Category Archives: Educators

Wonderful Things: The Drug Castle

Kate Davis, a Learning Resources Project Developer, discovers the story behind one of our more unusual objects.

The fifth floor of the Science Museum is a fascinating area, full of gory and often unusual paraphernalia related to the history of medicine. One of the more unusual objects lurking in this gallery is the Drug Castle.

How long did this take to build?

A castle constructed from pills, capsules and medicine containers.

Our knowledge of medicine and how civilisations have treated illness and disease stretches all the way back to the earliest writings on the subject from Ancient Egypt. However, the ways in which people have treated illness has not changed very much over the centuries. It is only during the last 200 years that scientific developments have gathered pace and enabled doctors to make huge breakthroughs in treatments. It is often easy for us, living in the 21st Century, to forget that as little as 100 years ago there was no penicillin, nobody knew the cause of rickets and there was no vaccine for tuberculosis. 

Now, we can mass produce a whole range of pills and potions for a variety of different ailments that had previously been untreatable. All of the syringes, pill bottles and tablets used to create the Drug Castle are real and it is a brilliant visualisation of how central the use of drugs has become to the treatment of illness in the developed world. However, this shift in how we treat disease does not come without its controversy.

The Drug Castle itself is a reminder of this as it was created to feature in a poster campaign by the East London Health Project in 1978. This campaign aimed to raise questions about whether pharmaceutical companies were more interested in making money or making their medicines available to all. Health care is extremely costly and is frequently an issue that is considered and debated by governments worldwide as they try to provide the best health care they can for their citizens with the funds that they have available to them.

There are also significant issues with the effectiveness of the drugs that are prescribed by doctors.  One of the primary examples of this is with antibiotics, that when first manufactured, were very effective at treating infections, but now are less so because the bacteria has mutated so that antibiotics, such as penicillin, are not as useful. Therefore, in order to keep treating infection scientists will need to develop new drugs that can combat these more virulent illnesses.

Should we keep creating new drugs for antibiotic resistant bugs – or do we need to change the way we take medicines?

T. Alva Edison and his Amazing Phonograph!

Jared Keller, a researcher and former Science Museum Explainer, discusses some of our hidden objects and the science behind them. 

Today we’re looking at the Sound Section of Launchpad and one of my favourite exhibits, “Sound Bite”. If you’re a bit rusty on your Sound Bite science, HERE is an old BBC refresher course on the principles of sound travelling through a medium/solid.

Launchpad’s World Famous ‘Sound Bite’ – Credit: Man Chiwing

The important thing to remember is that sound waves can travel through a solid material like a metal rod the same as they can through the air. Proof of this lies in the fact that you can feel the rod vibrating if you pinch it with your fingers. When you bite down, those vibrations are passed up through your teeth, through your jaw, and up into your ear where they vibrate the same bones in the inner-ear that normally vibrate from sound waves in the air.

Edison stares intently at his new invention - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Edison stares intently at his new invention – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

In 1877 a very ‘bright’ man named Thomas Alva Edison put this principle to use in what he called a phonograph. Whereas the more familiar gramaphone ‘records’ are flat two-sided discs of vinyl, Edison’s original phonographs used 10 cm cylinders made of soft tin-foil (and later wax).

Edison's original phonograph cylinders - on display in the Secret Life of the Home gallery

Edison’s original phonograph cylinders – on display in the Secret Life of the Home gallery – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Whatever you call them, the science is simple: he knew, just like you, that sound travelling through a metal causes it to vibrate. His great insight, was in realising that vibrations in a metal could then be turned back into vibrations in the air – what we normally hear as sounds!

The first words spoken into Edison's new phonograph recorder? ... "Mary had a little lamb" - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

The first words spoken into Edison’s new phonograph recorder? … “Mary had a little lamb” – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

In the drawing above you can see Edison speaking into one of his phonographs. As he spoke into the cone and tube, it captured his voice and funneled it down until it was intense enough to vibrate a small, incredibly sharp piece of metal. As the metal vibrated with the sound of his voice, the soft tin cylinder was rotated underneath the vibrating tip which caused the tip to cut into the tin. If you want to see a real phonograph player and its cylindrical record, simply head to the ‘Secret Life of the Home’ gallery in the basement.

