an initiative to boost the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths for disaffected and underachieving children.

The Black Eyed Peas frontman announced The Prince’s Trust workshops, which will be run in partnership with the Science Museum in schools across the country, at the museum with Ian Blatchford, Director of the Museum, and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of the Prince’s Trust.

Will.i.am launches new education initiative with Science Museum Director, Ian Blatchford (l) and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust (r)
Will.i.am launches new education initiative with Science Museum Director, Ian Blatchford (l) and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust (r)

“Inspiring young people through science and technology is a powerful tool,” said will.i.am, who has donated £500,000 to the Trust, including his fee as a judge on BBC talent show, The Voice, and funds the i.am.angel foundation in his native Los Angeles.

“These workshops are an amazing way to engage disadvantaged youngsters who don’t have this sort of access to technology and science otherwise.” Speaking to reporters at the launch of the workshops he said: “As well as telling them to play sports, let’s encourage them to do science or mathematics.

“When I say, ‘Hey kids, you guys should want to be scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians…’ I say that because I too am going to school to learn computer science,“ he added. “I’m taking a computer science course, because I’m passionate about where the world’s going, curious about it and I want to contribute.”

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

The new partnership will see Science Museum outreach staff visiting Prince’s Trust xl clubs in schools across the country to deliver workshops after normal lessons that are aimed at inspiring and engaging 13-19 year olds who are struggling at school. The overall aim is to help 3,000 to 4,000 young people this year.

The launch of the workshops comes ahead of a Prince’s Trust report to be released today revealing a lack of digital skills among the younger generation. The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, shows a quarter of unemployed young people (24%) “dread” filling in online job applications and one in ten (11%) admit they avoid using computers.

Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Museum (r) explains how to make music with Google Web Lab

Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Museum (r) explains how to make music with Google Web Lab

The Science Museum is the most popular free school-trip destination in the UK and runs the most popular outreach programme for children in the country, reaching 110,000 children per annum. More children take part in events and activities at the Science Museum than any other in the country.

Toby Parkin, Outreach and Resources Manager, from the Science Museum said: “We know the importance of making science exciting and accessible to everyone. Our initiative with The Prince’s Trust aims to encourage youngsters who may not have considered science and technology as a possible career path. The workshops will span the country across 2013 and see many more young people experimenting with technology and science.”

The Science Museum is the home of human ingenuity in this sector: it has been pioneering interactive science interpretation for over 80 years and was the first in Europe to set up a sleepover programme, the first to tour science and technology exhibitions to shopping centres and is the home of the world’s only science comedy troupe.

Roger Highfield is Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum

Science Museum, Met Office and Defra host water summit

As Britain lurches from flood to drought, even the most hardened climate sceptic would have to admit that our relationship with that most fundamental ingredient of life – water – is undergoing a profound change.

On 28th February, key individuals from Government, industry, academia and consumer bodies met to discuss the major issues facing water use in a meeting organised with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Met Office at the Science Museum.

In opening remarks, the chairman of the Environment Agency Lord Smith said that to become sustainable the country needed to improve water resilience – the balance of demands from homes, industry, agriculture and the need to protect ecosystems – and achieve a reduction in average demand from the current level of around 150 litres per person per day to around 130. The country must also continue to improve flood resilience: in the past 10 months, 8000 properties in England and Wales flooded but 200,000 were protected by defences built over the prior 30 years.

Finally, he said that the nation needs to get more adept at planning for uncertainty.

Chaired by Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum, five key themes emerged from the round table discussion:

1) Our relationship with water has altered. Long term environmental trends that result from climate change mean that although average annual rainfall is roughly the same, the intensity and variability have increased. There are other pressures on the water supply, caused by the continued reliance on Victorian sewers, demographic trends and the resulting impact of construction, such as covering tracts of land with paving.

2) Science is critical. We require cutting edge science to understand issues ranging from climate change to the behaviour of surface water, which recently leapfrogged rivers as the primary flooding threat, when most warning systems are calibrated by river behaviour. However, much of this science is hedged in uncertainties – such as the limitations of medium range forecasting – and there are huge challenges in conveying them to the public.

