Author Archives: Susannah

Recreation of 1980s surgery techniques

Bringing surgery to life – if you’ve got the gall for it…

Post written by Katie Maggs, Curator of Medicine

Our 1980s operating theatre came back to life this morning, as we brought back together a surgical team from London’s Westminster Hospital to carry out three operations in the way they would have been performed in 1983. The idea is to capture how operations were performed in the past when surgery was very different from how it is today.

Live action surgery as visitors look on.

The surgery team – Professor Harold Ellis (surgeon), Professor Stanley Feldman (anaesthetist) and Sister Mary Neiland (theatre sister) – worked together for many years. They are now retired, but agreed to come together at the Science Museum, where a full-scale 1980s operating theatre is on show on the fourth floor. Other members of the team assisting them were present-day clinicians getting the chance of a lifetime to work with surgical legends like Harold and Stanley.

Professor Stanley Feldman

Sister Mary Neiland and Surgeon, Professor Harold Ellis

How has surgery changed? Well in the 1980s a surgical team (surgeon, anaesthetist and theatre sister) might have worked closely together for 20 years or more. Nowadays the team doing an operation may never have met until the day of the procedure, which can sometimes make communication a problem. Surgery itself is very different too. Then, all operations were done by ‘open’ surgery, often needing large incisions. Now, many operations use ‘keyhole’ surgery, where miniature cameras and instruments can be passed into the patient’s body through tiny holes in the skin.

The project has been led by Roger Kneebone, Professor of Surgical Education at Imperial College London. Roger was a surgeon in training in the 1980s. He now leads an unusual group of researchers with an international reputation in surgical simulation, bringing together clinicians, psychologists, engineers and prosthetics experts.

Talking about prosthetics – a realistic simulator (complete with silicone intestines, fake blood and pig’s liver – ick!) was used instead of a real patient (funnily enough we didn’t receive any volunteers willing to be operated on!).

Max Campbell, Director of Health Cuts Ltd, puts the finishing touches to the simulated patient he created. If you've ever watched Holby City - you've more than likely already seen Max's gory work.

Three operations were performed including a cholecystectomy (the removal of the gall bladder and a common treatment for gallstones), as well as a hernia repair (to fix a rupture of the muscles in the groin).

Jimmy, the surgical Registrar, shows us the gall bladder (the white blob) on the underside of the liver that sits inside the 'patient'.

Equipped with the latest technology, the Science Museum’s operating theatre was cutting edge when it was installed in the early 1980s. In fact it caused quite a media controversy that such new medical gear was going to a museum rather than into a hospital. Now it’s the perfect environment for simulating surgery of the 1980s.

You can usually see our diorama dummies performing heart surgery.

Ok – so where did the dummies go this morning? A glance to the side of the operating theatre revealed a rather unusual sight…

Conservator Ian Miles (who made this event possible) demonstrates how many surgeons can fit in one very small store room! As far as we know he hasn't had a Mannequin moment yet...

We hope to repeat this event sometime in the near future and also put films of today’s operations up on the web – we’ll keep you posted!

People mixing up their bath bombs

Chemistry Lates

Chemistry was the key to this month’s Lates – the chemistry of bath products, warfare, alcohol and even luuurve…

As well as all the talks and tours (cockroaches included) you could make elemental fridge magnets and bath bombs to take home. The bath bombs looked like pink/green/blue porridge to start with, but looked much more appealing after they’d started to set.  

Elsewhere there were people wandering around clutching huge bubbles full of cloudy carbon dioxide or throwing crazy shapes in the Space gallery to the music that only they could hear. You meet all sorts at Lates…

Check out Patu Tinfinger’s beautiful pictures of the evening: 

We also had a little experiment with a smartphone app called SCVNGR that gives you points for completing challenges and even lets you set challenges for other people to complete – read my earlier post for details.

After a rough count and excluding a couple of staff members, 30 people used the app and completed around 70 challenges.

We had some really nice responses – great pics of people performing loud moves in the silent disco and some thoughtful / funny responses to the ‘Object of Desire’ challenge. Most picked their favourite Museum object and explained why they love it, but someone took a picture of a bottle of beer and one guy rather sweetly took a picture of lovely lady who I suspect is his girlfriend. Now that’s chemistry in action…

I think there would have been more activity if there wasn’t already so much to do at Lates. It seemed the perfect testing ground but maybe the app is better suited to spicing up a regular daytime visit to the Museum when there isn’t quite so much going on.

The other issue was that we were trying to encourage people to create their own challenges – something that very few people did. But there’s still time…

You can use SCVNGR whenever you come to the Museum, so next time you’re here have a little play, and - if inspiration strikes – leave a challenge to inspire everyone who comes after you.

Object of Desire challenge on SCVNGR app

Gaming the Museum

Here at the Science Museum we like to play games.

Our galleries are full of things to play with, both physical and digital. In Launchpad there are contraptions where you can build up pressure to fire a rocket, multi-player mechanical games with levers and pulleys and a rotation station that spins you like an ice-skater.

