Author Archives: Will Stanley, Science Museum Press Officer

Our Award-winning Volunteers

Sally Munday-Webb, Volunteer coordinator at Science Museum blogs on our award-winning volunteers.

Delroy Joseph (DJ) has been a volunteer at the Science Museum for over a year now. He came to us through Certitude, a company that supports people with learning difficulties or mental health support needs into employment, training or education. His advisor, Teresa, got in touch as she thought DJ would make a great volunteer.

DJ started at the Museum as a volunteer ambassador, meaning he helps our visitors by answering questions and giving directions.

At first he came in once a fortnight with Teresa, but soon he began to come on his own, upping his commitment to once a week and he is now one of our most loyal and trustworthy volunteers.

Once a year, the London Heritage Volunteer Manager’s Network holds an award ceremony to celebrate the success of London’s museum volunteers. When I saw that there was a category called ‘Developing in a Role’ I could think of nobody more worthy than DJ.

His personal development since volunteering here is visible and all staff and visitors who come into contact with him comment on his great attitude and fab personality.

DJ and Sally at the Awards Ceremony

DJ and Sally at the Awards Ceremony

On the night of the awards, DJ looked great in his new suit and when he was awarded Highly Commended, we could not have been more proud of him! He was even gracious enough to go and congratulate and shake the hand of the winner of the category.

Teresa said that we ‘are all so proud of his development and hope he continues to volunteer here for as long as he can. DJ really deserved his Highly Commended award at the London Volunteers in Museums Awards’.

Congratulations Delroy!

If you’d like to find out more about volunteering at the Science Museum, please contact volunteers@sciencemuseum.ac.uk.

A Nobel Tradition

Content Developer Rupert Cole explores the most famous science prize of all, and some of its remarkable winners. 

Today, science’s most prestigious and famous accolades will be awarded in Stockholm: the Nobel Prize.

Before we raise a toast to this years’ winners in physics, Peter Higgs and Belgian François Englert, let’s take a look back at the man behind the Prize, and some of its winners.

Alfred Nobel

A Swedish explosives pioneer who made his millions from inventing dynamite, Alfred Nobel left in his will a bequest to establish an annual prize for those who have “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”, across five domains: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. To this end, he allocated the majority of his enormous wealth.

Alfred Nobel. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Alfred Nobel. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

When Nobel’s will was read after his death in 1896, the prize caused an international controversy. Unsurprisingly, Nobel’s family were not best pleased, and vigorously opposed its establishment. It took five years before it was finally set up and the first lot awarded – the 1901 physics accolade going to Wilhelm Rontgen for his 1895 discovery of x-rays.

Paul Dirac’s maternal mortification

When the phone rang on 9 November 1933, the exceptionally gifted yet eccentric Paul Dirac was a little taken back to hear a voice from Stockholm tell him he had won the Nobel Prize.

The looming press attention, which had always surrounded the Nobels, made the reclusive Dirac consider rejecting the award, until Ernest Rutherford – JJ Thomson’s former student and successor as Cavendish professor – advised him that a “refusal will get you more publicity”.

Under different circumstances Rutherford had been similarly “startled” when he found out he was to be given a Nobel – a physicist through and through, he was awarded the 1908 Prize in Chemistry, joking his sudden “metamorphosis into a chemist” was very unexpected.

Dirac shared the 1933 physics prize with Erwin Schrödinger – famed for his eponymous equation and dead-and-alive cat – for their contributions to quantum mechanics. Each was allowed one guest at the award ceremony held at the Swedish Royal Academy of Science. Schrödinger brought his wife, Dirac brought his mother.

Quantum theorists: Wolfgang Pauli and Paul Dirac, 1938. Credit: CERN

Quantum theorists: Wolfgang Pauli and Paul Dirac, 1938. Credit: CERN

Florence Dirac did what all good mothers do: embarrass her son in every way imaginable. The first incident came at a station café in Malmo, where in this unlikely setting an impromptu press conference took place.

