Author Archives: Susannah

An amazing astronaut

Space – as seen from our Launchpad gallery

Astronauts, rockets and multi-coloured stars – visitors to our Launchpad gallery seem to have space on the brain.

Here’s a small selection of their space-inspired artwork – click on any image to see bigger pictures.

Pencil that does your homework for you!

More visitor inventions

A pencil that does your homework for you, clouds that rain chocolate and a levitating chair – just a few of the ingenious inventions that have been dreamt up by visitors to our Launchpad gallery.

Here’s a small selection – click on any image to see bigger pictures.

That last one was just us showing off…

IURO can learn from you if you answer his questions

Robotville in pictures

Check out some pictures from our Robotville festival which features cutting edge robots from labs across Europe. Click on any picture to launch the full slideshow.

Photos by Patu Tifinger. 

Blythe House

Museum store or movie set?

Hollywood glamour isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a museum store but Blythe House, the Science Museum’s small object store, is the red hot destination for filmmakers right now.

Blythe House

Earlier this year the blockbuster spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, set in 1970s London, was filmed there. Featuring a preeminent cast with the likes of Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, Blythe was suddenly host to a crew of over 70 people and a 140 ft crane.

Rumours have it that our Blythe House colleagues were nearly ushered out of the cinema for cheering at every Blythe shot…

On a rather different note, check out the latest Jessie J video, which was entirely shot at Blythe House. Sadly, we can reveal the luxury basement boudoir isn’t a normal fixture at Blythe.

Filming is nothing new to Blythe House. Classic espionage and detective shows Minder and The New Avengers were shot there in the late 1970s early 1980s.

It’s no surprise that Blythe has captured so many Directors’ imagination. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric place with long corridors, towering staircases and rickety lift shafts. It’s certainly what captivated animators the Quay Brothers who made the short film The Phantom Museum. Pretty creepy stuff.

Our collections have also had their moment in the spotlight. If you’ve seen the vampire slayer movie Van Helsing then you might have glimpsed the Omniskop. The production crew created an exact replica of this awesome looking x-ray machine for the slayer’s laboratory.

Post written by Katie Maggs, Curator of Medicine

Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Games Jam winners

Last month we held our first ever Games Jam, where participants were invited to create a brand new game inspired by our collections and galleries in just one day. Six games were created but there could only be one winner…

The winning game was called Darwin’s Monster and here are the judge’s comments:

Darwin’s Monster was really fantastic, I’m sure it’s something that could be developed and played again at the Science Museum.

The team playtested it in the Who Am I Gallery and it was judged to be both a great icebreaker with participants and really relevant to the gallery’s focus. The team also worked brilliantly together – they recruited players for about 5 rounds of the game and all explained the rules clearly.

Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Simon Fox (, Rob Harris ( and John Waterworth walk away with the coveted PLAYER award 2011. Congrats!

Brainstorming at the Games Jam

Design a game in a day

It’s a tall order, but it can be done. During our Games Jam last Friday, the six teams came up with six brand new games, playtested and perfected them – all in the course of a day.

We started off with four catalyst talks from gaming experts – I’ve summarised their words of wisdom here. After the talks we went on a tour of one of the galleries led by a curator. My team went around the Who am I? Gallery with Priya Umachandran and she picked out a few key objects sparked ideas.

Heads stuffed with inspiring stuff it was time to sit down in our groups. After setting the rules (no running, no fire-starting etc) the creative process kicked off with a free-ranging brainstorming session.

My group began thinking we might make a game about memory. This evolved into a classification game where people had to work out why objects had been grouped in different combinations. We even considered a poker-style card game where you had to create genetically modified creatures by collecting groups of characteristics.

Eventually we decided to go with a game where you had to bluff about really obscure looking objects. In our first, very quick and dirty playtest we were howling with laughter – it looked like we were on to something.

However, we were concerned that all we’d done was shift a familiar game into a new environment and we wanted something a bit more novel. So suddenly it got a bit political. We would divide our players into two teams – the scientists and the politicians. The politicians want to stop funding research and the scientists have to convince them that they deserve the money, but they might be bluffing…

Basic concept sorted we headed out to start playtesting in earnest. It didn’t start off well. In the first iteration it didn’t really seem like the politicians had much to do – they just sat and judged what the scientists had to say.

