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Eric Schmidt at the Science Museum talking about Why Science Matters

Google’s Eric Schmidt extols the importance of Science Museums

Eric Schmidt at the Science Museum talking about Why Science MattersTonight in front of an influential audience at our Imax theatre, Eric Schmidt discussed the importance of Science Museums.

Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt described the extraordinarily important role of museums in inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.  Eric Schmidt spoke passionately about why science matters “Science illuminates the world and gives us the building blocks to transform our lives. The fundamental advances in human industry – from building ships to building genomes, from spinning jennies to spinning quarks – have a foundation in science.”

Expanding on why he had chosen to make his follow up to last year’s MacTaggart Lecture at the Science Museum in London, Schmidt said that “Museums do more than entertain and teach, they also open peoples eyes to career opportunities. The Museum we’re in today is a great illustration… It is a place to cherish, but more importantly a place to inspire. This is a remarkable venue, and I say that as someone who has visited a lot of museums.”

“It is full of memories of so many inventions – indeed, so many British inventions…Today nearly 3 million people pass through its doors each year, two-thirds in groups with children.”

When it comes to computer literacy, he listed a range of initiatives that have emerged since his MacTaggart lecture, including a report produced by NESTA and the Science Museum on the remarkable legacy of the BBC Micro project’s legacy and lessons for today. 

Mr Schmidt touched on two projects opening at the Science Museum which Google are supporting. The first is a new biographical exhibition about Alan Turing’s life and legacy opening on June 20th.  The second project is the development of a new exhibition about modern communications. The Gallery opens in 2014 and brings to life moments when the world changed dramatically through the invention of technologies such as the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable; the creation of the first digital electronic computer; the development of mobile communications and the advent of the World Wide Web.


BBC Microcomputer

Legacy of the BBC Micro

Written by Tilly Blyth, Curator of Computing and Information


Today Nesta and the Science Museum are publishing a report on the legacy of the BBC Micro. Based on research at the BBC’s Written Archives Centre and the online public questionnaire we ran back in March 2012, the report looks at the legacy of computer and the BBC’s broader Computer Literacy Project. We received 372 responses to the questionnaire, with many people leaving detailed responses about their experiences of using computers in the 1980s and the influence it had on their subsequent careers paths.

Despite the BBC Micro being remembered as a schools machine, the report shows that the Computer Literacy Project initially aimed to improve adult computer literacy in the home. It was supported by a range of materials, distributed across a multitude of channels, and enabled local networks to deliver learning directly to many different audiences.

The report also highlights how the Computer Literacy Project had significant economic benefits, creating an increasingly skilled population and stimulating a high technology innovation cluster aroundCambridge. It suggests that any new initiatives which aim to increase computer literacy, such as the Raspberry Pi, should include the need for a strong vision for computer literacy, leadership to coordinate activities, and a desire to create change in the home as well as schools.

The report is available through the Nesta website:

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.

Why Will Smith chose the Science Museum

Will Smith, Hollywood actor, producer and rapper, visited the Science Museum yesterday for a special charity premiere of Men in Black 3 for schoolchildren from diverse backgrounds.

The children gasped, cheered and waved when the two-time Oscar nominee walked into the museum’s packed IMAX theatre.

In a question and answer session before the premiere, the 43-year-old told the audience that he was keen that the event was in the Science Museum ‘because of my passion for math and science.’

‘I’m very excited to be here’ said Smith, who had earlier met the Director of the Science Museum Group, Ian Blatchford, next to the museum’s Apollo 10 command module.

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.

MIB3  features time travel back to 1969, when Apollo 10 staged the dress rehearsal for the first manned moon landing.

‘My best subject at school was math’ explained the star of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ What would have become of the Hollywood actor if he had not become a global celebrity?

Smith told the Science Museum audience that he would have gone into computer engineering.

As he left the Queen’s Gate entrance to the museum he waved at members of the British Science Association. ‘Will Smith loves science,” tweeted one.

