Category Archives: Educators

Equations in Action

Ben, an Explainer at the museum, looks at some of the equations in action in our Launchpad gallery.

In Launchpad, if there’s one scientist we can’t get enough of, it’s Sir Isaac Newton. Although he lived around 300 years ago, the influence of his brilliant ideas still pervade many of our interactive exhibits and, if asked to name a famous scientist, his name is never far from people’s lips. A true giant of maths and physics, it wasn’t until Einstein that scientists found a different set of shoulders to stand on in order to see further.

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Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton Image credit: Science Museum/SSPL

Much could be said about his work in optics (he named the spectrum, for example) or his work in aiding the entry of pets into the home (supposedly, he invented the cat flap), but it is his work into classical mechanics that we constantly refer to in Launchpad, i.e. how stuff moves.

The Water Rocket is a perfect example of his laws of motion. In this hourly demonstration, a mixture of air and water is pumped into a plastic bottle, leading to an increase in pressure inside the bottle, so that, when the launch button is pressed, the “rocket” speeds down a track at up to forty miles an hour.

It is Newton’s third law of motion that is most obviously in evidence here: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When the air and water fly out of the end of the bottle with a certain force, this pushes the rocket in the opposite direction with an equal force.

Newton’s second law (The force moving an object is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration, or F=ma) sneaks in too, as the fact that the bottle is lighter than the ejected air and water means that it undergoes a greater acceleration from the same force, and so it flies further and faster down the track.

All of these laws, as well as many other scientific ideas, were written down by Newton in his impressively named book, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. This book (understandably often shortened to simply Principia) was written entirely in Latin, as was the style at the time, and was published in 1687. And there is a copy in the Science Museum, in the Cosmos & Culture gallery.

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Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica Image Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

It is difficult to appreciate how important this book was to the world of science. As well as being ground breaking to physics, it also introduced the world to mathematics involving calculus. Rarely has a book been packed with so much!

Although there are controversies surrounding Newton and his work, particularly regarding his treatment of contemporary scientists Hooke and Leibniz, there can be little doubt that the impact he had on physics deserves recognition. So go and see the book in which the principles were all written down and then go to Launchpad and see this exciting physics in action.

If you are a teacher planning a visit to Launchpad with your students, you can find out more information here

Fireworks And Fun For British Science Week

To mark British Science Week, the Science Museum hosted a special event with the British Science Association for over 400 children from the Kids Company London Centres. Kids Company Team Leader Lycia reflects on a day of science based fun

Bang! Whizz! Pop! What a fabulous time we spent at the Science Museum earlier this week as we joined forces with the British Science Association to give a group of young people a wonderful day out to celebrate British Science Week.

Matthew Tosh entertains an audience of children from the Kids Company's London Centres in the Science Museum's IMAX theatre

Matthew Tosh entertains an audience of children from the Kids Company’s London Centres in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre. Image credit: Megan Taylor

On arrival we were welcomed into the Museum’s famous Launchpad gallery, which we had entirely to ourselves and where the children were allowed to roam around playing on the various exhibits before being taken to the IMAX theatre for a special science show. The children adored exploring the Launchpad exhibits and the room buzzed with excitement with comments such as, “This is awesome!”, “I wish we could spend a week here!” and “I’m going to get my mum to take me back!”.

It was particularly wonderful to see the reactions of children who normally report to not liking science, enthralled by the mass of exciting experiments to explore.

We were then lead into the impressive IMAX theatre where we were greeted with soothing music and comfortable seats as one of the Science Museum’s Explainers gave a warm welcome to Matthew Tosh, our entertainer for the morning. For the next hour Matthew captured our attention from start to finish with an array of bangs, flashes and pops, all interspersed with digestible nuggets of fascinating science. His enthusiasm for his work was infectious and it was great to see the children listening attentively as he spoke about the importance of following career paths which excite them.

Matthew Tosh explains the science behind fireworks in his show in the Science Museum's IMAX. Image credit: Megan Taylor.

Matthew Tosh explains the science behind fireworks in his show in the Science Museum’s IMAX. Image credit: Megan Taylor.

After being dazzled by an incredible show, we left the IMAX feeling uplifted and inspired. On leaving the theatre, it was great to hear some of the comments from the children – “That was so good!”, and “I really want to be a scientist in the future!”

We wish to say a big thank you to the Science Museum and the BSA for such a memorable day.

British Science Week is a ten day programme of science, technology, engineering and maths events and activities across the UK for people of all ages and runs until Sunday 22 March. 

Launchpad ‘Build a Bridge’ Challenge

In Launchpad our visitors ask questions, experiment, challenge themselves and discover the science behind exhibits – often with impressive results! This is especially true with our “Build a Bridge” activity.

To celebrate our visitors’ hard work and engineering skills, here are a collection of some of their masterpieces – that not only stand up but are also easy on the eye. Click to enlarge.

Try building your own bridge on your next visit to Launchpad!

A Day In the Life of an Explainer

A guest post by Sarah, one of the Science Museum’s Explainers. 

Hello again…I’m Sarah, one of the Explainers here at the Science Museum and I’m here to tell you about a day in my life as an Explainer. The first thing to say is that there is no such thing as a typical day!