3) Collaboration. To deal with the change in Britain’s water, collaborations need to come in different domains: between industry and universities in centres of excellence; multi-agency partnerships of the kind already working successfully between the Environment Agency and Met Office in flood warning; and between the water industry and local communities and councils on local solutions, such as reliance on wetland areas to absorb floodwaters. This relationship has to be a partnership, not paternalistic. These collaborations will not always need to bring about innovation but simply bring things together better. There are also issues finding funding support for applied science. Research councils tend to focus on strategic science and water companies tend to focus on practical research. Examples of collaborations between water industry leaders and universities are emerging, though more are desirable. The UK could also learn from the experience of countries such as Australia, where there is expertise in drought management.

4) Communication. Water is crucial for existence and yet, paradoxically, the consumer needs a better understanding of the role it plays in everyday life, through a more obvious link between the cost, value and uses of water. One challenge is encouraging a community take action in advance of a drought, in preemptive measures that can delay the need for draconian measures, rather than in reactive measures when supplies run short. There are technologies, such as telemetry, which can provide more rapid warning to communities of flood risks, and smart meters, which are more engaging. Another communication issue is to both understand the way consumers respond, whether to warnings or tariffs, and to find the best way for institutions to earn their trust. Finally, the UK is a world leader in many areas and, rather than continuing to do brilliant work modestly, it should be bolder in conveying its successes to the public and globally, since water resources are a planetary issue.

5) Skills. Understanding of the behaviour of local water has moved away from local authorities and, as emphasised in point 3) this has to be re-established in new collaborations, which are more focused on catchment areas than political boundaries. Another issue is maintaining the experience of ‘flood veterans’ who have dealt with earlier emergencies, such as the 2007 floods that triggered Sir Michael Pitt’s review.

Roger Highfield is the Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group.

Science Museum conservator Marisa Kalvins inspects a Cybernetic Tortoise. The tortoise was invented due to the growing interest amongst researchers such as Turing in artificial intelligence in the 1950s. Photo credit: Geoff Caddick/PA

Codebreaker wins Great Exhibition award

By Roger Highfield

The Science Museum’s critically-acclaimed exhibition about Alan Turing, the mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and philosopher, has been awarded a prestigious prize by the British Society for the History of Science.

First prize in the BSHS’s 2012 Great Exhibitions competition went to Codebreaker: Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy which commemorates the centenary of Turing’s birth by telling the story of how he helped lay the foundations of modern computing and broke the codes of the Nazis, nature and society too.

The exhibition traces the influences over Turing’s lifetime from the death in 1930 of the love of his life, Christopher Morcom, to the use of his Pilot ACE computer by crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin to crack the atomic structure of vitamin B12 to his final research on pattern formation in biology.

First demonstrated in 1950, Pilot ACE is one of Britain’s earliest stored program computers and the oldest complete general purpose electronic computer in Britain.

The standard of the submissions to the competition’s large display category was ‘extremely high’, said the BSHS, with entrants from North America, Europe and Britain, covering various subjects, from alchemy and acoustics to anatomy and computing.

James Stark, Chair of the Society’s Outreach and Education Committee commented that Codebreaker goes beyond basic biography:

This helps to move the public understanding of Turing beyond that of a solo genius. The objects used in the display are foregrounded well, especially the beautifully-presented Hodgkin B12 model, and interestingly juxtaposed: the theatrical set-like pieces worked well to conjure up different historical moments such as Turing’s work in Cambridge and Manchester. Overall, it presented a clear, coherent narrative, and showcased a wealth of content, illustrated with original objects.

The exhibition, designed by Nissen Richards studio and made possible with the generous support of Google, covers how Turing’s team cracked U boat codes at Bletchley Park to change the course of the Second World War and features three examples of the German enciphering machine, Enigma, including one lent to the museum by Sir Mick Jagger.

Among the other items in the exhibition are a cybernetic tortoise that had inspired Turing during a 1951 visit to the Science Museum, and a bottle of the female sex hormone oestrogen: Turing had been subject to ‘chemical castration’ to neutralise his libido.

Science Museum conservator Marisa Kalvins inspects a Cybernetic Tortoise. The tortoise was invented due to the growing interest amongst researchers such as Turing in artificial intelligence in the 1950s. Photo credit: Geoff Caddick/PA

Homosexuality was a criminal offence at that time and in February 1952 Turing was arrested for having a sexual relationship with a man, then tried and convicted of “gross indecency”. To avoid prison, he had accepted the hormone treatment.