Closeup of the grooves on a phonograph cylinder - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Closeup of the grooves on a phonograph cylinder – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Edison knew that once the vibration of his voice had been carved into the soft tin, passing another tip through those grooves in the now hardened tin would make the needle vibrate in exactly the same way! All he had to do then was take those vibrations and amplify them so they were loud enough to be heard by the human ear. But being the veteran Sound Biters that we are, we know that if Edison had simply attached small metal rods to that vibrating tip we could bite down on them and let the vibrations pass up our teeth, through our jaws, and up to our ears, just like with Sound Bite!

A dapper Edison pumps music directly into our skulls! – Credit: Matteo Farinella

Though maybe Edison was right: listening to a song through the air is much more satisfying than biting down on a metal rod!

Introducing Enterprising Science

Micol Molinari, Project coordinator for the Talk Science project writes about the launch of Enterprising Science, the largest science learning programme of its kind in the UK.

Today is a big day for us. It is the official launch of Enterprising Science, a five year partnership between the Science Museum, King’s College London and BP, bringing together expertise and research in informal science learning.

This new project builds on our Talk Science programme. Since 2007 we have worked with over 2,600 secondary school teachers across the UK to support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) teaching and learning. The main aim of Talk Science was to give young people the confidence to find their own voice and have a say in the way science impacts on and shapes their lives. The core our work was with science teachers, because of their important role and ability to make a difference in young people’s lives.

So what did we do for Talk Science? We delivered a 1 day teacher CPD course, in over 30 cities across the UK. We developed physical & digital resources to support teachers in the classroom; ran student and teacher events, delivered communication skills training for scientists working with young audiences and held seminars for other museum educators on informal science learning.

This year we began working with King’s College London to develop, test and share new tools and techniques to engage more secondary schools students with science. The tools and techniques are all grounded in research from Kings College London’s five year ASPIRES study of children’s science and career aspirations, combined with our experience from five years of the Talk Science project. Our partnership with Kings is really exciting: it makes Enterprising Science the largest science learning programme of its kind in the UK.

As part of Enterprising Science, we will be working closely with small groups of partner teachers, to collaboratively develop and trial new tools and techniques for engaging students with science both inside and outside the classroom. These new resources will be shared through our work with schools across the UK and online.

But it is not just about science in the classroom. In fact, research shows that one of the strongest indicators of whether a young person will choose a career in science is the type of support they get outside of school from their families. We will be working with teachers, young people and their families to help create a supportive learning environment for students. By raising the value that young people place on science, we hope to help students develop a genuine interest in science and understand how it is relevant to their lives.

We are excited to see where this project will take all of us. Here’s to the next 5 years!
Micol & the Enterprising Science team.

Learning Apprenticeships

Guest post by Apprentices Jorden, Vicki & Toni

Hello everyone!  We are the bubbly young apprentices who work in the Learning department (mainly with the Explainers) at the Science Museum. We are here to gain vocational skills and experience in a working environment.  This will prepare us for work in the future and provides us with a Level 2 NVQ in Cultural Heritage and Venue Operations qualification, which is widely recognised by employers.

Apprentice1

Apprentices left to right: Jorden, Vicki & Toni

Jorden, 17 “I chose to do an apprenticeship because I didn’t like working in a classroom environment; in college I’d get bored really quickly, even in the subjects I was really interested in. But working at the Science Museum is the complete opposite, I’ve learnt so many skills and I really enjoy helping the visitors; the best part is interacting with the children and encouraging them to have fun while they learn something new. The environment is full of surprises and there are a range of different tasks to keep me busy, so no two days are the same. The Learning team is really friendly and the Explainers in particular have a strong team, they’re really enthusiastic about helping each other out and everyone does their part to make sure the day runs smoothly.

Apprentice Jorden refilling Launchpad exhibits

When I complete my apprenticeship, I’d really like to work with the Outreach team going round to schools and bringing some of the excitement from the Museum into the classrooms.”

Vickie, 17 “I decided to do the apprenticeship because I love doing anything to do with the Science Museum. I feel proud to say that I work at the Museum and I love what I do. The environment at the Museum is so friendly and you learn so much without even realising. The Explainer department is so exciting and inviting; you can make friends with everyone and not feel left out. When I complete this apprenticeship I would love to stay on as an Explainer and start to do shows. I love entertaining people and showing them really cool things, such as explosions in one of our Launchpad shows!

Apprentice Vicki setting up a Launchpad show

I would advise everyone to come to the Science Museum. You wouldn’t believe your eyes if you saw some on the amazing things we have to offer. My highlight so far has been seeing Will Smith in the IMAX cinema!”