Over the years we’ve also created lots of free online games, from the physics-based blockbuster Launchball to cute Thingdom and challenging Rizk. Plus, in October we’re going to hold a live gaming festival in association with Trigger. More details on that one in good time…

We’re also interested in how we can make the experience of visiting the Museum a bit more playful on a day to day basis.

One of the things that we’ve been looking at is a mobile app that promises to create a game layer over the real world. SCVNGR encourages you to complete challenges associated with places (in this case the Science Museum) in order to get points.

There are a bunch of pre-set challenges for every place – take a picture, leave a comment, check in on your own or with friends. But you can also create your own challenges, which is what we’re going to ask you to do at Lates on Wednesday.

I’ve already set up one to get us started – ‘Object of Desire’ asks you to take a picture of your favourite object in the Museum and tell the world why you love it.

Object of Desire challenge on SCVNGR app

Object of Desire challenge on SCVNGR app

But now it’s over to you and we’re really excited to see what challenges you come up with. They can test people’s knowledge, get them to look really hard at our collections or they can just encourage some scientific silliness. It is Lates after all…

To get involved you’ll need a smart phone running the free SCVNGR app. It’s available for iPhones and Android phones.

Putting the Martians on Mars

All stitched up

Thanks to everyone who came along to the Stitched Science event this weekend. We had a ball and hope you did too. We’ve gathered together a few pictures to give those that couldn’t make it a flavour of the event.

The most popular activity, even among people completely new to the world of wool, was knitting a Mars Martian to be stuck on the knitted planet Mars.

Getting people’s creations up on the planets provided a bit of a spectacle. We had a few attachment issues with plastic bag yarn continents falling off but we got there in the end.

The cross stitch was also really interesting with Colin and Jamie (Mr X Stitch) displaying some of their work which included cross stitched Pokemon characters and cross stitch graffiti.

When it came to communicating science, both Woolly Thoughts (maths and illusion knitting) and Knit a Neurone (neuroscience) had a great response from visitors. It really engaged people and got people talking about scientific subjects in a very different way.

If you came along let us know what you thought…

Drawings displayed in Launchpad

Your inventions

What are disco-dancing music shoes and stomping robot ponies doing in the Science Museum? Well…

Launchpad is our ‘hands-on minds-on’ gallery which is all about asking questions and making sense of the way things work.

The interactive exhibits (echo tube, air cannon, bubble wall etc) can get the kids pretty excited, so for a change of pace we encourage them sit down and draw a picture.

Sometimes they draw themselves playing in the gallery, sometimes it’ll be their vision of the future or an idea for a crazy new invention. The drawings are then displayed on the wall for everyone to see.

Drawings displayed in Launchpad

Drawings displayed in Launchpad

We’ve got hundreds tucked safely away and we’re going to start sharing the best of them via this blog.

But to give you a taste of what’s to come check out this wonderful animation. It was made by Sierk Heintzmann, who scanned some of the drawings before animating them with a soundtrack of the kids who created them. Watch out for the stomping robot ponies…

Stitched chromosomes

Stitching the solar system

This June we’re teaming up with Stitch London to stitch all things science…

Stitched chromosomes

Stitched chromosomes

Last year the Stitch London crew came to the Museum to create their stitched selves in our Who am I? gallery about brain science and genetics.

This year we’re thinking even bigger – Stitch London are going to help us stitch the world’s largest handmade stitched solar system.

Plus they will be creating lots of stitched science specimens – anything from stitched skulls and stethoscopes to James Watt and Einstein. Tiny stitched Professor Brian Cox anyone? 

The Stitch London team are already busy stitching away as but they can’t do it all on their own - they’ll need your help. From pom pom planet rings to knitting a giant Jupiter, your skills are needed to help create this piece of art.

A stitching session

A stitching session

Can’t stitch or knit? Don’t worry! The Stitch London experts will be running a number of workshops over both days to help you master the science of knitting. Learn the ‘knitting jenny’ technique, create a Mars martian and discover how to turn a plastic bag into yarn for our planet Earth. Find out more about the events.

And on that note we’re on the hunt for green and blue plastic bags - if you have any unwanted ones please send them to Stitch London at the address below:

Stitch London at The Fleece Station,
Courtyard Studio (First flooor),
The Old Police Station,
114-116 Amersham Vale,
London, SE14 6LG

The event will be on the 25 and 26 of June – hope to see you there.


Meet the Chronophage beast

Guest post by Selina Hurley, Assistant Curator of Medicine

Meet the Chronophage beast, who chomps down on each minute, devouring a whopping 86,400 seconds each day.

The Chronophage beast

The Chronophage beast

Casting its glass eye across the museum, the beast sits atop of the Midsummer clock, one of only two clocks in the world to try and show our varying experience of time. Its sister clock, the Corpus Clock, lives in Cambridge.

