Category Archives: Educators

Wonderful Things: Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven

Rosanna Denyer, from our Learning Support Team, writes about an often overlooked object from the museum collection. 

The food we eat has changed over time, and with the development of new technologies so has the way we cook and prepare our meals. Microwave ovens, like this Amana Radarange Touchmatic from 1978, have contributed to changes in both our diet and lifestyle.

Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven

Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven, 1978

The microwave oven was invented in 1945 by an engineer called Percy Spencer. He was researching military uses for radar technology and an accidental side effect of this was the invention of the microwave oven. After standing in front of a magnetron, Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. To test this further he then held a bag of corn kernels near the magnetron and watched as they exploded into popcorn.

Spencer found that microwaves, such as those emitted from his radar equipment, caused the water molecules in food to vibrate and heat up, which caused the food to cook. Recognising the potential of this, Spencer used the magnetron to create the first microwave ovens, which arrived in Britain in 1959.

After many years of using traditional ovens, the microwave oven was a startling change. Previously cooking had been a slow process, but now whole meals could be prepared in just a few minutes.

Some argue that the invention of the microwave brought about ‘the rise of the ready meal’. The first ‘TV Dinner’ was produced in 1954 and 10 million were sold in the first year alone. Since then, the popularity of ‘convenience food’ has grown and grown and the chilled ready meal market in the UK is now worth over £2.6 billion each year. Busy lifestyles, long working hours and an increased number of women in work are all seen as factors contributing to the popularity of microwaveable food.

But what does this mean for our health? Studies in 2012 suggested that less than 1% of supermarket ready meals complied with the World Health Organisation’s nutritional guidelines and some studies have shown that microwaving food can significantly reduce the nutrients contained within.

Despite this, the popularity of the microwave oven does not seem to be decreasing, and until a faster and more convenient way of cooking is invented, the microwave is likely to remain an essential piece of equipment in many kitchens. 

What labour-saving device would you invent? 

The Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven can be found in The Secret Life of the Home gallery in the Basement of the museum.

Visitor Letters – Parkhill School

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible.

In fact, most of the letters we receive are from primary schools that have just visited the Museum.

Kids being kids, they can be brutally honest in telling us their likes (e.g. big bangs!) and dislikes (also big bangs).

The pupils from Parkhill School visited the Launchpad and saw the Flash! Bang! Wallop! Launchpad show on their outing to the Museum.  One pupil said she learnt so much that her science grade increased a level! (click to enlarge letters)

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Enjoyed bridge building and thought that listening to music through your teeth is ‘freaky’ inside Launchpad

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Radhika enjoyed the electrical circuits and wanted to see more ‘mindblowing shows’

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Krupa was ‘shocked’ by how much she learnt and has now gone up a level in Science

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

Wonderful Things: Frost Ornithopter

Becky Honeycombe from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite objects in the Museum. 

Have you ever dreamed of being able to fly like a bird?  Well if you have, you’re certainly not alone.  The ability to fly has been a human obsession for thousands of years.  One of the earliest references to bird-like flight is found in the Ancient Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus who attached feathers to their arms to escape captivity.  However, the story ends in tragedy for Icarus as after a brief flight he crashes to the ground.  Sadly, this has been the fate for many humans who have tried to imitate the story and reach the skies, either by attaching wings to their bodies or by making flying machines that mimic a bird’s flight.

Frost's experimental ornithopter, c 1900. Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

Frost’s experimental ornithopter, c 1900.
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

These machines are known as ornithopters and they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some of the earliest designs were drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th Century, but perhaps one of the strangest can be seen in our Flight gallery. The Frost ornithopter, created in 1904 by Edward Purkis Frost, was designed to replicate the wings of a crow. He used both real and imitated feathers combined with an internal combustion engine in an attempt to get his machine off the ground. Frost avidly studied flight and designed a number of contraptions between 1868 and his death in 1922. Despite his best flight being only a ‘jump’ off the ground and his witnessing the development of the conventional aeroplane, Frost remained convinced he had pursued a worthy cause. When asked about his studies towards the end of his life he stated ‘I do not begrudge the time and trouble I expended upon the attempt. The investigations opened my eyes to the wonders of nature. It is a beautiful study’.

