Category Archives: Educators

Science Museum vine.

Explainer Vines

Eddie, a Science Museum Explainer, on demonstrating science in six seconds.

Are you following the Science Museum Learning team on Twitter? We share lots of interesting facts, ideas and suggestions for teachers (and for anyone else interested in learning about science as well).

We post Vine videos highlighting some of the best experiments and exhibits that we have at the Science Museum. I make these short six second videos, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my favourite videos with you.

Alka seltzer rocket

The alka seltzer rocket is part of our Materials demo. The film canister is fired into the air when gas produced by the alka seltzer tablet expands inside. This was quite a tough Vine to film as the launch is a little unpredictable!

Cornflour on speaker

This experiment is part of our Sound demo, although it’s actually an experiment that demonstrates a material phenomenon. This substance is cornflour mixed with water, which is a non-newtonian fluid. When sound travels through the mix, it gives it energy to lock together in a solid shape.

Newton’s Wheel

The Newton’s Wheel is part of out Light Demo, and is one of our most popular Vines to date. This very simple experiment shows how white light is made up of all of the different colours of the rainbow blended together. When the wheel spins around, our eyes can’t differentiate all the different colours, and it appears as white.

Jumping Ring

You can find the jumping ring in Launchpad, in the Magnetism section. The metal ring is launched into the air by a powerful electromagnet at the base of the pole. This experiment needed the help of Explainer Ben to press the button for me, so we could get the jump in shot!

Plasticine Peter

This smashing experiment is part of our Supercool schools event, which is all about heat and its effect on different materials. We use plenty of liquid nitrogen in this show to demonstrate some of these temperature changes, such as letting our friend here, Plasticine Peter, “cool off”. This is my favourite vine that we’ve ever produced.

CO2 in Bubble Mix

When you put solid carbon dioxide into water, it begins to sublime. This means it goes straight from a solid into a gas, without going through a liquid phase. When we sublime it in bubble mix, it makes some incredible CO2 filled bubbles, which in our tube, makes a Bubble Volcano! It also created a bit of a mess on the floor!

We’ve done almost eighty Vines now on the channel, and there’s more on the way, so make sure to stay tuned to @SM_Learn for all the best experiments that the Science Museum has to offer, in six seconds or less.

Bronze hair curling tongs and trimmer, Egypt, 1575-1194 BCE

Wonderful Things: Ancient Egyptian Curling Tongs

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

For pretty much as long as people have had hair they have looked for ways to change it. Inventions such as curling tongs feel relatively modern but they have actually been around for centuries.

We only have to look at paintings and carvings from the ancient world to see that having curls was a fashion that crossed many cultures. Babylonian and Assyrian men dyed their hair and square beards black, then crimped and curled them with basic curling irons. Persian and Greek nobles also used rods of iron or bronze heated over a fire to produce impressive hairstyles which would highlight their wealth and beauty. Egyptian nobles often cropped their hair close or shaved their heads but on ceremonial occasions, for protection from the sun, they wore wigs. The wigs would be long and full of curls or braids, which were styled with tools like this one.

Bronze hair curling tongs and trimmer, Egypt, 1575-1194 BCE

Bronze hair curling tongs and trimmer, Egypt, 1575-1194 BCE
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

These bronze curling tongs are combined with a hair trimmer and would have been heated up on a fire before pieces of hair were curled around them.

In the 1890s tonging became very popular as hair was elaborately styled on top of the head often with loose curls or ringlets around the face. Books and articles with instructions were written about the arrangement of hair to emphasise a woman’s beauty, and upper class women were expected to follow these guidelines.

The fashion wasn’t just for the very wealthy anymore though as the emerging middle classes tried to emulate the style. Curling tongs still resembled those from Ancient Egypt, and many accidents resulting in burnt or damaged hair occurred as the heat of the metal tongs was difficult to control.

Illustrations from 'Fashionable Hair Dressing' an article in The Delineator, 1894

Illustrations from ‘Fashionable Hair Dressing’ an article in The Delineator, 1894.

With the advent of electricity curling tongs started to resemble those we use today. Curling tongs were invented which could be plugged into a light socket which meant more temperature control and less scorched hair! By the mid-twentieth century there were many varying designs, so much so that the definitive inventor of the modern curling iron is much disputed. They now come in many sizes and styles depending on the type of curls you desire from tight ringlets to loose waves or even crimped styles. Everyone now has the freedom to express themselves by styling their hair in an infinite variety of ways and as technology develops who knows what new tools may be invented.

What hairstyles do you think will be in fashion in 50 years time?

This object is currently on display in the Science and Art of Medicine gallery. There are also other examples of some 19th Century curling tongs in the Secret Life of the Home gallery.

paint tin

Science Alive in Hong Kong

Last month my colleagues and I embarked on what we are proud to now call our ‘annual trip to Hong Kong’, it now being the 3rd year of the outreach teams involvement with the British Council’s Science Alive festival. As team members though, it was the first time any of us had visited Asia’s world city.

This year we were pleased to bring the exciting, explosion-filled Material World show to the Hong Kong Science Museum and schools across the region. We also investigated chemical reactions and how things behave by showing families how to make slime and their very own fizzy bath bombs using everyday materials. Check out our website to try out the bath bombs for yourself.

One of the major challenges of delivering this kind of event internationally is anticipating the response of the audience. Translating one person’s idea of fun, a complex explanation and or even a cheesy joke can be tricky when everything goes through an interpreter. Not everyone thinks wearing a nappy on your head to investigate polymers is funny!

One significant change for us this year was the opportunity for our Learning Resources team to deliver teacher development workshops. Running workshops for primary and secondary school teachers over the course of a week was rewarding, tiring and most of all a great success for the team. Working with a variety of teachers from both international and local government schools gave the team an insight into the often surprising similarities and differences between Hong Kong and UK education.

Amongst all the hard work we did get to do some sightseeing and sample the delights of this busy, dazzling city. We tucked in to some amazing food, shopped for bargains on the markets, were surprised by hidden city temples and took many a selfie with that iconic Hong Kong skyline.

We even learned a few things on the way…here are some fascinating Hong Kong science facts you never knew:

The Bank of China Tower is a testament to the triangle. The tower is formed from 4 prism shaped towers, which take advantage of the strength of a triangular structure. This means no load bearing structures are required inside the building and the rooms are as big as they can possibly be.

The Hong Kong Science Museum boasts the largest energy transfer machine in the world. It is 22 meters high and occupies all four storeys of the museum.

Hong Kong citizen Charles K. Kao (also known as the Godfather of Broadband) pioneered the use of fibre optic cables for communication. Ground breaking discoveries made by him paved the way for the communication systems we have today.

The Mong Kok district of Hong Kong is officially the most densely populated area of the world. There are 130,000 people per square kilometre! This demonstrates just how important maximising space through clever engineering has been for Hong Kong.

Riding the Victoria Peak Tram will mess with your brain. Scientists at the University of Hong Kong have discovered that passengers riding the steep, 120 year old tramway to Victoria Peak are likely to experience an illusion where the skyscrapers of Hong Kong will appear to lean to one side as if about to fall!

To find out more about the outreach team and book a visit from us, have a look at the website here. For science activities to do at home or in the classroom have a look at our fun resources here.

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.

Memory Box

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.