Dirac, who had been described by the British papers as “shy as a gazelle and modest as a Victorian maid,” was asked “did the Nobel Prize come as a surprise?” Before he could answer, Dirac’s mother butted in: “Oh no, not particularly, I have been waiting for him to receive the prize as hard as he has been working.”

The next embarrassment came when Mrs Dirac failed to wake up when the train reached Stockholm. She was ejected by a guard, who had thrown her garments and belongings out of the carriage window. The Diracs arrived late, and meekly hid from the attention of the welcoming party – who had been wondering where they were.

The third and final maternal faux pas came at Stockholm’s Grand Hotel. The pair had been booked into the finest room – the bridal suite. Mrs Dirac, displeased, demanded a room of her own, which Dirac paid for out of his own pocket. It doesn’t matter if you’ve co-founded quantum mechanics, predicted antimatter and won the Nobel Prize; mothers will be mothers.

Peter’s Pride

Like other humble laureates before him, Peter Higgs wished to duck out of the press furore surrounding the Nobel. At the time of the announcement on the 8th October there was a nail-biting delay. The cause? The Nobel committee could not get hold of Higgs, who had turned his phone off and planned to escape to the Scottish Highlands.

As Peter Higgs revealed to me at the opening of the Collider exhibition at the Science Museum, if it was not for a dodgy Volkswagen beetle or public transport, Peter would have made it to the Highlands on Nobel day. Instead, he just laid low in Edinburgh.

Peter Higgs (right) with friend Alan Walker and the personalised bottles of London Pride at Collider opening. Credit: Science Museum.

Peter Higgs (right) with friend Alan Walker and the personalised bottles of London Pride at Collider exhibition opening. Credit: Science Museum.

At the Collider launch last month, we celebrated with Higgs in the appropriate way: over a personalised bottle of London Pride ale – the same beverage he chose in favour of champagne on the flight home from CERN’s public announcement of the Higgs boson discovery. So, when Englert and Higgs receive the honour today, let’s all raise two glasses: an English Ale and a Belgian Blonde!

For more on many of the Nobel prize-winning discoveries in physics history, including those of Dirac, Englert and Higgs, visit the Collider exhibition at the Science Museum.

Story of the Search for the Higgs Boson wins Royal Society Prize

Will Stanley, Science Museum Press Officer, blogs on the latest winner of the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.

Theoretical physicist, presenter and author, Sean Carroll, has won the world’s most prestigious science book prize, with his story of the search for the elusive Higgs boson.

Carroll’s The Particle at the End of the Universe (OneWorld Publications) was announced as the winner of the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books last night at the Royal Society in London.

The £25,000 prize was awarded by Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Prize-winning President of the Royal Society, with comedian and TV presenter Dara Ó Briain hosting the event. Speaking after winning the prize, Carroll said, “I feel enormous gratitude towards the thousands of physicists at the Large Hadron Collider and the millions of people who express their love for science everyday!”

This is a timely win for Caroll, with the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012 and last month’s Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to Peter Higgs and François Englert for their theoretical prediction of the Higgs boson. The Science Museum is also telling the story of the world’s greatest experiment and the hunt for the Higgs boson in a new exhibition, Collider.

Peter Higgs and Stephen Hawking in the Collider exhibition.

Peter Higgs and Stephen Hawking in the Collider exhibition.

Judges for the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books included impressionist Jon Culshaw, novelist Joanne Harris, journalist Lucy Siegle and Dr Emily Flashman, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow at University of Oxford.

The panel was chaired by Professor Uta Frith DBE FBA FRS, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London, who described the book as “an exceptional example of the genre and a real rock star of a book.” Frith went on to explain, “Though it’s a topic that has been tackled many times before, Carroll writes with an energy that propels readers along and fills them with his own passion. There’s no doubt that this is an important, enduring piece of literature.”