University of Toronto's human-powered plane

University of Toronto’s human-powered plane. Photo courtesy of Todd Reichert, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies

Incredibly, despite the prominence and success of conventional fixed wing aircraft, contemporary scientists continue to be as fascinated as Frost with constructing the perfect ornithopter. In 2010 the University of Toronto successfully achieved the first level sustained flight by a human-powered ornithopter flying 475 ft over 19.3 seconds.

However, despite this success it may not be propelling man into the sky which eventually proves to be the best use for the ornithopter. Recent research has tended to focus on other uses of the technology such as conservation and surveillance. Researchers at the University of Illinois recently developed an ornithopter perfect for urban surveillance. Its ability to mimic the way a bird hovers and lands in confined spaces could make it ideally suited to cramped city conditions.

The history of ornithopters is long and varied, and research into their development and uses looks set to continue for a long time to come.

What other benefits might there be to using ornithopters?

Wonderful Things: Brainbow mouse

This post is written by Alex, a 16-year old student who spent a week on work placement with the Learning team.

The brain is one of the most complex biological organs in the world, and even today our understanding of it is very primitive, but recent advances in the field of neuroscience could help us unpick some of its mysteries…

In Who am I? there is a little mouse with a big secret: its brain glows in a rainbow of colours. The Brainbow method maps out the large labyrinth of neurons in the brain using fluorescent proteins which flag up each individual neuron with its own colour. Through genetic engineering the brain cells in this mouse glow in a spectrum of different colours when under the right light. Brainbow has significantly helped scientists in attempting to map out the very complex, microscopic neural pathways and systems in the brain, using these strikingly coloured (and quite stunning) images.

This image from the Brainbow mouse reveals thousands of complex neural connections

The Brainbow technique is so interesting because researchers could potentially use the neural maps of the brain that it creates, when studying mental activities and behaviours to see what circuits are implicated. Another possible use is comparing these neural maps to see differences in the cellular structure of those with neurological disorders, to those without, in order to help identify and possibly even help develop treatments..

However, one limitation is that scientists so far have only used Brainbow to explore the brains of small animals such as mice and drosophila (the fruitfly), and the human brain is vast and much more diverse in neurons in comparison to these two organisms. There is also the ethical issue of genetic modification when it comes to working on the human brain – as Brainbow does rely on brain cells expressing proteins that have been genetically preprogrammed.

Would you accept genetic engineering in humans in order to get a better understanding of the human brain? 

The Brainbow genetically engineered mouse, and the beautiful image of its brain are on display in the Who am I? gallery, Wellcome Wing 1st floor.

Visitor Drawings – What’s your favourite science joke?

What’s your favourite science joke? Does it involve chemical symbols or scientific equipment? These are just some ‘Funnies’ that of our comedic visitors have come up with whilst in the Launchpad gallery. Click on any image for larger pictures.

3D Summer Family Events at the Science Museum

Adam, Family Programmes Developer at the Science Museum, looks at some of the family activities on offer for visitors this summer. 

The Summer is finally here! And with it, a brand new series of events for families here at the Science Museum. This summer our theme is 3D and the Family Programmes team has been busy developing two brand new events for families, the Pop Up Museum and 3D Spec-tacular!

A lot of work goes into developing these events. We started with an initial brainstorm before moving on to researching ideas and testing mock ups. We then surveyed people to find out what objects families wanted to make a pop-up of and what they thought would be the coolest object to see using their 3D glasses. Then, working with the Science Museum’s Design team, we took our designs from the drawing board to the finished version. 

Part of the Pop Up Museum activity as part of 3D summer at the Science Museum

Part of the Pop Up Museum activity as part of 3D summer at the Science Museum

Our Pop Up Museum invites visitors to build their very own pop-up book versions of iconic museum objects. These include the Ford Model T, Amy Johnson’s aircraft, the Apple II computer and a peacock on display in our Who Am I? gallery. Visitors can pick between them and produce their very own mini museum to take home.