Toni, 18 “I chose to go for this apprenticeship because I always came to the Science Museum when I was a little girl. So when I saw the ad on the apprenticeship website, I got excited and quickly applied. I was over the moon when I found out I got the job! When I first started I was scared of the Explainers, however, as time went on I realised they aren’t scary and I began to have conversations with them.

Apprentice Toni handing over lost property to security

I have recently performed demos to the Explainers at a meeting. One of these demos included using plastic cups and an air-zuka (the air-zuka looks like a plastic tube and handle with a plastic bag on the end). I had to pull back the bag and let go, shooting air out in a spiral vortex which knocked down the cups, in my case it knocked down 3 cups out of the 7. Performing the demos was one of the scariest things I have ever done because I was performing demos to the performers and it took a lot of practice and support to build up the courage to perform them. But once I started performing them to the Explainers, I started to feel calmer and they began to laugh because of the humour I had added. At the end of the demos, all the Explainers gave me compliments and said I did well. I now feel like part of the team and enjoy working with them. I have also learned some Makaton during my time at the Museum, which is a language to help communicate with those with special needs. After my apprenticeship, I want to apply to work as a full-time Explainer.”

Apprentice Fact:  If you combined the ages of all 3 apprentices together, it’s less than the age of the oldest Science Museum Explainer.

Sunday Brunch Main Title

Bubbles at Sunday Brunch

Guest post by our Explainer Developer Dan

One of the great things about working as an Explainer at the Science Museum is the wide range of work we get the opportunity to do. So as well as working with the public in our interactive galleries and performing science shows on a daily basis, sometimes we get to do something a little bit different. A few Sundays ago, David and I had the opportunity to do one of these different things, in this case, 6 minutes of live television.

Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, a morning magazine show, invited us along to do a segment about bubbles. This was a great opportunity for the Museum to promote our Bubbles show which we perform throughout the year at weekends and we were about to perform a lot more over the half term. We, of course, leapt at the chance.

David and I at the studio before going on air

What was really nice for us was the level of input we had over what we did, which was pretty much free range. After a few phone calls and emails with the production team at Princess Productions and working alongside our press office, we sent through what we thought would fill 6 minutes. It included a brief introduction to why bubbles have a role in science and science communication (Name-checking Thomas Young and Charles Vernon Boys), an experiment for viewers to try at home, some experiments they wouldn’t be able to do at home and our popular finale, the human bubble; A bubble so big, you can fit a human inside it. The week of the show, we discovered that the human we would be using would be Kelly Jones, lead singer of the Stereophonics along with one of the presenters, Simon Rimmer.

Left to right: Me, presenters Simon Rimmer & Tim Lovejoy, David on the end

It was an early start on Sunday morning, the show starts at 9:30, but for rehearsals and set up we arrived before 8. After setting up and meeting the presenters for a “Block” rehearsal, where the camera crew can work out where they need to be and what they will be filming, we basically had to wait until our slot at about 11:00. We watched the show while the nerves built up, I think David was probably more relaxed than me, but I kept thinking about all the things I could say or do wrong in front of the 700,000 strong TV audience!

The segment itself went really well, David had the trickiest bit as he needed to get a paperclip to sit on the surface tension of a small bowl of water. We had prepared some already in case it went wrong, but, ever the professional, David did it on the first attempt. The demo worked really well and we followed it with some carbon dioxide filled bubbles, but had to skip our intended helium filled bubbles as we were running short on time, what with it being live, so moved straight on to the big finale.

As soon as the item finished, the presenters and main crew had to run off to the next area of the studio to continue the show, but the extra crew, along with families of the crew and guests, made a beeline for our table and had a good play with our experiments. We gave them carbon dioxide bubbles to hold and put them in the human bubble until everyone was satisfied, then we headed back to the museum.

Simon Rimmer holding a carbon dioxide bubble

We had lots of great feedback from the crew, our colleagues and the public via the Twitter feeds for both the Museum and Sunday Brunch. All in all a great experience, interesting, exciting and just a little bit different.

Explainer Fact:  Our bubble mix recipe is 95% warm water, 3% washing up liquid and 2% glycerol.  To learn a bit more about bubbles click here.

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

will.i.am, The Prince’s Trust and Science Museum launch education initiative

Musician and philanthropist will.i.am has launched an initiative to boost the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths for disaffected and underachieving children.

