Category Archives: Educators

Opening the doors for Early Birds

Kate Mulcahy in the Learning team blogs on our Early Bird sessions in the Museum.

Museums are my favourite place to visit. I love to see interesting objects from history and to learn new facts, and I love the buzz of other people enjoying the Museum too. But for some of our visitors this isn’t so easy, and it was for this reason the Science Museum launched Early Birds.

A few times a year we open the museum from 08.30 in the morning for Early Birds, a free event for children who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) and their families. This gives families a chance to look around our galleries and take part in fun activities before the Museum opens at 10am. We even keep some galleries closed a little longer, just for our Early Birds visitors.

Visitors at Early Birds

Visitors at Early Birds

For people with an autistic spectrum condition, it can be difficult to be in a busy environment or even waiting in a queue. They can be particularly sensitive to light or sound which can make being near some of our interactive exhibits unpleasant. All of these factors can make it difficult for children who are on the autistic spectrum to visit the museum during our usual opening hours.

For Early Birds, we wanted to create an environment where families would feel safe, happy and could still enjoy visiting the museum. This might mean turning off the sound on some of our louder exhibits or simply creating a nice sensory space where families can go and chill out if they want a break. We also created a Visual Story for families to help prepare for what they might see in the museum.

We have already run a few Early Birds sessions (one family has written about their experience here) and the team are busy organising our next session on 30th November and more dates in 2014. If you would like to take part in Early Birds, there are more details here.

Visitor Letters – Spaldwick School

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

Recently pupils from Spaldwick School visited the Launchpad gallery and saw the Feel the Force science show presented by Explainer Dwain on their outing to the Museum (click to enlarge letters).

Explainer Dwain was so impressed that he thanked the pupils of Spaldwick school and answered queries about his co-star in the Feel the Force show – Phil the Frog!

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Response Letter – pages 1 & 2

Response Lettter - pages 3 & 4

Response Lettter – 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

Your guide to becoming a Bubble-ologist

The Science Museum’s outreach team share some of their tips on creating the best bubbles.

Here in the outreach team it’s our job to travel the country (and sometimes the world) bringing exciting science shows and workshops into classrooms, school halls, fields and town centres.

We are often asked about what our favourite shows are, and everyone in the team has their own particular choice. But, our most popular show by far is most certainly The Bubble Show, last year we performed 149 of them!ronan bubble

So with that in mind we thought we’d share a few of our bubble secrets. Why not try them out this half term?

To make your bubble mix you will need:

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Mostly warm water with a splash of washing-up liquid and some glycerol

We add glycerol (sometimes sold as glycerine) to our mix because it slows down the evaporation of the water. This means the bubbles can last longer and the bubble mix is great for making really big bubbles too. Remember, most of the mix is water, with only a small amount of washing-up liquid and glycerol – experiment with different proportions and see how your bubbles change.

You can buy glycerol from a high- street chemist but if you can’t get hold of any, sugar does the job as well. Just dissolve it in some warm water and add a little to your bubble mix. Sugar will make your bubbles sticky though!

Once you have your lovely bucket of bubble mix you can start to make bubbles using all sorts of things, here are a few ideas..

Why not make your own bubble trumpet?

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Or how about a giant bubble wand using a coat hanger? D090473 D090482

Have a look around the house and see what else you could use to make bubbles. Old tennis racquets are great for making lots of little bubbles all at once, even straws or plastic cups with the bottom cut off are great for blowing bubbles.

Check out this printable guide for making even more bubble-blowing devices, or come and catch a free Bubble Show at the Science Museum!

Did you know…

Bubbles are very colourful, but just before they pop they can appear to turn black. Bubbles will always try to form a sphere shape, this shape requires the least amount of energy as it reduces the surface area.

The world record for the largest free floating bubble was set by Jarom Watts in 2009, his bubble was 13.67m3.

Mission to Mars

Tanya, our Learning Resources Project Developer, blogs on potential missions to Mars and discussing them in the classroom. For more on our Talk Science teachers’ courses, click here.