The clock’s inventor, Dr John Taylor, wanted to examine our perception of time. The Chronophage (Greek for time-eater) sometimes speeds up, slows down or stops altogether.

The grasshopper escapement was developed by another inventor, John Harrison (1693-1776), when he was battling with the longitude problem.

Over 200 people were involved in the making of the Midsummer and Corpus clocks.

Dr Taylor has spent his life inventing. Inspired by his father, he has patented over 200 ideas, mainly domestic thermostats. His most successful invention has been the third level kettle control, the Taylor blade. Developed as a fail-safe for plastic kettles in the 1970s, 600 million Taylor blades have been sold.

There’s plenty of time to see the clock as it will be on display at the museum until 30 October 2011. Time flies though, so make sure you don’t miss out…

The Oramics Machine during conservation

Electronic musicians wanted

We are looking for musicians with a passion for electronic music to co-curate an upcoming exhibition. It is centered around one of the oldest and most intriguing electronic music devices, which we acquired in 2009.   
The Oramics Machine was invented by Daphne Oram, who had founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and later set up her own studio.

The machine was a tad dusty, to say the least, so over the last year, our conservators have lovingly restored it. And now this grande dame of electronic music will return to the stage once more. In honour of its return, we are organising a temporary exhibition about the history of electronic music.

Among other things, we will be exploring how electronic music has influenced and been influenced by society over the last 60+ years. In developing this exhibition we would like to work together with people who know electronic and digital music from the inside.

In a series of workshops we will explore the history of electronic music and relevant objects in the Science Museum stores. You will get a look behind the scenes and contribute to an exhibition that will open in the autumn of 2011.

If you want to be a part of this, please email us at and tell us in 300 words or less:
1. Why you love electronic music
2. What kind of music you make and how you share it with others
3. How much you know about the history of electronic music

It doesn’t have to be an essay - feel free to be creative in your response.

And finally, let us know whether you would be able to work with us in London during the day on Tuesdays in June and July this year.

Please make sure to send in your submission before the deadline of 12 pm, 30 May 2011.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Ps. Check out the Oramics Machine on Facebook if you want to be the first to know about upcoming events and competitions.

The Punk Science boys

Space Lates

Meet Jon, the man tasked with making Lates great.
Punk Science

Punk Science boys - Jon's on the left standing like a hero

He’s been working away on the programme for this month’s Space-themed Lates (Wednesday 27 April 6.45 – 10pm) but he’s taken a break to tell us what he’s got in store…

We’re all really excited about this Month’s Lates inspired by the Science of Space. The real star is Yuri Gagarin and most of what we’re running will have some sort of link to celebrate the anniversary of him being the first man in space 50 years ago.

We’ll have Gagarin himself (well an actor playing him) in on the night as well as amazing tour of the exploring Space gallery given by Senior Curator Doug Millard. I could listen to him talking about space the entire night, so it’s a shame I’ll busy working.

We also have a talk from Prof Ian Morison about the Russian domination of the space race. Chris Riley will be joining us to talk about his new documentary film “First Orbit” charting Gagarin’s epic journey around the earth, and he’ll be popping down to the Museum shop to sign copies of his book at 9.30pm. Also, in the shop this month will be Vix Southgate signing copies of her book on Yuri Gagarin.

There’s also a fantastic talk on space food in which there’ll be a chance to look at the real thing and taste some too.

Punk Science fans (all 2 or 3 of you) need not fret as they are back in action at this month’s Lates with more of the sort of stuff of that thing that they do. 

Only one Pub Quiz this time round so make sure you get there early.

Plus there’s tours galore including a look round the new gallery James Watt and our world, Who Am I? and Challenge of Materials

 PS This is sort of stuff of that thing that Punk Science do.

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Decorating mechanical bugs

Launchpad Lates – March 2011

Ah Lates – the one night a month we stay open till 10pm and welcome crowds of the young and fun for a strangely successful blend of science and socialising. And silent disco of course…

This month the theme was the ‘Science of Launchpad’. Launchpad is one of our most-popular galleries, stuffed with interactive games that teach you about the laws of physics.

Check out the pictures to see what we all got up to:

My highlight of the evening was the talk by Prof Richard Wiseman, a psychologist and former magician who ruthlessly exposes how our preconceptions can make us see things that aren’t there, miss the blindingly obvious and believe in things that just aren’t true.

The paranormal was his target for the evening and he showed a selection of tricks that made me realise how easy it is to pull the wool over my eyes - watch the video and see if you’re as much of a mug as me.

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Due to time-table conflicts I tragically missed my chance to hurl Barbie across the room in the name of science. The Launch and Liberate Barbie event got people to build a contraption to chuck her as far from Ken as possible. I’d love to have seen it - did anyone get any pictures?

The next Lates is the 27 April and the theme is Space. We thought it might be nice to let someone else do the talking, so we’re looking for a guest blogger to write it up for us. Let us know if you fancy it.

Hope to see you all there…