You may have read my previous blog “Observations of a New Explainer” a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve learnt loads of new things and gained lots of new experiences, such as running our brand new Information Age workshop Code Builder (about basic computer programming) and performing the Feel the Force lecture theatre show to primary schools.

One particular highlight has been learning to present the brilliant Rocket Show, an interactive show aimed at Key Stage 3 children about Newton’s Laws of Motion, so I’ve chosen to tell you a bit more about one of the days when I perform this show.

I have to say that one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done since I’ve been here is learning the Rocket Show and presenting it to my very first audience of school kids. Handling a packed show space of 100 plus assorted teenagers, teachers and other visitors is both daunting and thrilling!

I’ve had audiences that have ranged from just a handful of visitors to those packed with very excited and unruly teenagers; enthusiastic holiday-time audiences (my favourite) to shows whereby the kids are so busy texting on their phones or scribbling down notes that they don’t respond!

I’ve learned it’s a real skill to be able to adjust your approach to engage different audiences and give them a memorable and exciting experience…..but that’s what we do!

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Explainer Sarah transferring hydrogen gas from a rubber bladder into a Pringles tube

“What goes into preparing for and delivering a Rocket Show?” you ask. Well, imagine I’ve just rushed up 4 floors to the Launchpad Showspace after an hour in the Garden gallery. After collecting some props, I rush back down four floors behind the scenes of the Science Museum to collect the essential ingredient that gives the Rocket Show its wow-factor…..Rocket fuel!

“What ….isn’t that highly dangerous stuff??”, I hear you cry.  Well, potentially yes, but we take safety extremely seriously. The fuel we use is hydrogen gas which is very flammable and is kept in cylinders outside. Rain or shine (quite often rain!) it’s collected in special rubber gas-bladders and carried (carefully) to Launchpad.

Some of the hydrogen gas is used to fill balloons for use in the show, but what happens to the rest? The rest is used for the amazing indoor rocket that demonstrates Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion (“for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”), where we attempt to launch a Pringles tube into Space…something that gets a response from even the teenagers!

So, together with setting fire to stuff and blowing stuff up, we dress up, ride on chairs with wheels and generally have a rocket-tastic time with the help of plenty of brave volunteers and the brilliance of Sir Isaac Newton.

Intrigued?? Why not visit and see a Rocket show!

Explainer Fact: We fire a thousand Pringle Rockets every year.

Wonderful Things: Memory box

Rosanna Denyer from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.

By 2015, 850,000 people in the UK will have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a term used to describe the symptoms of diseases that cause memory loss, confusion and problems with communication. Dementia is progressive,so the symptoms become worse as time goes on.

Until 1906 it was thought that dementia was an inevitable part of growing old. This changed when Dr Alois Alzheimer,a leading neurologist who researched the brain and the nervous system, gave a lecture about a disease which caused memory loss, hallucinations and problems with communicating and understanding. He was describing what we now know as Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Doctors now know that the death of neuron cells in the brain is the main cause of dementia. Neurons need nutrients, oxygen and close contact with other cells in order to survive. Scientists are always looking for possible cures for dementia, a great deal of the research is aimed at treating the symptoms, for example trying to delay memory loss.

However, treatment for memory loss does not lie solely in the hands of scientists. Memory boxes, such as the one on display in the Who Am I? gallery, are used by people with dementia, with their friends and families, to help them retain memories.

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Memory Box in the Who Am I? gallery at the Science Museum

Photographs and objects that have special memories connected to them can be kept inside the boxes. The person with dementia can look through the box and be reminded of people, places and events from their lives. They can be used to trigger memories of a past career or love.

In the next 10 years a further one million people in the UK will develop dementia. Whilst scientists research and test treatments, families and communities will continue to develop ways to manage the symptoms. A memory box may seem simple, but it is a method which is accessible, affordable and effective.

The issue of how to treat and manage dementia is experienced by communities all over the world. By 2030, the number of people with dementia worldwide is estimated to reach 65 million.

Some countries are finding unique ways to help people live with the symptoms of dementia. One care home in Amsterdam has created an entire village which is ‘dementia friendly.’ The 152 residents live in the small village of Hogewey which has a restaurant, theatre, beauty salon and village shop.  The village is staffed by healthcare workers and volunteers and gives elderly people with dementia a safe environment in which to enjoy everyday life.

What memories would you want to keep in your memory box?

The memory box can be found in the Who Am I? gallery, on the first floor of the Wellcome Wing in the Science Museum.

Visitor Inventions – Future Fashion

As it’s London Fashion Week, we take a look at the future fashion creations from visitors to our Launchpad gallery.

You may be forgiven to think that this season’s must-have fashion are found on the catwalks of London, Paris or Milan (and you may very well be right!). But this hasn’t stopped our wonderfully imaginative visitors from designing their own creations whilst in the Launchpad gallery. Whatever your fashion sense; from inflatable boat dresses to telescopic shoes, there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Click to enlarge the images.

 

Roaming Far and Wide – the Science Museum in China

Outreach Officers Ronan Bullock, Aasiya Hassan and Susie Glover report back after their outreach trip to Hong Kong and China.