We are in an interesting period of space travel; news from the past year has been filled with findings from the Curiosity rover and stories of possible manned missions to Mars. For me the release of Mars Explorer Barbie confirmed ‘Mars Mania’ is upon us. There are big questions surrounding the ethics and feasibility of sending humans to Mars, however proposals keep emerging which hope to do so, many of which are private enterprises.

One interesting example is the Inspiration Mars Foundation, which in 2018 plans to perform a Mars flyby, over a period of 501 days, with a married couple as its crew. Another, Mars One, seems to have really captured the public’s imagination.

It may sound like science fiction, but Mars One hopes to establish a colony on Mars by 2023. The plan is to use existing technologies, such as solar power and water recycling, to create a permanent habitat for the astronauts. Over the next ten years they will send rovers, satellites, living units, life support systems and supply units to Mars ready for the arrival of the first settlers in 2023.

Three generations of Mars rovers

Three generations of Mars rovers, including Curiousity far right. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Applications for the first round of astronauts closed recently; over 200,000 people, from more than 140 countries applied. Six teams of four will be selected for training, with further opportunities opening every year. The crew will learn medical procedures, how to grow food on Mars, and how to maintain the habitat and rovers. In 2024 a second crew will depart Earth, with four new settlers arriving every two years until 2033, when 20 people should be living on Mars.

This incredibly challenging mission is estimated to cost $6 billion. Interestingly part of the funding will come from a reality TV show which will follow the teams from their recruitment through to their first few years living on Mars. In addition to high costs the team will face Mars’ fiercely hostile environment; high levels of radiation, low gravity, little atmosphere, high impact from the solar winds, and water sources frozen underground. If successful the astronauts will make history, but it won’t be easy and they will never breathe fresh air again.

Picture of mars, taken by the Spirit rover.  Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Picture of mars, taken by the Spirit rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

The mission throws up many interesting questions from both a personal and technological perspective. Maybe try hosting your own debate on the subject, or if you’re a teacher, you could try raising the issues with your students using one of our discussion formats.

Should we send humans to Mars?
How would you feel if a loved one volunteered for a one-way mission to mars?
Do you think that current technologies could sustain life on Mars?

If you want to build your skills for using discussion in the classroom further, we are running the Talk Science teachers’ course in London on 29th November. For details of how to sign up click here.

Chinese Science Theatre Group visits the Museum

Outreach officer Laura talks about the Science Museum’s new education links with China

The Science Museum recently hosted a very special visit from the Science Theatre Group from the Dongguan Science and Technology Museum (DGSTM) in China.

Much like our Explainers here at the museum, the theatre group perform free science shows for visitors at the DGSTM – the main difference being their performers are mostly between the ages of 6 and 12 years!

Kitted out with beautiful costumes and having meticulously learned their scripts in English, the young performers presented a variety of shows to Science Museum visitors. We learned about the fascinating life of the humble ant in the Amazing Ants show, as well as some lessons about marine conservation in Dr Shark and the Café de Coral. Finally two of the adult performers from the DGSTM dispelled some myths about magic in their interactive show The Magic of Science.

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Creatures of the deep

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Learning about the delicate balance of the marine eco-system

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The Magic of Science with ‘magicians’ Newton and Curie

The visit from the lively theatre group came out of a growing partnership between the DGSTM and the Science Museum following a visit to Dongguan from our outreach team in November last year.

Members of the outreach team worked closely with the DGSTM and the British Council and were able to reach over 7000 people over two weeks in China and Hong Kong. The team performed the ever popular Feel the Force show along with the Mission to Mars workshop.

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Investigating magnetism during ‘Feel the Force’

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Outreach officer Shane launching rockets with children at the Dongguan Science and Technology Museum

The Science Museum is working to coordinate regular visits to China so it was a great opportunity to reciprocate the DGSTM’s hospitality in hosting their performances here in London.

The shows went down a treat with museum visitors as well as members of local Chinese community groups who attended the performances. Some members of the audience even had the chance to pose for photos with the performers!

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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.