In the next iteration we decided to focus on the bluffing and ditch the politics. We took some pictures of crazy looking objects and asked people to write down their ideas. We then got the gamemaster to read them all out, along with the real answer. Again there were lots of problems. The gamemaster struggled to read out the descriptions in dodgy handwriting, and the real answers were really easy to spot.

But then it came together. On our third go we decided that half the fun was picking the objects out in the first place, so after assigning teams an area of the gallery we asked them to go away and take photos on their mobiles. They had to select objects that would be fun to bluff about, or that had descriptions that were so outlandish that people might not believe them.

Two or three teams take turns to describe an object and the others ask probing questions to try to catch them out. If the guessing team is right about it being true or a mighty bluff they get a point – if they get it wrong the describing team gets a point.

On Saturday we playtested it with real people. It’s really simple, easy to explain and can be played in any gallery. Plus it’s properly fun to play.


Here’s what the other groups came up with:

A bodysnatchers game in our medical galleries

A sickness and health game with evil nurses who want to make you sick

Darwin’s monster, a game where people team up and are assigned different abilities so they have to work together to survive

Rift, a game where you have to dash around the Museum to gather information to stop a rift in space and time opening between our Cosmos & Culture and Measuring Time galleries.

Nuclear Warning, a game where you had to design a new warning symbol and perhaps do a Russian Bear Dance.  

We’ll be revealing the winning game soon…

Simon from Slingshot

Game design tips from the experts

Last Friday the great and the good from the world of live gaming descended on the Museum. They came to inspire the participants in our Games Jam – people who were going to have to design their own games in just one day.

Hopefully we’ll have videos of the full talks up soon but for now here’s a quick summary.

Holly Gramazio

Holly Gramazio from Hide and Seek

Holly Gramazio from Hide&Seek told us about three common pitfalls with live games – games that are too vague, to random or too complicated. Vague games lack clear instructions and clear goals for the participants, complicated games demand too much attention from players – asking them to absorb vast rule sets immediately and overly random games depend too much on chance – not giving your players enough of an opportunity to use their skills to influence the outcome.

Tassos from Coney

Tassos from Coney

Tassos Stevens from Coney talked us through the three principles that guide their games development – adventure, curiosity and loveliness. Curiosity is important because a good game should always have an element of newness, adventure because they need to be exciting. Loveliness is all about looking after your players and putting their experience at the heart of what you do.

He also stressed the importance of playtesting – creating a prototype as soon as possible so you can try it out, see what works and what doesn’t and change it. And then play again and change it again…

Matt Adams from Blast Theory

Matt Adams from Blast Theory

Matt Adams from Blast Theory took us on a whistlestop tour through lots of the decisions you have to make when you’re designing a location based game. What type of journey will you send people on? Linear? Disrupted? What duration, schedule? Is it played along or in a group, is there an advantage to collaborating, are there rewards, what happens if they get stuck, are there feedback loops so people can see if they are doing well, can people cheat, can that become part of the game?

Simon from Slingshot

Simon from Slingshot

Finally Simon Evans from SlingShot told us to keep it simple. There’s a finite number of game mechanics out there, so you can create something new and exciting by taking a familiar, existing model and deciding to change one thing. You’ve also got to grab people’s attention – something he’s achieved by orchestrating a tag-style foxhunt game where players get tracked through a city by real dogs. Possibly not one to recreate in the Museum.

Heads stuffed with inspiring stuff, we then had to get down to the mucky business of designing a game. More on that in the next post…

Computer game character with a gun

Gaming Lates

To tie in with our magnificent PLAYER live gaming festival, the theme of this month’s Lates was – wait for it – gaming.

We had the usual heady brew of science talks, silent disco, Beau Lotto’s Lab, pub quiz and so on.

But this month the Lates crowd also got to be shot at by giant avatars, to participate in an adapted and enormous game of something similar to Pong and to play super-sized Battleships in in our Shipping gallery. Not your average Wednesday night out…

These games and more will be going on until the 2 October – check out the full PLAYER programme.

We also kicked off a SCVNGR trek that will be running for the next few months. Using your smartphone you have to complete a series of challenges around the Museum – all very scientific, but some significantly silly.

If you know what a Klein bottle is, you should probably come down, maybe team up with some friends and try to imitate one…

Click on the pics below to have a closer look.

Photos all by Patu Tifinger.