Image of tuning forks

Hearing Artefacts – A Science Museum Radio Diary

Image of tuning forks The Science Museum is very pleased to announce our first ever Sound Artist in Residence, Aleks Kolkowski.

In recent years Aleks has explored the potential of historical sound recording and reproduction technology to make contemporary mechanical-acoustic music. His works for singers, instrumentalists and even singing canaries often feature live-made sound inscriptions onto wax cylinders and lacquer discs using Edison phonographs and old disc recording lathes.

Other activities include repurposing discarded digital CDs as 45rpm analogue records and both sound installations and performances where historic sound reproducing machines, mechanical musical instruments and archival recordings are combined with state-of-the-art electronics. Such practice-led research using antiquated audio technologies and investigations into little-known forms of mechanical amplification led to the award of a PhD from Brunel University.

His major project to date has been an archive of contemporary musicians, artists and writers recorded exclusively on wax cylinders. Begun in 2006 and continuing, the entire Phonographies collection may be listened to online.

Busily recording away, Aleks has developed a series of weekly radio programmes documenting the sounds of the museum. Granted unfettered access to our collections and in close co-operation with curators and staff, Aleks has recorded objects, machines and instruments and the stories associated with them. The radio series will be aired on Resonance 104.4 FM  at 4.30 on Thursday afternoons every week beginning March 22nd and repeated on Sundays at 11am.

 From the service corridors and basement workshops to restricted areas on the upper floors, the sounds of the entire building will be also be traced in an attempt to map the sounds of one of the world’s greatest museums.

 This week’s show: Thursday 5th April, 16:30 – 17:30, repeated on Sunday 8th at 11am

Machine Music: Sounds of Steam; Double Beam and Mill Engines; Loom

 This week’s show focuses on the giant steam driven mill engine in the Energy Hall on the ground floor of the museum and the largest working exhibit on display. Ben Russell, curator of Mechanical Engineering talks about its history and maintenance engineer and steam specialist John Shulver fires up the boiler and blasts some excess steam out into the museum courtyard. We hear the engine in all its glory from close up on the deck down to its thudding echoes in the basement. Also heard on the programme are the clamorous clacking sounds of the Toyoda Loom and the rhythmic chug and whir of an exquisitely engineered model double-beam steam engine from 1840. 

 Last week’s show: The Museum as a Sonic Space

 Tim Boon, the Science Museum’s Head of Research, muses on how sound operates in the museum, whether accidental, incidental or deliberately created, through a guided tour of particular galleries and exhibits. In the second half of the programme, Aleks  accompanies Exhibit Maintenance Manager Sean Wogan as he starts up the Water Garden and other delights.



Mick Jackson

Writer in residence

Mick JacksonMick Jackson is a prize-winning author and screenwriter, who has recently become our new writer-in-residence.

His first novel, The Underground Man, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and won the Royal Society of Authors’ First Novel Award. He has published three novels and two illustrated collections of stories with Faber and Faber, his most recent being The Widow’s Tale in 2010. He also writes screenplays and has directed documentaries.

Mick will be at here until September, 2012. Some of his interests which he hopes to explore during the residency are early photography, astronomy, airships, submarines and the history of medicine (particularly The Common Cold Unit).

Throughout his residency he will be keeping us up to date with blog posts. His first post is below. 

Being the writer-in-residence at a major London museum can be pretty demanding. There are people to meet, notes to be made, etc. – and all the thinking on top of that. When the stress threatens to overwhelm me I tend to head for ‘Agriculture’ on the First Floor. In one display case a series of tractors slowly turn in their own small circle, constantly tilling the same grey soil. It’s my equivalent of a Japanese raked gravel garden. After a couple of minutes, a sort of English pastoral Zen settles upon me and I’m right as rain.

To be honest, when I began the residency I was hoping for a hat of some description, with my title printed on it. And maybe a special phone on which I could be notified of potentially-interesting events: ‘There’s something weird going on in Marine Engineering. Grab your notebook and get yourself down there.’ As I approached the crowd I would say, ‘Let me through, please, I’m the writer-in-residence. This scenario may have potential as a short story, or a quirky piece for Radio Four.’