Peacock from the Pop up Museum activity for 3D Summer at the Science Museum.

Peacock from the Pop up Museum activity for 3D Summer at the Science Museum.

In 3D Spec-tacular visitors can build their own 3D glasses, and then use them on giant 3D pictures of museum objects and even take their glasses home with a 3D postcard.

Young visitors to 3D Spectacular at the Science Museum

Young visitors to 3D Spectacular at the Science Museum

These events are taking place each day during the summer, with the Museum open an hour later so you can fit more into each visit. Click here for more information about 3D summer at the Science Museum.

Building Bridges project comes of age

Building Bridges, an exciting new Science Museum Learning project began last year. Here, the team share a few highlights from the project so far.

Building Bridges is a three year project aimed at year seven (11-12 year old) students, helping them to make sense of the science that shapes their lives. 

Students take part in a special Museum trail

Students take part in a special Museum trail

Building Bridges is doing this by focusing on three outcomes: helping students develop new ideas about why science is important to them/society at large; giving students the ability to communicate these and other ideas clearly; and an increased enthusiasm for science. So far, the project has been working with 16 schools, engaging up to 35 students at each school.

Each group takes part in three key activities over the year: an outreach visit into their school, a school visit to the Science Museum and a family event held at the Museum. The outreach visits were lots of fun for everyone: students got involved in the gloriously disgusting It Takes Guts show and took part in the “Science Communication” session. This gave them the opportunity to think about the stories behind the objects, and also learn science demos to present back to their friends.

Lucy presents 'It Takes Guts'

Lucy presents ‘It Takes Guts’

In May, we welcomed students to the museum for a fun filled VIP day where schools were treated to their own exclusive events and a visit to Launchpad. They also met real scientists during a science journalism session, discussing subjects including the painkiller quality of chillies, and resuscitation. Finally, the students explored the Making the Modern World gallery, searching for objects to help a very important guest…

The Queen awaits her subjects

The Queen awaits her subjects

Last weekend, we said goodbye to our first year of students with a fun filled family weekend at the Museum. The students brought their families to the museum and enjoyed an entire gallery of activities especially for them, including meeting with research scientists and the Imperial College Reach out Lab.

Year one of Building Bridges has been amazingly busy and a lot of fun. We can’t wait for year two!

When Science and Musicals meet…

Tracey Morgan, Outreach Team Leader, looks back at London’s West End Live event.

On Saturday the 22nd and Sunday the 23rd of June, the Science Museum joined Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, London Film Museum, Forbidden Planet, the Theatres Trust, Banqueting House and Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop along with all of the West End Theatres to celebrate the hugely popular London event West End Live at Trafalgar Square.

The Science Museum was glad to be invited back for a 9th year running, giving visitors the chance to dabble in a bit of science in between catching excerpts from West End musicals on the main stage. In our marquee we ran our action packed Science Museum Game Card Challenge.

Mastering the Stupid Egg Trick

Trying out puzzle challenges

Visitors were challenged to test their skills in our 3 science zones, taking on a challenge from each zone and collecting stamps to get their hands on a prize at the end. Solving puzzles, investigating the Bernoulli effect, learning the ‘Stupid Egg Trick’ getting gooey in a bucket of cornflour slime and many more activities were on offer.

If you didn’t make it to our marquee this year, or if you did and you’ve caught the science bug, why not download our free Kitchen Science booklet and try out our experiments at home or in the classroom.

Prince’s Trust students take on the Launchbox Challenge

Laura Meade and Ronan Bullock, Outreach Officers in our Learning team, write about the Science Museum’s new partnership with the Prince’s Trust.

Earlier this year, we invited musician will.i.am and the Prince’s Trust to the Science Museum to announce a new partnership. Will.i.am recently gave a £500,000 donation to the Prince’s Trust, and we’re using some of this money to work with XL Clubs in schools across the country.

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

The Outreach team has been visiting schools across the country, ‘grossing out’ whole year groups with the It Takes Guts show and working with XL Clubs – aimed at 13-19 year olds at risk of underachievement or exclusion – for the Launchbox Challenge.