Alan Sutcliffe speaking at the meeting

Back to the future of electronic music

Post written by Miriam Hay.

While researching our new exhibition about the history of electronic music, we had the amazing opportunity to meet a few of the people who were there making music in the 1960s and 70s, when futuristic electronic sounds were being experimented with for the very first time.

Dick Mills, Roger Limb and Steve Marshall had all previously been part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, set up in 1958 to produce electronic sound effects and jingles for radio and television including, most famously, the theme music for Doctor Who.

We were also joined by Peter Zinovieff and Alan Sutcliffe of Electronic Music Studio, a music research establishment formed by Peter in the early 1960s. It famously produced the first commercial synthesizer in Britain, the VCS3.

It was great to see the union of what had been two relatively independent strands of electronic music history around one table, as they shared with us their memories and experiences of working at a time when electronic music was startlingly new.

It was the invention of tape that was the catalyst, enabling different sounds to be cut and stuck together to make a recorded track. Before this, individual sounds had been recorded onto discs or spools of steel wire which meant that it was impossible for them to be edited together in advance.

Dick Mills gave us an animated description of the rather frantic work of playing multiple discs at the same time to provide sound effects for live radio broadcasts. Each disc ran for only 2 minutes, so you had to keep two running for background noise, playing one while you re-started the other, while adding in other effects such as wind and birds as needed with cries of “don’t forget the owl!”

Peter Zinovieff, founder of EMS, had been taught how to splice tape by Daphne Oram. She had been a founder of the Radiophonic Workshop and creator of the Oramics Machine, which is the focus of the first phase of our exhibition.

Peter told us that the tiresome process of ‘cutting and sticking’ inspired him to experiment with computers to create sound without fiddling about with tape. His desire was for a computer to put the sounds together all by itself. This eventually resulted in the first concert performance by a computer in 1968.

Peter took up making music again several years ago and talked about a recent concert in Istanbul. He had meant to finish his speech by announcing this new standing as a composer. However nerves got the better of him and in an ironically comic twist he actually accidentally concluded by saying: “At last, I am now a computer!”

The development from ‘computer’ to ‘composer’ was noted by the group as a whole. Nowadays, they said, the computer has become almost ‘transparent’ - a tool to get something else done - while in the pioneering 1960s electronics itself was an art - something to be studied, developed, and experimented with. Musicians also had to be engineers, testing and stretching the initial primitive capacities of the limited equipment available.

Almost in summary, the words of the late Delia Derbyshire (who worked at the Radiophonic workshop and introduced Peter to Alan) were quoted. She had realised that while the musical products of her generation of electronic artists weren’t yet the best that the medium had to offer, they would prove crucially important for what was to come. This was what the future would sound like.

The Oramics to Electronica exhibition is already partially open. It will be fully opened on 10th October, and will run until December 2012.

A cornflour shower

Outreach team at the Lollibop Festival

Post written by Shane Craig, Schools and Communities Outreach Officer.

Lollibop is ‘the big bash for little people’, a 3 day under 10’s festival in Regents Park offering the best that the children’s entertainment world has to offer… or Glastonbury for kids!

As festival goers approached our tent they were met by a large paddling pool full of corn flour slime made with around 60 boxes of corn flour (that’s 30kg!). Kids could really get stuck in (not literally) and explore this strange non-Newtonian fluid acting like a solid and a liquid.

Once inside the tent, Science Museum classics such as the Egg Drop Trick and Alka-Seltzer Rockets were entertaining (and educating) the kids and adults. Both of these experiments can be found in one of our Kitchen Science Booklets.

The crowd could also hold a bubble of carbon dioxide sublimed from dry ice and make their own bubble wands from straws and string. 

Each day the Outreach team performed The Greatest Hits show in which we threw everything we have got at the crowd. Introduced by a human beatbox, we hit ‘em where it hurt with exploding hydrogen balloons, a cloud (liquid nitrogen) in a bucket and a rocket piloted by a frog.
Elsewhere in the festival I think it’s fair to say that we were overcome with Rastamouse fever. Along with Da Easy Crew he blew the crowd away and a photo-op was a must. We had to grab our chance and sneak a photo with this legendary star as he walked past…

If you missed us this time then we finish our festival season at Jolly Day Out at Hampton Court Palace, 26th – 28th August, we’re are on the line-up alongside McFly (but I’m sure you know that already).