The Black Eyed Peas frontman announced The Prince’s Trust workshops, which will be run in partnership with the Science Museum in schools across the country, at the museum with Ian Blatchford, Director of the Museum, and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of the Prince’s Trust.

Will.i.am launches new education initiative with Science Museum Director, Ian Blatchford (l) and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust (r)
Will.i.am launches new education initiative with Science Museum Director, Ian Blatchford (l) and Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust (r)

“Inspiring young people through science and technology is a powerful tool,” said will.i.am, who has donated £500,000 to the Trust, including his fee as a judge on BBC talent show, The Voice, and funds the i.am.angel foundation in his native Los Angeles.

“These workshops are an amazing way to engage disadvantaged youngsters who don’t have this sort of access to technology and science otherwise.” Speaking to reporters at the launch of the workshops he said: “As well as telling them to play sports, let’s encourage them to do science or mathematics.

“When I say, ‘Hey kids, you guys should want to be scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians…’ I say that because I too am going to school to learn computer science,“ he added. “I’m taking a computer science course, because I’m passionate about where the world’s going, curious about it and I want to contribute.”

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

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

The new partnership will see Science Museum outreach staff visiting Prince’s Trust xl clubs in schools across the country to deliver workshops after normal lessons that are aimed at inspiring and engaging 13-19 year olds who are struggling at school. The overall aim is to help 3,000 to 4,000 young people this year.

The launch of the workshops comes ahead of a Prince’s Trust report to be released today revealing a lack of digital skills among the younger generation. The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, shows a quarter of unemployed young people (24%) “dread” filling in online job applications and one in ten (11%) admit they avoid using computers.

Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Museum (r) explains how to make music with Google Web Lab

Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Museum (r) explains how to make music with Google Web Lab

The Science Museum is the most popular free school-trip destination in the UK and runs the most popular outreach programme for children in the country, reaching 110,000 children per annum. More children take part in events and activities at the Science Museum than any other in the country.

Toby Parkin, Outreach and Resources Manager, from the Science Museum said: “We know the importance of making science exciting and accessible to everyone. Our initiative with The Prince’s Trust aims to encourage youngsters who may not have considered science and technology as a possible career path. The workshops will span the country across 2013 and see many more young people experimenting with technology and science.”

The Science Museum is the home of human ingenuity in this sector: it has been pioneering interactive science interpretation for over 80 years and was the first in Europe to set up a sleepover programme, the first to tour science and technology exhibitions to shopping centres and is the home of the world’s only science comedy troupe.

Roger Highfield is Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum

Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton drama character

The next time you visit the Museum, not only can you witness the great exhibits and events we have on offer, you can also meet famous scientists and other characters throughout history! (Well, kind of…).  Unfortunately, we haven’t invented a time machine but you can meet Sir Isaac Newton, the world’s first pregnant man and even some giant cockroaches, which are just a few characters brought to life everyday by actors inside the Museum.

Isaac Newton Drama Character

Today I met Sir Isaac Newton (not the real one obviously, the actor’s name is Guy) who invented the cat-flap, named the colours of the rainbow and of course thought a lot about gravity:

Chi: Sir Isaac Newton?

Newton: Oh, call me Isaac please! What a fascinating emporium this place is. Marvellous!

Chi: Yes, thank you, um, Isaac. So, these toys you have here… ?

Newton: Toys? These, Sir, are my scientific apparatus!

Chi: Really?

Newton: Well, do you like to experiment?

Chi: Yeah!

Newton: May I recommend “The Early Learning Centre” then, marvellous place!  Take this pink ball, for example. Smell it.

Chi: Huh?

Newton: Experiment, Sir. You seem rather hard to convince. Rather like the Royal Society, I might add. Go on, smell it.

Chi: It sort of smells like strawberries…?

Newton: Yes, very peculiar, isn’t it? So if I roll it along the ground like so – excuse me, Sir, you’re somewhat in the way. Thank you – why does it come to a standstill?  Don’t you go to bed at night and worry about strawberry smelling objects coming to a standstill?

Chi: Errr…no.

Newton: Oh, is it just me then? Well, does it stop because it smells of strawberries?

Chi: Well, no…

Newton: Ha! You see. You already have a theory on why it stops. Clearly you are a natural philosopher. Marvellous! Everyone is. Also, take a look at my cheeseboard over here…

Chi: Erm, it’s a skateboard.

Newton: Really? I thought it was a cheeseboard. After all, it’s yellow. And has wheels on it so you can push it along the table. Marvellous!