Carroll’s telling of ‘the greatest science story of our time saw off strong competition from a riveting shortlist of authors:

  • Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead, published by Bloomsbury
  • The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll, published by OneWorld Publications
  • Cells to Civilizations by Enrico Coen, published by Princeton University Press
  • Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough, published by Profile Books
  • The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson, published by Granta
  • Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts, published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books)

If you would like to read more of these books, the Royal Society have published the first chapter of each book here.

Now in its 25th year, the book prize is sponsored by investment management company Winton Capital Management (supporters of our Collider exhibition). David Harding, Founder and Chairman of Winton Capital Management commented, “Sean Carroll’s book is a fascinating account of an inspiring scientific experiment that has brought thousands of people from different countries together to pursue knowledge in a collective way.”

Collider: Celebrating with Higgs and Hawking

This week we were joined by two of the world’s most eminent scientists, Stephen Hawking and Peter Higgs, to celebrate the opening of our Collider exhibition.

Peter Higgs and Stephen Hawking in the Collider exhibition.

Peter Higgs and Stephen Hawking in the Collider exhibition.

The exhibition, open until May 2014, explores the people, science and engineering behind the largest scientific experiment ever constructed, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

After a packed event in Parliament on Monday evening (more about that here), Higgs and Hawking joined us for a full day of public events on Tuesday.

The day began with Professor Peter Higgs answering questions from a lucky group of students from across the UK in our IMAX theatre – with thousands more watching the Guardian live stream online.

Higgs talked about his scientific hero Paul Dirac (who went to Peter’s school), being nominated for the Nobel Prize and whether discovering the Higgs boson was a good thing for physics. “Do you expect me to say it’s a bad thing,” joked Peter.

I always found physics rather dull at school. Chemistry was far more interesting – Peter Higgs.

The afternoon featured a spectacular double-bill of science and culture, with novelist Ian McEwan and theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed in conversation and an audience with Stephen Hawking.

Presented by broadcaster Martha Kearney, McEwan and Arkani-Hamed shared their thoughts on similarities and differences between the two cultures. Professor Arkani-Hamed explained that the gulf between arts and science is one of language, often mathematics, with McEwan discussing the obsessive element in science – the pursuit of something larger than ourselves – and it’s similarity to the arts.

I like to think of science as just one part of organised human curiosity – Ian McEwan. 

It was a very rare treat, and a huge honour, to journey into time and space with Stephen Hawking. Stephen shared that the Science Museum was one of his favourite places, “I have been coming here for decades. And that simple fact, in itself, tells quite a story.”

He went on to discuss his early work on black holes (Hawking would like the formula he wrote to be on his memorial) and the information they contain, “Information is not lost in black holes, it is just not returned in a useful way. Like burning an encyclopaedia, it’s hard to read.”

Hawking finished his talk with a plea to us all to be curious.

“The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us, and our universe, is a great triumph.

So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and hold on to that childlike wonder about what makes the universe exist.”

As the day ended, the recent Nobel Prize winner and our most famous living scientist were given a tour of Collider.

Stephen Hawking views the Collider exhibition with curator Ali Boyle

Stephen Hawking views the Collider exhibition with curator Ali Boyle

We’ll leave the final word to Ali Boyle, the Collider exhibition curator.

Collider in the Palace of Westminster

Sian Worsfold describes an extraordinary encounter between the worlds of politics and science.

The nation’s newly-minted Nobel prize winner, Professor Peter Higgs, was guest of honour at a special event arranged for Lords and MPs to celebrate the Science Museum’s groundbreaking exhibition, Collider.

On Monday night in the Palace of Westminster, a series of special events began to celebrate the launch of an exhibition that allows visitors to step inside the epic Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, better known as CERN.

The opening events were kicked off by an exclusive reception in Portcullis House hosted by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), in collaboration with the Science Museum. MPs, Lords and other distinguished guests had the opportunity to meet leading figures from the field of particle physics, including Professor Peter Higgs, Dr Stephen Myers, CERN’s Director of Accelerators and Technology, and Andrew Taylor, Executive Director of STFC National Laboratories.  

Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group, talks about the importance of the new Collider exhibition for the Museum. Credit: Smith and Scholey

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum discussing the Collider exhibition. Credit: Smith and Scholey

Guests included Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee; Liam Byrne, MP, Shadow science spokesman; Gerry Sutcliffe MP; Julian Huppert MP; Lord Jordan; Dr Lutz-Peter Berg, Science and Technology Attache for the Swiss Embassy; Dr Stephen Benn, Director of Parliamentary Affairs, Institute of Biology; and particle physicist Jon Butterworth.

They were invited to explore and interact with exhibits provided by some of the UK’s leading particle physics groups, including UCL, Imperial College, University of Cambridge and Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and talk to researchers about their latest work.

Dr Chris Tyler, Director of POST, compered the event with the opening speech delivered by Adam Afriyie MP, Chairman of POST and former Conservative science spokesman. Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group, thanked supporters of the exhibition, which brings the epic collaborative endeavour at CERN to life with objects, cutting edge theatre and digital techniques. Curator Ali Boyle, Deputy Keeper of Science and Medicine at the museum, and Dr Harry Cliff, particle physicist at University of Cambridge and the museum’s Fellow of Modern Science, also gave an overview of the challenges of recreating the world’s greatest experiment for visitors, and treated guests to a sneak preview of the exhibition trailer.

Dr Stephen Myers, CERN’s Director of Accelerators and Technology, gave an overview of more than 40 years experience of creating collisions at CERN, while Andrew Taylor conveyed his excitement at the STFC and Science Museum working together on the exhibition.

Popular exhibits included a ping-pong accelerator provided by Professor Jordan Nash from Imperial College and a display entitled ‘What is the LHC?’ from Mark Wells at STFC. This featured a scale model of a section of the LHC, highlighting how this international endeavour has advanced a range of scientific fields, from physics and engineering to computational science. Steve Wotton from the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge entranced parliamentarians with a cloud chamber and a spark chamber, to demonstrate that high energy particles are all around us.

Adam Afriyie, Chairman of POST, congratulates Professor Peter Higgs on his recent Nobel Prize for physics. Credit: Smith and Scholey.

Adam Afriyie congratulates Peter Higgs. Credit: Smith and Scholey.

Guest of honour, recent Nobel Prizewinner Professor Peter Higgs, received many congratulations throughout the evening for his landmark contribution to the field of particle physics. He was in high demand with everyone, from recent science graduates and Fellows to star struck MPs. At his side was his University of Edinburgh colleague, Alan Walker.

As it began to rain outside, Professor Higgs was given a special umbrella, decorated with an image of one of the great ‘eyes’ of the vast LHC, the CMS detector.

Collider runs at the Science Museum from 13 November 2013-6 May 2014. To find out more visit sciencemuseum.org.uk/collider.

Reflections on the latest climate change report

Howard Covington and Prof. Chris Rapley reflect on the latest climate change report.

In 2010, the Science Museum opened atmosphere, a gallery exploring climate science. Three years on and the Museum is a partner in a commercial venture to build the UK’s largest solar farm on a disused airfield it owns near Swindon. The project will eventually generate 40mw of electricity, enough for 12,000 homes.

Atmosphere gallery at the Science Museum.

The Atmosphere gallery at the Science Museum.

Here in microcosm is what is taking place in countries around the world as our understanding of the threat of climate change deepens and slowly prompts action to transform the energy infrastructure on which we rely. Are the many piecemeal actions of this kind enough to leave us feeling confident?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recently confirmed the likely consequences of continuing to pump greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. As a global community, we are about as well informed on climate science as we might hope to be. But the uncertainties that surround climate change still leave us guessing where things are likely to come out.

There are three big uncertainties. The first is how fast humanity will cut carbon emissions. For the moment, we are on track to double atmospheric carbon dioxide by some point in the second half of the century. The second is how the climate will respond. A widely used indicator is the change in global average surface temperature when carbon dioxide concentration doubles. The best estimate is in the range 1.5 to 4.5 degrees centigrade. The third uncertainty is the impact of such a change on future human wellbeing and the material damages it might cause.