The most poignant item on display is a copy of the pathologist’s post-mortem report, detailing the circumstances of Turing death at his home on 7 June 1954, in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

The autopsy revealed that Turing’s stomach contained four ounces of fluid that smelt of bitter almonds: a solution of a cyanide salt. His death was not accidental: there was enough of the poison to fill a wine glass.

The award for the exhibition comes as leading figures, including Professor Stephen Hawking and Sir Paul Nurse (both Science Museum Fellows), called on the Prime Minister to posthumously pardon Turing.

Codebreaker: Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy was launched at the Science Museum on the 21 June 2012 with an event that featured, among others, David Rooney, Curator; Tilly Blyth, Keeper of Technologies & Engineering, Emily Scott-Dearing, now Head of Exhibitions and Programmes, Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, David Harper of Google  and Sir John Dermot Turing, nephew of Alan Turing. Codebreaker will run until 31 July 2013.

The Second prize in the BSHS’s 2012 Great Exhibitions competition was won by the Berlin Museum of Medical History at Charité for their exhibition Tracing Life.

The small exhibition category was won by the Royal College of Physicians, London, for ‘Curious Anatomys’, while joint second place was taken by the National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, for Reconstructing Lives, and The Museum of Art at the University of Virginia for Making Science Visible: The Photography of Berenice Abbott.

Roger Highfield is the Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group.

Behind the ‘i.am+ foto.sosho’, launched by Will.i.am yesterday, lies his commitment to become a role model to help inspire young people to pursue science, engineering, mathematics and technology. Photo credit: Matt Writtle

Will.i.am’s quest to discover the next Bill Gates

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group.

The musician and entrepreneur will.i.am gave a classic demonstration of the ‘show, don’t tell’ technique yesterday as part of his quest to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

He announced that he has led a global consortium of technologists to develop what he called a ‘social camera’, a turbocharged version of the iPhone.

Behind the ‘i.am+ foto.sosho’, launched by Will.i.am yesterday, lies his commitment to become a role model to help inspire young people to pursue science, engineering, mathematics and technology. Photo credit: Matt Writtle

At a press conference held at the Fashion Retail Academy in London, The Black Eyed Peas frontman referred to his donation of £500,000, via his i.am angel Foundation, to The Prince’s Trust to fund education, training and enterprise schemes in the UK with a focus on technology and computer skills development.

The Trust is working with Toby Parkin of the Science Museum to enable it to engage young people with science. The museum currently reaches over half a million students per year through school visits and outreach. With the Trust, the museum will focus on inner city schools where children feel socially excluded and standards have been in decline.

Will.i.am says he wants his initiative to ‘help transform the lives of disadvantaged young people living in under-privileged neighbourhoods.’ He added that he was going to learn coding next year, though he stressed ‘I want to be in the classroom as well as the club.’

When I asked him if he wanted to come to the Science Museum to pass on his skills to the hundreds of thousands of children who visit each year, he joked it would probably take him eight years to get up to speed, or become what he calls ‘the rocking-est coder.’

Will.i.am is not alone in embracing geek chic. Earlier this year, the Hollywood actor and rapper Will Smith told children in the Science Museum that he had a hankering to become a computer engineer.

Will Smith meets a group of school children and Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford beside the Apollo 10 command module on a visit to the Science Museum, London.

Will.i.am grew up in East Los Angeles, one of the roughest neighbourhoods in the United States, where his life could have turned out quite differently without the support of his family and a good education.

Because he feels London is his second home (‘it broke the Peas’), and because the city is at the forefront of fashion and culture, will.i.am decided to combine these passions with the launch of his device.

Called the i.am+ foto.sosho, it will turn an iPhone4/4s smartphone into a fashion accessory and a point-and-shoot digital camera with on-board editing, filters and social media connectivity that will be distributed by Selfridges.

After he came up with the idea in February of this year, during a meal in  the fashionable restaurant Nobu, he founded and self-funded the development and manufacture with experts located in China, Denmark, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

He also said that, by the end of next year, he wants to launch an X-Factor style spin-off show to give young people the chance to express themselves in science and maths so he can identify another technology entrepreneur of the stature of a Gates or Jobs.