Instead, I am left to wander round the galleries in hatless anonymity. There’s the odd perk, of course. As a member of staff I get 20% discount on my lattes. And curators, who possibly have better things to be getting on with, seem quite prepared to sit down with me and discuss their specialist field. This morning I have been contemplating sidereal time and horary quadrants. Anything to do with Time or Cosmology, I find, can easily bring on a bout of brain-ache. But the moment I feel the pressure building I head back to the tractors – the slowly-turning tractors – and within five minutes my equilibrium is restored.

Mick Jackson
Writer in Residence

Alexei image

In Interview: Alexei Shulgin

Alexei image Alexei Shulgin, artist from media art production company Electroboutique responds to Head of Science Museum Arts Projects, Hannah Redler’s questions about his exhibition at the Museum, ‘Electroboutique Pop up’.

Electroboutique pop-up at the Science Museum consists of art objects, ‘products’ as you call them, slogans and texts. On the surface this seems like a move away from the area for which are particularly known, as a pioneer of net art. Can you say something about the shift in the focus of your practice, from bits and bytes and online environments to ‘(art) marketable products’, perhaps starting with a brief outline of what net art is (or was)?

Well net art was an avant-garde movement in the 90’s; that came to life after the emergence of the internet. I think net art was an ultimate modernism, an art practice that existed without institutional borders and was addressed to everyone (who had a computer and internet). I believe many of the net artists’ inventions were later used in construction of “web 2.0” which marries social networking and online shopping.

I think net art had served its role in the development of online capitalism and has become marginal around 2002-03. In the virtual world dominated by heavily controlled social/ commercial sites such as Facebook and eBay very little space is left for artistic exploration. That was one reason for me to search for the new. Another one was that by that time I was looking for new economical conditions of art production and making “commercial”, art-market ready art appeared to be the best option. Especially considering the almost non-existent support of art by the state in Russia where I was living by then. I was lucky to meet Aristarkh Cernyshev then and we decided to make a project together, Super-I real Virtuality Goggles. It went really well and we decided to go on with a collaboration, formed Electroboutique, rented a studio together and started developing our unique style on the intersection of pop art, design and interactive electronics, something that has not existed yet in the market.

What is the significance for you of this exhibition being in a Science Museum rather than an art gallery? How do you think the museum context and its very wide general audience might change the way the works will be experienced or received?

Yes, the Science Museum is great for us! Firstly, as I have already said before, the Science Museum shows at its best an unbreakable connection between history of capitalism, science, engineering, and design. With the Science Museum art programme we get all ingredients: we consider art an important institute of a capitalist society, one of its driving forces. This unity of art and capitalism is one of the focuses of our artistic exploration, which is why the Science Museum context works so well for us. And of course, being real modernists, we want to bring our art to the masses, to ordinary people, and not just to the snobbish art crowd. And where on earth we can find more diverse audience than in the Science Museum. We believe our works affect people on different levels. The first, entertaining one is addressed to all; but if you like to reflect a bit on the state of the world today – we offer this option too!

Can you say something more about your appropriation of the language of corporate social responsibility in the work, or why it became important subject matter for you? It’s not immediately the most obvious bedfellow for works which play so expertly with the outputs and aesthetics of mass media. But when one starts to think about the corporate world as a major driving force within new media and communication spaces, lots of questions start to arise. Is this in any way related to the political drivers that originally led you to practice as a net artist?

Perhaps. You know, you start being an artist because you feel the world around you is unbearable, you don’t see how you can participate in this circus. Then, you discover that art world is not any better, and you start looking for new frontiers. In the 90’s the internet was such a frontier; then after few years it has become a part of a banal and rude reality. I think it’s a kind of evil loop: you look for a new “temporary autonomous zone” to quote Hakim Bey, and you start exploring it and then, after a while and thanks to your efforts  it becomes eaten up by progressing capitalism.