In the absence of stronger action than is currently evident there is a finite risk that we could hit 4 degrees of warming in the second half of the century, with the possibility of amplifying feedbacks locking in further temperature increasing processes over which we would have no control. The resulting climate changes would play out over centuries and millennia, producing permanent climate instabilities and shifts not experienced over human history.

Risk could be reduced by policy changes among the principal emitters. By far the simplest action would be an agreed price for carbon emissions to accelerate the piecemeal transformation of energy infrastructure already underway. We might also get lucky if it turns out that the response of the climate to emissions lies at the lower end of the range. We should know where we stand in the next few decades. Meanwhile we might reasonably spend a moment on the implications of a 4 degree world.

Here we are again beset with uncertainty. We don’t know with precision how fast polar ice sheets will disintegrate and sea level will rise. Nor do we know how climatic zones may shift or how higher average temperatures and rainfall will combine with more frequent weather extremes and changing weather patterns to disrupt water supplies and agriculture.

The pattern of cereal production could be significantly affected. Cereal demand may double by 2050 in response to population increases and changes in food preferences. This demand might be met by improved technology and waste elimination. Weather extremes and instability at 4 degrees may cut crop yields significantly, creating a further gap to be filled, perhaps by genetically improved robustness and the cultivation of newly productive northern lands.

Geo-engineering might provide a temporary window of opportunity for a crash programme to decarbonise economies and sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, although with a substantial risk of unintended and unwelcome consequences. On the other hand we might have to cope with disruption triggered by populations seeking to move from areas rendered inhospitable by inundations, floods, drought, extreme temperatures, fires and local shortages of food and water.

How all of this will play out is clearly impossible to say. Optimists believe that with luck, free markets and technological ingenuity we could rise to a 4 degree challenge if we can’t avoid it altogether. Pessimists argue that 4 degrees is beyond adaptation and may lead to a period of dislocation. Either way our lives are likely to be transformed in the next few decades as we thoughtfully re-engineer food and energy production and relocate climate migrants or rather more chaotically seek to respond to the multiple pressures of population growth, energy needs and climate disruption.

The UK is relatively small, open and unprotected and may not do well in the face of climate disruption. On the other hand it is highly creative and nurtures much scientific and technological talent. Its leading universities are rich in individuals and teams who understand the technologies of a low carbon future. It has an opportunity to lead an industrial revolution that is poised to happen. The case for maximising long-term value and reducing risk by seizing this opportunity is powerful.

Preventing dangerous climate change is principally a matter for the world’s largest emitters. The UK, however, has set an example by adopting tough emissions targets and by using its international influence and scientific strength for the good. It should continue to advance policies that spur a new industrial revolution from which it could benefit greatly, while heading off a climate transition that it may struggle to cope with.

The Science Museum is one of the world’s finest institutions in which to explore the history of science and technology. It is greatly to its credit that it is not only informing its visitors about the climate challenges ahead but also playing its part in dealing with them.

Howard Covington is a trustee of the Science Museum. Chris Rapley is Professor of Climate Science at University College London and a former director of the Science Museum.

The last particle?

Could the Higgs be the end of particle physics? We’re still a long way from answering one of the biggest questions of all, says Dr Harry Cliff, Head of Content on our Collider exhibition.

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to François Englert and Peter Higgs for their work that explains why subatomic particles have mass. They predicted the existence of the Higgs boson, a fundamental particle, which was confirmed last year by experiments conducted at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

But today’s celebrations mask a growing anxiety among physicists. The discovery of the Higgs boson is an undoubted triumph, but many note that it hasn’t brought us any closer to answering some of the most troubling problems in fundamental science.

A senior physicist went so far as to tell me that he was “totally unexcited by the discovery of the Higgs boson”. Though not the typical reaction, this discovery threatens to close a chapter of 20th century physics without a hint of how to start writing the next page.