James Gleick

The Information wins science book prize

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group.

The bestselling author, James Gleick, has won the world’s most prestigious science book prize with his revelatory chronicle of how information has become the defining quality of the modern age.

Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Fouth Estate) was announced as the winner of the £10,000 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books at the Royal Society in London.

James Gleick

The bestselling author James Gleick was announced as the winner of the £10,000 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books at the Royal Society, London

Gleick, who spent seven years working on the book, said he was surprised, and startled in an event at the society chaired by the comedian, actor and popular science writer, Ben Miller, and broadcast by Tom Clarke of Channel 4 news.

After thanking his agent, editor and wife, the New York born journalist remarked on how, unlike researchers who write popular science books, he felt like he was an outsider with his ‘face pressed against the glass.’

The veteran American writer made a huge debut with his first book, Chaos (1987), an international bestseller which provided insights into the apparent disorder in complex systems and made everyone aware of the extraordinary influence of the ‘butterfly effect.’ Since then he has written Pulitzer-Prize shortlisted biographies of two heroes of science, Richard Feynman and Isaac Newton.

Gleick’s latest work tells the story of information, from the theory of information proposed by American Claude Shannon to the current revolution in biological information, replicated and transmitted in the form of DNA since the origin of life, and the tsumani of data that now engulf us to become the very quintessence of 21st century society.

Along the way the reader encounters many figures that are also celebrated in the Science Museum, such as Charles Babbage, inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Lovelace, the dazzling daughter of the poet Byron, who became the first true programmer, and Alan Turing, who lay the foundations of modern computing and cracked both the codes of nature and the Nazi war machine.

The stories behind the revolutions that created today’s information age will also form the core of a forthcoming multi-million pound gallery, Making Modern Communications, scheduled to open in the museum in 2014.

The judges on this year’s judging panel included the authors Jasper Fforde and Tania Hershman, BBC Commissioning Editor for Science Kim Shillinglaw and Royal Society University Research Fellow Samuel Turvey. The panel was chaired by Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who said the decision was difficult, though unanimous. “The Information “an ambitious and insightful book that takes us, with verve and fizz, on a journey from African drums to computers. It is one of those very rare books that provide a completely new framework for understanding the world around us.”

The prize, award by Society president Sir Paul Nurse, saw off strong competition from a heavyweight shortlist:

• Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books), on his quest to understand human memory.

• My Beautiful Genome by Lone Frank, published by Oneworld, a personal perspective on personal genetics

• The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene, published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books), which explores parallel universes and the laws of the cosmos.

• The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books), which reveals how, contrary to popular belief, humankind has become progressively less violent over the millennia.

• The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe, published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books), which examines the world of viruses and why modern life has made our species vulnerable to the threat of a global pandemic and how to remain ahead of the threat.

Sir Paul remarked that there had been a renaissance of science writing and admitted it was a ‘pity that someone had to win.’ Despite the lack of British writers on the shortlist, many were present in the audience, including Armand Leroi, Tim Radford, Jo Marchant, Martin Rees, Stuart Clark, Helena Cronin, Philip Ball, Graham Farmelo, Alex Bellos and Jim Al-Khalili.

Set up in 1988 as the “Science Book Prizes”, it became the Rhône-Poulenc Prizes for Science Books from 1990 – 2000, then became the Aventis Prizes for Science Books from 2001 – 2006 and the Royal Society Prize for Science Books from 2007 – 2010. Now in its 25th year, the book prize is now sponsored by the global investment management company Winton Capital Management. David Harding, Founder and Chairman , congratulated James Gleick as ‘ a worthy winner in a strong field’ and thanked the shortlisted authors for helping to turn the sea of scientific information into knowledge.

Roger Highfield is an author, editor of book shortlisted for the prize in 2008 (A Life Decoded by Craig Venter) and Director of External Affairs of the Science Museum Group.

A Lifetime of Work

A Lifetime of Work: The Lovelock Archive

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum

It’s an amazing image to conjure with: the 23-year old James Lovelock, our most famous independent scientist, cradling a baby in his arms who would grow to become the world’s best known scientist, Stephen Hawking.