We’ve already been to schools in the East of England and taken a trip to Wales. Students are treated to a gruesome, in-depth look into the nether regions of the human digestive system with the chance to find the answers to all those digestion questions like where do burps come from? 

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Investigating the small intestines in the It Takes Guts show

The Launchbox Challenge workshop set students the challenge of building their own chain reaction machines, giving them the chance to exercise their powers of invention. They must include as many ‘energy transfers’ as they can think of – maybe a chain of dominoes failing down, then knocking a ball down a tube and so on. The team work and creativity we have seen on all our visits so far has been brilliant. Here are a few of our favourite contraptions:

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Students in Wales and thier chain reaction machines

The Science Museum’s outreach team will be taking the Launchbox Challenge across the country and working with XL Clubs to engage young people with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). We have thoroughly enjoyed our XL Clubs visits so far and the feedback has been great. Look out for our red van coming to a school near you soon!

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Stopping to admire the view in the Snowdonia National Park, Wales

From flash mobs to ‘eco’ picnics: celebrating Climate Science Outreach

Dani Williams, Project Co-ordinator for the Climate Science Outreach Project, reflects on the success of the three year project as it draws to a close.

How do you engage teenagers in climate change? This was our challenge when we launched the Climate Science Outreach Project – a three year project run by the museum in partnership with the National Railway Museum in York, Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, At-Bristol science centre and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre.

Students from Beech House School, Rochdale with their artwork - The Whole World in Their Hands. Image credits: Science Museum

Students from Beech House School, Rochdale with their artwork – The Whole World in Their Hands. Image credits: Science Museum

The nationwide project was designed to inspire 13-14 year olds on the subject of climate change by equipping them with the skills to become climate ambassadors in their schools and communities. During each year of the project, schools were set a different challenge – allowing students to explore aspects of climate change on which they felt enthusiastic.

An artwork by Marple Hall School, Cheshire entitled The Last Tree. Image credits: Science Museum

An artwork by Marple Hall School, Cheshire entitled The Last Tree. Image credits: Science Museum

At the end of each year, the Science Museum turned the students’ finished work into a public exhibition or product, giving students an enormous sense of pride in their own achievements.

In year one, students were asked to create their own pieces of Sci-art on a climate change theme. Among the incredible artworks were a giant hand showing the five countries contributing the most towards carbon emissions and a homeless polar pear begging on the streets. The project was turned into a photographic exhibition which toured at each of the partner museums.

Homeless - an artwork of a polar bear created by Sale Grammar School, Manchester. Image credits: Science Museum

Homeless – an artwork of a polar bear created by Sale Grammar School, Manchester. Image credits: Science Museum

In year two, students from 50 schools across the country became science journalists, investigating and reporting on climate change stories affecting their communities. The result was a fascinating range of stories covering everything from community recycling initiatives to the use of sheep poo as a future energy source. The students’ stories were published in ATMOS – a special magazine for the project.

Students at the National Railway Museum see their articles in the ATMOS magazine. Image credits: Science Museum

Students at the National Railway Museum see their articles in the ATMOS magazine. Image credits: Science Museum

In the third and final year of the programme, students from 60 schools were set the challenge of organising and running a mass-participation event in their school or community to raise awareness of climate change.

Students from Shenley Brook End School with the results of their paintball workshop. Image credits: Science Museum

Students from Shenley Brook End School with the results of their paintball workshop. Image credits: Science Museum

Students were asked to submit proposals and bid for funding from the Science Museum. They were encouraged to think creatively and run unusual and exciting events that people might not ordinarily associate with science. The events included an endangered animal football match, recycled fashion shows, flash mobs and a cycle-powered cinema. Photographs from the events were displayed at a celebration party to mark the end of the project.

Students from Penryn School in polar bear masks for a performance in At-Bristol. Image credit: Science Museum

Students from Penryn School in polar bear masks for a performance in At-Bristol. Image credit: Science Museum

We are delighted with the results of the project. In addition to raising awareness of climate change, teachers have reported many additional benefits including increased confidence among the students, a greater interest in science and improved literacy.