Until July last year, when physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) announced its discovery, the Higgs boson remained the last missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics, a theory that describes all the particles that make up the world we live in with stunning accuracy. The Standard Model has passed every experimental test thrown at it with flying colours, and yet has some rather embarrassing holes.

According to astronomical measurements, the matter described by the Standard Model that makes up the stars, planets and ultimately us, only accounts for a tiny fraction of the universe. We appear to be a thin layer of froth, floating on top of an invisible ocean of dark matter and dark energy, about which we know almost nothing.

Worse still, according to the Standard Model, we shouldn’t exist at all. The theory predicts that, after the Big Bang, equal quantities of matter and antimatter should have obliterated each other, leaving an empty universe.

Both of these are good scientific reasons to doubt that the Standard Model is the end of the story when it comes to the laws of physics. But there is another, aesthetic principle that has led many physicists to doubt its completeness – the principle of “naturalness”.

The Standard Model is regarded as a highly “unnatural” theory. Aside from having a large number of different particles and forces, many of which seem surplus to requirement, it is also very precariously balanced. If you change any of the 20+ numbers that have to be put into the theory even a little, you rapidly find yourself living in a universe without atoms. This spooky fine-tuning worries many physicists, leaving the universe looking as though it has been set up in just the right way for life to exist.

The Higgs’s boson provides us with one of the worst cases of unnatural fine-tuning. A surprising discovery of the 20th century was the realisation that empty space is far from empty. The vacuum is, in fact, a broiling soup of invisible “virtual” particles, constantly popping in and out of existence.

The conventional wisdom states that as the Higgs boson passes through the vacuum it interacts with this soup of virtual particles and this interaction drives its mass to an absolutely enormous value – potentially up to a hundred million billion times larger than the one measured at the LHC.

Theorists have attempted to tame the unruly Higgs mass by proposing extensions of the Standard Model. The most popular of which is “supersymmetry”, which introduces a heavier super-particle or “sparticle” for every particle in the Standard Model. These sparticles cancel out the effect of the virtual particles in the vacuum, reducing the Higgs mass to a reasonable value and eliminating the need for any unpleasant fine-tuning.

Supersymmetry has other features that have made it popular with physicists. Perhaps its best selling point is that one of these sparticles provides a neat explanation for the mysterious dark matter that makes up about a quarter of the universe.

Although discovering the Higgs boson may have been put forward as the main reason for building the 27km Large Hadron Collider (LHC), what most physicists have really been waiting for is a sign of something new. As Higgs himself said shortly after the discovery last year, “[The Higgs boson] is not the most interesting thing that the LHC is looking for”.

So far however, the LHC has turned up nothing.

If supersymmetry is really responsible for keeping the Higgs boson’s mass low, then sparticles should show up at energies not much higher than where the LHC found the Higgs. The fact that nothing has been found has already ruled out many popular forms of supersymmetry.

This has led some theorists to abandon naturalness altogether. One relatively new idea known as “split-supersymmetry” accepts fine-tuning in the Higgs mass, but keeps the other nice features of supersymmetry, like a dark matter particle.

This may sound like a technical difference, but the implications for the nature of our universe are profound. The argument is that we live in a fine-tuned universe because it happens to be one among an effectively infinite number of different universes, each with different laws of physics. The constants of nature are what they are because if they were different atoms could not form, and hence we wouldn’t be around to wonder about them.

This anthropic argument is in part motivated by developments in string theory, a potential “theory of everything”, for which there are a vast number (roughly 10500) different possible universes with different laws of physics. (This huge number of universes is often used as a criticism of string theory, sometimes derided as a “theory of everything else” as no one has so far found a solution that corresponds to the universe we live in.) However, if split-supersymmetry is right, the lack of new physics at the LHC could be indirect evidence for the existence of the very multiverse anticipated by string theory.