Explainer Fact: Fancy meeting Sir Isaac Newton and other drama characters?  Check the Science Museum website for further details.  School groups can book their own drama character session.

Many thanks to Guy for his enormous contribution.

Enjoy Christmas all year round with a Christmas tent

Visitor Inventions – What they really wanted for Christmas

“Wow! It’s what I always wanted….” is the standard response when you receive presents from your friends and family.  But was it really?  Whether you received the latest gadget, perfume or socks – some of our visitors dream of receiving jetpack boots, a time machine and a walking toilet.

Below is a selection of inventions that our visitors came up with when in the Launchpad gallery.  Click on any image for larger pictures.

Explainer Fact:  The Museum is only closed 3 days a year – 24th-26th December

Barbie title

Visitor Letters – Flash! Bang! Wallop!

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 South Park School recently saw the Flash! Bang! Wallop! Launchpad show on their outing to the Museum.  From the letters that we received, they appeared to have a blast!  They particularly enjoyed the fact that their show presenter claims to be “Barbie’s boyfriend”.

Click on any image to enlarge.

This is what Explainer Sam has to say about his special relationship:

Barbie and I are still going strong and love working together on the Flash! Bang! Wallop! show.  She knows she is in safe hands and what could be a better way to spend your time with your partner than to be shot out of a cannon!  I am really glad that our natural chemistry comes across in the show.  Many people have likened us to Jason and Kylie, Richard and Judy – not to mention Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh.  I hope that as well as learning science, the people who enjoyed our show have learnt another lesson.  Love comes in many sizes.

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

Behind the ‘i.am+ foto.sosho’, launched by Will.i.am yesterday, lies his commitment to become a role model to help inspire young people to pursue science, engineering, mathematics and technology. Photo credit: Matt Writtle

Will.i.am’s quest to discover the next Bill Gates

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group.

The musician and entrepreneur will.i.am gave a classic demonstration of the ‘show, don’t tell’ technique yesterday as part of his quest to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

He announced that he has led a global consortium of technologists to develop what he called a ‘social camera’, a turbocharged version of the iPhone.

Behind the ‘i.am+ foto.sosho’, launched by Will.i.am yesterday, lies his commitment to become a role model to help inspire young people to pursue science, engineering, mathematics and technology. Photo credit: Matt Writtle

At a press conference held at the Fashion Retail Academy in London, The Black Eyed Peas frontman referred to his donation of £500,000, via his i.am angel Foundation, to The Prince’s Trust to fund education, training and enterprise schemes in the UK with a focus on technology and computer skills development.

The Trust is working with Toby Parkin of the Science Museum to enable it to engage young people with science. The museum currently reaches over half a million students per year through school visits and outreach. With the Trust, the museum will focus on inner city schools where children feel socially excluded and standards have been in decline.

Will.i.am says he wants his initiative to ‘help transform the lives of disadvantaged young people living in under-privileged neighbourhoods.’ He added that he was going to learn coding next year, though he stressed ‘I want to be in the classroom as well as the club.’

When I asked him if he wanted to come to the Science Museum to pass on his skills to the hundreds of thousands of children who visit each year, he joked it would probably take him eight years to get up to speed, or become what he calls ‘the rocking-est coder.’

Will.i.am is not alone in embracing geek chic. Earlier this year, the Hollywood actor and rapper Will Smith told children in the Science Museum that he had a hankering to become a computer engineer.

Will Smith meets a group of school children and Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford beside the Apollo 10 command module on a visit to the Science Museum, London.

Will.i.am grew up in East Los Angeles, one of the roughest neighbourhoods in the United States, where his life could have turned out quite differently without the support of his family and a good education.

Because he feels London is his second home (‘it broke the Peas’), and because the city is at the forefront of fashion and culture, will.i.am decided to combine these passions with the launch of his device.

Called the i.am+ foto.sosho, it will turn an iPhone4/4s smartphone into a fashion accessory and a point-and-shoot digital camera with on-board editing, filters and social media connectivity that will be distributed by Selfridges.

After he came up with the idea in February of this year, during a meal in  the fashionable restaurant Nobu, he founded and self-funded the development and manufacture with experts located in China, Denmark, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

He also said that, by the end of next year, he wants to launch an X-Factor style spin-off show to give young people the chance to express themselves in science and maths so he can identify another technology entrepreneur of the stature of a Gates or Jobs.