In March 2014, the Science Museum’s Outreach team was invited for the second time by The British Council in Hong Kong to deliver a series of shows and workshops as part of their Science Alive Festival. The theme of this year’s festival was ‘The Code of Life’ and we disgusted audiences with blood, guts and snot, exploring the science behind the human digestive system, blood and materials. We spent three days with our hosts at the Hong Kong Science Museum and a further nine days visiting twenty two schools across Hong Kong and New Territories. We experienced many different educational settings from government funded local schools to private international schools reached a combined audience of over 7,000!

Proving that no distance is too great for the Outreach team, we then caught a train to Dongguan City in mainland China to deliver events hosted by The Dongguan Science & Technology Museum. Over the course of four days we engaged with audiences at the museum and two local schools, reaching over 3,000 people. This visit continued our relationship with the museum, having hosted a number of free science shows performed by their staff right here in London, in the Science Museum, back in September 2013.

During our busy schedule we found time to sample some of the interesting local cuisines, tour both museums and see some local sites, the highlight of which was taking a cable car to see Hong Kong’s famous giant Tian Tian Buddha.

Building Bridges

Richard Pering, Learning Resources Project Coordinator, shares the latest news from the Building Bridges project.

What has a foam-filled Mr Potato Head got to do with a scarily thin cross-section of a Boeing 747? 11-12 year old students in London and Reading have been exploring this and other unusual questions as part of the Science Museum’s Building Bridges project. The project aims to help students make sense of the science that shapes their lives, by getting them to take part in activities which will develop useful skills for a career in science or any other field.

Students explored friction by looking at our giant tyre from an open cast mining truck

Students explored friction by looking at our giant tyre from an open cast mining truck

We spent the beginning of the year visiting all 21 schools taking part, and have met some incredibly talented future scientists. We’ve worked with their teachers to help the students recognise their own potential, and look at science in a different way.

By using a hair dryer to make a ping pong ball float in the air, students brought the Museum’s Lockheed Electra to life. Some trickery with super-absorbent hydrogel got everyone considering the uncomfortable reality of an astronaut’s underwear, while whipping a tablecloth out from under a load of crockery brought home just how useful friction (or a lack of it) can be – not least for giant monster trucks.

Students Exploring hydrogel

Students Exploring hydrogel

It was amazing to see students grabbing the opportunity to demonstrate the science behind some of our favourite objects to their classmates, building their confidence and starting some really interesting conversations about the science hidden in everyday life.

Students presenting to their classmates

Students presenting to their classmates

As for Mr Potato Head, suffice to say he didn’t enjoy finding out what it’d feel like if the Boeing’s cabin wasn’t pressurised. His foam insides became his outsides.

To have a go at similar experiments yourself, or with budding scientists you know, take a look at our Kitchen Science activities.

Visitor Letters – Loughborough School

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible. Earlier in the year Loughborough School visited the museum to see the Feel the Force science show presented by Explainer Dwain on their trip to the Museum (click to enlarge letters).

Explainer Dwain was thrilled that so many pupils enjoyed his show that he wrote back thanking the pupils of Loughborough school as well as updating them on his co-star from the Feel the Force show – Phil the Frog!

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Response Letter – pages 1 & 2

Response Letter - pages 3 & 4

Response Letter – pages 3 & 4

Explainer Fact: If you would like to send us a letter, please send it to: Launchpad Letters, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2DD

Wonderful Things: VCS3 Synthesiser

Stella Williams from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects

The VCS3 was more or less the first portable commercially available synthesizer, unlike previous machines which were housed in large cabinets and were known to take up entire rooms. It was created in 1969 by EMS (Electronic Music Studios), a company founded by Peter Zinovieff. The team at EMS used a combination of computer programming knowledge, advanced engineering and musical ambition to create a brand new instrument for all to use. The electronics were largely designed by David Cockrell and the machine’s distinctive visual appearance was the work of electronic composer Tristram Cary.

VCS3 synthesiser by EMS

VCS3 synthesiser by EMS
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

The VCS3 was notoriously difficult to program but, a year before the appearance of the Minimoog and ARP2600, it brought synthesis within the reach of the public. It sold for £330 and became very popular in a short space of time. By the mid ’70s, the VCS3 (and its little brother, the suitcase-bound model AKS) had become something of a classic and was used by many famous bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, The Who and Roxy Music.

This unique instrument allowed musicians to experiment with a range of new sounds never before available to them. Along with other early synthesisers it came to shape ‘the sound of the future’ in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and with further developments came the drum machines of the ‘80s setting the foundation for electronic dance music. Much of the music we take for granted today would not be possible without the pioneering work of groups like EMS and as long as there are developments in technology, there will always be people applying these innovations to music. Inventor Steve Mann has developed many interesting instruments such as the hydraulophone which uses pressurised water to make sounds, while artist and scientist Ariel Garten uses an electroencephalophone to turn brainwaves into music.

What sort of instrument do you think will make the sound of our future?

The VCS3 Synthesiser can be found in the Oramics to Electronica exhibition, on the second floor of the Science Museum.