Lovelock told me about this touching encounter during one of his recent visits to the Science Museum, a vivid reminder of why the museum has spent £300,000 on his archive, an extraordinary collection of notebooks, manuscripts photographs and correspondence that reveals the remarkable extent of his research over a lifetime, from cryobiology and colds to Gaia and geoengineering.

A Lifetime of Work

A Lifetime of Work: Notebooks, manuscripts photographs and correspondence from the Lovelock archive

Lovelock, who was born on 26 July 1919, must have encountered the great cosmologist in the year of Hawking’s birth, 1942, when he was working at the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research, after graduating in chemistry from Manchester University the year before.

Hawking’s father was Frank Hawking (1905-1986) who spent much of his working life at the NIMR studying parasitology. Lovelock was doing research at the time of the encounter on sneezing and disinfection, publishing his first scientific paper, in the British Medical Journal, that same year.

As for his impact, there’s no better way to emphasise Lovelock’s stature than to read the foreword of one of his recent books, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, by Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal, and the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, who describes him as among the most important independent scientists of the last century: “He is a hero to many scientists – certainly to me.”

Lovelock has made headlines for his views on the environment, and his support for nuclear power (he once told me he would happily store nuclear waste in his garden), but he is best known for introducing the world to the seductive idea of Gaia, which says the Earth behaves as though it were an organism. The concept first reached a wide audience in 1975 in an article published in New Scientist, but was ridiculed, attacked for being teleological, even mocked as an “evil religion”.

Lovelock’s computer simulation, Daisyworld, helped Gaia mature from a hypothesis into a theory by putting it on a mathematical foundation. Light, and dark, coloured daisies evolved within an idealised world, waxing and waning to balance the way they absorbed and reflected sunlight to regulate the temperature, so it was optimum for plant growth. Among the items acquired by the museum is a Hewlett Packard computer that Lovelock used for Daisyworld.

Lovelock’s computer simulation, Daisyworld

Lovelock’s computer simulation, Daisyworld

Bolstering Lovelock’s Gaian vision came experimental evidence, the discovery that sulphur from ocean algae circulated worldwide in a form that has since been linked with the formation of clouds that are able to cool the world by reflecting sunlight back into space. Today, Gaia’s influence stretches beyond Earth to music, fiction and even computer games.

The Science Museum’s collection includes Lovelock’s Electron Capture Detector which he invented in 1956 to detect a range of substances, he explained, ‘mostly nasty poisons and carcinogens, or else harmful to the atmosphere like nitrous oxide and halocarbons.’ In the summer of 1967 Lovelock used it measured the supposedly clean air blowing off the Atlantic onto Ireland’s west coast and found that it contained CFCs, now known to cause ozone depletion. ‘It’s sad that it would now be almost impossible for a lone scientist like me to make or use an ECD without breaking the health and safety laws,’ he told me.

Electron capture detector for a gas chromatograph

James Lovelock developed this highly sensitive detector for measuring air pollution in 1960.

I have met this green guru on and off since 1991 and, the last time we talked, he was as provocative as ever. The attempts to model the Earth’s climate system do not yet fully include the response of the ecosystem of the land or oceans, and Lovelock warned about feedback effects, some that can damp down climate change and others that accelerate it, and he predicts a threshold above which there could be a five degree increase in temperature.

He is withering about the attempt of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to forge a consensus, a word that he says has no place in science. That is no surprise. From 1964 Lovelock has worked as an independent scientist and he is writing a book about being a lone scientist in response to an article in the Wall Street Journal which argued that the scientific process can only happen through collaboration. Lovelock believes that lone scientists can work more like artists in that they can be reflective and do not necessarily need other people to collaborate with.

And when it comes to the fate of our home world, all is not lost. Lovelock, like many others, is receptive to another idea that, relatively recently, was laughed off as unrealistic, even a little mad: geoengineering, or “planetary medicine”, which could mean cooling the Earth by the use of space mirrors or clouds of particulates.

Lovelock, who has been visiting the Science Museum since the age of seven, teamed with a former Museum Director, Chris Rapley, to devise another way to cool our overheated world: pumping chilly waters from the ocean depths to fertilize the growth of carbon-hungry blooms.