When working on our electronic gadgets/art objects we have discovered that our production is quite similar to that of a “real” electronics company: same kind of chipboards, plastic, cameras. We work with contractors, we hire engineers and workers, we use a chinese labour force. We work on the market, we try to be innovative and offer new exciting products… Another world, our art production looks exactly like any other creative capitalist production. That’s why we decided to go further and use the current corporate marketing strategies such as declaring social responsibility and sustainability. And it all is true – we do care about world around us and we do try to make it better!

Your position also fluctuates quite irreverently between being sharply anticapitalist and a full-on creative entrepreneur luxuriating in the benefits of capitalism. In the text that goes along with your work ‘Commercial Protest’ you even promote this contradiction with the words “We protest against this state of affairs with this piece and set a fair price on it!” Tell us more!

Oh yes. Being anti-capitalist is a luxury, it’s a privilege of a first world citizen. You don’t see any “Occupy …” movements outside the Golden Billion countries. By sharpening the contradiction you are mentioning we want to emphasize the situation where critique of capitalism is in fact an essential part of the capitalist itself.

How do you think your takes on corporate marketing speak actually critique rather than reiterate the ideologies you’re commenting on?

We think we do both. By our creative critique we point out the weak points of capitalism and offer patches for them. We believe that contemporary art, along with science, is an avant-garde institute of a capitalist society. And one of its most important missions is developing new aesthetics and communications techniques for future use in product design, advertising and politics. Look globally – what is called ‘contemporary art’ flourishes in the societies with innovative capitalism, and is rather marginal and derivative in the others.

Many of the works in the exhibition either respond to, reflect or re-version viewers in real-time. How do the works create individualised experience for each audience member and how is it that these are a reflection of the audience themselves?

Well the initial reason for us to start making works like that was our desire to please the viewers, everybody just loves to appear in an art work. Such a ‘populist’ approach was our deliberate choice when we were starting. Also, placing an audience in an artwork makes communication between the two much easier. Today, media personalities and celebrities appearing on screen are very popular and attractive social figures, so we are playing with people’s desire to be one of them too. And yes, by including a viewer into our artworks we make their experience unique, and they appreciate it by loving (and buying) our works. And finally, it’s a practical trick, by pleasing our audience we manage to keep their attention for longer than average three seconds and communicate our critical messages while entertaining.


Contemporary arts programme

Not everyone knows that we have an ongoing contemporary arts programme, so we thought we would give you a bit of an update about what we have going on in the Museum art-wise.

Our contemporary art programme is now in its 15th year and is going from strength to strength. We exhibit art projects that explore artists’ perspectives on the past, present and future of science and technology and offer ways of thinking about the impact of science within wider cultural contexts.

Our latest offerings include a temporary display of large-scale photograph ‘In the House of My Father’ by seminal Black British artist Donald Rodney in the Who Am I Gallery, a gallery about human identity.

Our ever popular Cockroach Tour by maverick Danish artists collective Superflex is still in action. ‘Listening Post’ by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen is an extraordinary ‘portrait of online chat’ run out over a ‘curtain’ of 251 vacuum fluorescent screens which show live chat fragments in real-time.

Coming up, we have the UK premier of works by innovative art production company Electroboutique (Alexei Shulgin and Aristarkh Chernyshev). Their gorgeously designed broadcast and interactive ‘art products’ encourage participation and new forms of ‘Crititainment’ (entertaining critiques) through what the artists call ‘Creative Consumption’.


Electroboutique work with the languages of pop culture, media and art histories, real-time data processing and custom electronics, framed by a tongue-in-cheek appropriation of the language of corporate marketing speak. ‘Electroboutique pop-up at the Science Museum’ opens on the 23 November, running until 14 February 2012.

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Over the next few weeks we will be publishing an interview with Alexei Shulgin as well as running a live Q and A on Twitter.

Over the next year our prize-winning Writer in Residence Mick Jackson will be keeping us up to date with his discoveries in the Museum and next March we are delighted to be hosting a solo show of new works by British artist Suzanne Treister, details of which are to follow shortly.

Post by Hannah Redler, Head of Arts Projects