All of this could be rather bad news for the LHC. If the battle for naturalness is lost, then there is no reason why new particles must appear in the next few years. Some physicists are campaigning for an even larger collider, four times longer and seven times more powerful than the LHC.

This monster collider could be used to settle the question once and for all, but it’s hard to imagine that such a machine will get the go ahead, especially if the LHC fails to find anything beyond the Higgs.

We are at a critical juncture in particle physics. Perhaps after it restarts the LHC in 2015, it will uncover new particles, naturalness will survive and particle physicists will stay in business. There are reasons to be optimistic. After all, we know that there must be something new that explains dark matter, and there remains a good chance that the LHC will find it.

But perhaps, just perhaps, the LHC will find nothing. The Higgs boson could be particle physics’ swansong, the last particle of the accelerator age. Though a worrying possibility for experimentalists, such a result could lead to a profound shift in our understanding of the universe, and our place in it.

Discover more about the Higgs boson and the world’s largest science experiment in our new exhibition, Collider, opening on 13th November 2013.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

The last man on the moon

Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, visited the Museum for a tour of our space technologies collections with Curator Doug Millard. Press Officer Will Stanley describes Gene’s encounter with his old spaceship.

Apollo 10 Command Module. Credit: Science Museum

Apollo 10 Command Module. Credit: Science Museum

This is the Apollo 10 Command Module, sent to the Moon and back by NASA in May 1969 as a dry run for the mission that would put the first men on the Moon. But it’s also known by another name, “Charlie Brown”, and this was how Lunar Module Pilot Eugene A. “Gene” Cernan greeted the module when he saw it this morning in the Science Museum.

I asked Gene what it felt like being reunited with Charlie Brown again, “You take yourself back in time to where you were. The view was out of this world.” And Gene should know. He’s been into space three times: as pilot of Gemini 9A (1966); lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 (1969); and as commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, the last Apollo mission.

Commander Gene Cernan, pictured in our Exploring Space gallery

Commander Gene Cernan, pictured in our Exploring Space gallery. Credit: Science Museum

As only the 11th person to walk on the Moon – and the last to re-enter Apollo 17’s lunar module – Gene has the distinction of being the last man on the Moon. How long he will keep this unique title is still a matter of debate. “Curiosity is the essence of human existence. We have centuries of exploration on this planet alone. What’s around the corner? What’s across the ocean? It is our destiny to explore,” explains Gene.

Gene Cernan with Curator Doug Millard (r). Credit: Science Museum

Gene Cernan with Curator Doug Millard (r). Credit: Science Museum

Walking through our Exploring Space gallery with Curator Doug Millard, our conversation turns to the differences between manned and robotic space exploration. “This is the only computer that can respond to the unexpected,” says Gene, pointing to his brain. “You send humans to deal with the unexpected. To bring back things no one expected to find. That’s the purpose of exploration.”

We arrive in front of Apollo 10. “That’s Charlie Brown. I like to feel that by going to the Moon in Apollo 10 for a dry run, we made Apollo 11 far more successful.” Gene turns to us and jokes, “Where were you when Apollo 10 launched? I know where I was! Sat in that.”

Gene Cernan with Curator Doug Millard (l) in front of Apollo 10. Credit: Science Museum

Gene Cernan with Curator Doug Millard (l) in front of Apollo 10. Credit: Science Museum

His re-entry was one of the most dramatic ever seen. Apollo 10 holds the record as the fastest manned vehicle, reaching speeds of almost 40,000 km per hour (11.08 km/s or 24,791 mph to be exact) during its return to Earth on 26th May 1969. “It was 5 or 6 in the morning and we were like a shooting star coming in,” explains Gene. “On my Gemini mission I could see reds and greens, but for the Apollo 10 re-entry I saw purples and a white hot glow.”

After Gene spots an image of his excursions driving NASA’s Lunar Rover (Moon buggy) on display, I asked which was more fun, driving the rover or piloting “Snoopy”, the lunar module. “Flying Snoopy was pretty exciting, but driving a car in 1/6th of Earth’s gravity. Well if you get the chance, try it. It is a lot of fun. I truly believe we could go back and drive it again, but you might need to replace the batteries,” jokes Gene.

