Category Archives: Educators

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.

Ask a Curator Day

Is there a question you’d always wanted to ask a curator of the Science Museum, but never had the chance to ask before? Maybe what’s your favourite object? What’s the most famous object in your collection? Or why do you like working at the museum?

Science Museum

Well, tomorrow is your chance to ask those burning questions, because it’s Ask a Curator Day – a worldwide Q&A session which lets you put questions to museums around the world, and the Science Museum in London is taking part!

A crack team of Science Museum curators and other staff members will be standing by online to answer you – so start thinking of your questions now.

All you have to do is send your questions to us via Twitter using the #askacurator hashtag. Anyone can follow the questions using the hashtag, and we’ll be sharing the best questions (and answers) throughout the day.

We’ll do our best to answer your questions, although some might take us a little while and we can’t guarantee to answer every single one. Particularly insightful questions that we want to answer at length may well become the basis of a future blog post, like these two posts from David Rooney, our Transport Curator, on how we got the planes in our collection into the Flight Gallery on the third floor!

Wonderful Things: Human Genome books

From Keith Richards to Jordan, books about people’s lives fly off the shelves. But what if they looked like this….?

Dense bedtime reading in the Human Genome books

Created from the Human Genome Project, these replica books (a printed version can be seen at the Wellcome Collection) show the sequence of 3 billion bases of DNA contained within a human cell.

Who did this?

 Beginning in 1990, the Human Genome project, coordinated by the U.S Department of Energy and the national institutes of health, intended to identify human genes, develop understanding of genetic diseases and highlight key developmental processes of the human body.  Whilst initial analysis was released in 2001, the final sequence was completed in 2003.

 What exactly were they looking at?

They were looking at the biological data which makes us unique; the things which make us, us.

 Sounds simple. What about the Science?

Ok. To start with, a genome is all in the DNA in an organism, including its genes which carry information for making proteins.

DNA is composed of four letters carrying instructions for making an organism – A, C G AND T.  Three of these letters together create an Amino Acid. These combinations make up 20 different amino acids and come in a vast number of different orders to create proteins from keratin to haemoglobin.

 Got it.

The human genome is made up of 3 billion bases of DNA, split into 24 chromosomes. Each chromosomes contains a selection of genes – the human genome contains about 20,000 – 25,000 genes.

 Ah, so that’s all the letters?

Exactly. This information can be used to develop new ways to diagnose, treat and someday prevent diseases. Scientists also studied the genetic makeup of non-human organisms including e.coli, the fruit fly and a laboratory mouse.

 Sounds useful, if not a bit sci-fi.

 Yes and, as with much boundary-pushing scientific research, this can lead to opposition and criticism. This was the first large scientific undertaking to address potential ethical, legal and social issues around data.  You might want to think about:

  1. Who should have access to this information?
  2. How much should people intervene with genetics material?
  3. How could this information be used?
  4. Could it be used for financial benefits?

 After all that, fancy some beach reading? 

 The Human Genome book is in the Who Am I? Gallery:  first floor, Wellcome Wing.

-Christopher Whitby

Wonderful Things: Babbage’s brain

Would you expect to find human body parts in the Maths and Computing gallery?

Bizarrely, you can find one half of Charles Babbage’s brain which was donated to the Hunterian Museum by his son Henry (the other half is still with the Hunterian). Many brains of ‘great men’ were kept in the 19th Century to try and discover the nature of the link between the brain and consciousness.

Babbage was a computer pioneer, inventor, reformer, mathematician, scientist, philosopher and political economist!

Babbage, who was seen as a brilliant thinker is regarded as the first computer pioneer. He used his genius-like brains well, excelling in many scientific subjects and after graduating from Cambridge University, he returned in 1828 as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. What a boffin!

During the 1820’s, brain box Babbage devised the Difference Engine to automate the production of error-free mathematical tables. In 1823 he secured £1500 from the government and hired the engineer Joseph Clement. However, the project collapsed in 1833 when Clement downed tools. By then, the government had spent over £17,000 to build the machine – equivalent to the price of two warships!

It’s widely accepted that the reason for the collapse was because Victorian mechanical engineering was not developed enough to produce such accurate parts. However, some have suggested that it was more to do with issues of economics, politics and Babbage’s temperament and style of directing the enterprise. Not such a genius then….

The Science Museum has a special relationship with Babbage and in 1985 the Museum used its own brain power and launched a project to build Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2. It was completed and working in November 1991, one month before the 200th anniversary of Babbage’s birth. This proves that had it been built during his life, it would’ve worked.

The figure wheels of Babbage's Difference Engine No 2. Not exactly a Casio calculator is it?

What computer gadget can you not live without?

Can you tell anything of a person’s abilities from bits of their brain?

How do you feel about museums displaying human remains?

Babbage also worked in the field of codebreaking.

With this in mind, why not create a trail for your students to visit our Alan Turing: Codebreaker exhibition, the Maths and Computing galleries to see Babbage’s brain and Making the Modern World to see the trial portion of his Difference Engine and the first Apple I Mac computer!

Babbage’s brain is in the Maths and Computing gallery on the 2nd floor of the Museum.

-Denise Cook

Science of the sprint

Whether you loved or hated it, sport has been on everyone’s minds over the past few weeks.

How did the athletes do it- what’s the science at work behind their incredible feats? Genetics certainly comes into play, but many other factors influence an athlete’s performance, from footwear, to diet and sleep.

So let’s give a little love to the worlds fastest man, Usain Bolt!

There are plenty of videos online about the secret of his sprint- here’s a good one. In brief, it comes down to his stride (longer than the other athletes’ – genetically gifted I guess) and his strength (near-superhuman, probably- but he had to train for that one).

Where does footwear come in? Well, we recently had a team of scientists down from Loughborough University running (no pun intended) a live event in the Antenna gallery- they work on biomechanics and high performance footwear- and it is really quite incredible how much engineering actually goes into a pair of running shoes!

So that’s it guys- get yourself some amazing high-performance trainers, and see you on the starting block in 2016! ;)