Commander Gene Cernan test-driving an empty lunar rover on the Moon, shortly before Apollo 17 Mission’s first Extra-Vehicular Activity. Image credit: NASA

Commander Gene Cernan test-driving an empty lunar rover on the Moon, shortly before Apollo 17 Mission’s first Extra-Vehicular Activity. Image credit: NASA

“Someone did a hell of a good job building it,” says Gene, looking at Apollo 10. “This not only got us there, it got us back again too. Every man who went to the moon came back.” The round trip to the moon took Apollo 10 eight days. Gene explains how he passed the time, “It was very busy, and pretty exciting. There were all kinds of experiments to do and we were getting ready for challenges ahead. On the way back, you look back and have to pinch yourself. The good news is you had the chance to do it, to go to the Moon. The bad news was that the time went so fast.

Our time is up. Gene takes a last look at Charlie Brown, his former home in space. “In Apollo 10, the three of us, Commander Thomas Stafford, Command Module Pilot John Young and me, we travelled faster than any other human beings ever.” It’s a claim very few can make.

On Thursday 26 September 2013, the Science Museum is offering visitors the rare opportunity to see the interior of the Apollo 10 Command Module via a handheld camera. Doug Millard, Deputy Keeper of Technologies and Engineering will be answering questions about Apollo 10 and the Museum’s Space Technologies collections.

The Science Museum will be also be sharing images and taking questions via Twitter using @sciencemuseum and #Apollo10.

Ask A Curator 2013

A global Q&A session, better known as Ask a Curator Day, takes place on Wednesday (18th Sept). Will Stanley, who manages the @sciencemuseum Twitter account, explains more…

What’s the story behind that object? How was it invented? Which is your favourite? Whenever I see a Science Museum curator, I find myself asking questions (and often tweeting about the result). Now it’s your turn. On Wednesday, our curators will answer your questions (between 1-6pm) for #AskACurator day.

Over 500 museums from 34 countries will be joining in via Twitter, and our curators are poised to take part too: just tweet your questions to @sciencemuseum using #AskACurator.

We have put together a great team to help answer your questions:

You can delve into the Secret Life of the Home, with Helen Peavitt, our Curator of Consumer Technology – just ask Helen how fridges changed the world – or tweet a question for Katie Maggs, our resident medical collections expert.

Our Curator of Time, Transport and Navigation, David Rooney (@rooneyvision), is a recent convert to Twitter, but will be on hand to answer your questions about Alan Turing, Making the Modern World and this ghostly 3D scan of the Shipping galleries. Curator Ali Boyle (@ali_boyle) will be answering your particle physics questions just two months before the new Collider exhibition opens.

If communication is more your thing, our Keeper of Technologies and Engineering, Tilly Blyth (@tillyblyth) has been looking at 200 years of communication technologies for new gallery, Information Age. Content developer Charlotte Connelly (@connellycharlie) even visited Cameroon in her quest for mobile phone related objects for the gallery.

Finally, our Collections Coordinator Selina Pang (@spangoline), will try to answer any other collections questions you might have.

Top tips for #AskACurator

  • Try asking “I find ____ fascinating. Can you let me more about it?” That’s sure to get our curators tweeting.
  • Sometime we won’t be able to fit lengthy answers into a tweet, but don’t worry, great questions and answers are likely to turn into future blog posts.
  • Don’t worry if you are not on Twitter either, we’ll be sharing the best questions (and answers) in upcoming blog posts (like this post for example).

#MMWTour – Tweeting a tour of Making the Modern World

We asked Curator of Time, Transport and Navigation, David Rooney to tweet some of the hidden gems in the Making the Modern World gallery.

The full tour can be seen here, but we’ve pick out a few highlights for you below…

The full tour can be seen here

Thanks to all of you who followed the tour, and you can discover more about Making the Modern World here.