Category Archives: Events

Steampunk in the Science Museum

Our summer spectacular, The Energy Show, is staged in a steampunk world which blends the past and the future. Much inspiration for the show was taken from the Science Museum’s collection, especially the machines of The Energy Hall. Ben Russell, Curator of Mechanical Engineering, talks here about some of our ‘steampunk’ objects in the Museum. 

Beam engine by Benjamin Hick, 1840. Inv 1935-513

Beam engine by Benjamin Hick, 1840. Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Modern technology values function over anything else. Things are stripped down and smooth in appearance. Steampunk is a welcome kickback against this minimalist modern world we live in, reasserting the importance of form against function – and we can find this delicate balancing act played out in our collections.

Take this beam engine, for example. It’s a model of a full-size engine built in 1840 by Benjamin Hick of Bolton for a Leeds flax mill. It was an immense building, possibly the largest single room in the world. To animate the machines inside, Hick’s engine was certainly powerful, but in building it he gave full reign to his imagination. The result was  an Egyptian engine: It has columns with papyrus-headed capitals, a mighty entablature inspired by a temple overlooking the River Nile, and the ‘chronometric’ governor to control the engine’s speed takes the form of a scarab beetle.

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Later Victorian design became rather bulbous, even grotesque, in appearance. But Hick’s engine is a sinuous masterpiece of epic design and brute strength. It reminds us not only of our creative debt to bewhiskered, roaring, big-jawed machine-makers like Hick, but also the significance of amazing nineteenth century machines, not just as a means to the end of production, but as symbolising national affluence and virility. In our present situation, it’s a lesson worth remembering: if you mean business, build machines that shout it out to the world.

Cooke and Wheatstone two-needle telegraph, 1851, Inv 1884-95

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

A recurring theme in Steampunk is the application of nineteenth-century design ideas to modern digital technology: laptops, PCs, even memory sticks can be made antique with brass gearwheels, dials and mahogany cases.

Colliding state of the art technology with the Gothic isn’t just a recent thing, though. In 1837, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patented the world’s first successful telegraph system. It was mainly used on Britain’s evolving railway system, conveying messages via wires running alongside the tracks. A slightly lesser-known use of this pioneering system was to convey messages and reports across London, from the Houses of Parliament at Westminster to clubs in St James’s.

The Electric Telegraph Company was formed in 1846 and this instrument was installed at the Houses of Parliament in 1851. As a ‘black box’ of purely functional appearance, it would have jarred badly against the Gothic Revival style adopted in the newly rebuilt Palace of Westminster. So, the telegraph was fitted with its admirable Gothic casing, complete with pointed arch, finial, and delicately-realised columns. It must surely have lent a feeling of permanence and robustness to the room that it graced, reflecting the standing of Parliament – and also pre-empting one of the major pillars of steampunk.

Model of the side-lever engines of the Paddle Ship ‘Dee’, 1832. Inv 1900-41

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

Photo: Science Museum / SSPL

The problem with modern technology is that so much of it is intangible, digital, virtual, ephemeral. This point of view certainly underpins many Steampunk projects.

It wasn’t always like this, of course: introducing steam power to ships during the nineteenth was the cutting edge of serious heavy metal technology, and was a highly demanding field to design machines for: engines couldn’t be too heavy, they had to have a low centre of gravity, they couldn’t take up too much space.

These prerequisites offered valuable motivation to innovate in engineering design styles. Rather than big, heavy, monolithic construction and great slab-sided machines, engineers evolved lighter cast-iron structures, with lots of space, openings, and details which could be embellished without adding too much weight. Gothic engines? Check.

This model was built in 1832 for the Paddle Ship ‘Dee’ by the London company Maudslay, Sons and Field. Maudslay was a prolific model-maker, trying out new ideas before committing to them full-size, and this model is one of the finest surviving. The delicate cast iron Gothic tracery of its framing would not look out of place in a cathedral – a very tangible record of the creative impulses afforded to engineering, and perhaps inspiration for those Steampunkers looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Take a look at our own Steampunk set Science Museum Live: The Energy Show which runs until 31 August. Book tickets and find more information here.

How we created ‘i-nstein’, the animated character in The Energy Show

One of the main characters in The Energy Show is lab assistant i-nstein. Nina Dunn, responsible for Video Design and Animation Direction, and Mike Wyatt from Attack Animation were the masterminds behind bringing i-nstein to life. Take a look at their process here.

Design:
We started off with a few rough pencil sketches. Then some orthographic representations of the sketches were created in Photoshop. Extra detail was added into the basic form to add interest.

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3D Model:
Using a 3D computer program such as ‘Maya’, the orthographic illustrations are used as reference to build i-nstein as a 3D polygonal model. The pink dots in the middle image are the vertices of the model. A ‘vertex’ is a point in 3D space. The blue lines are the ‘edges’ of the polygons, they are drawn between two vertices. A ‘face’ can be rendered between at least three vertices.  It is best to use 4 vertices for each face, so the polygon which is drawn has 4 vertices and 4 edges draw between these vertices. We call these polygons ‘quads.’

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Rigging:
The next stage is called ‘rigging.’ This is where the puppet strings are built into the geometric model. The individual elements such as the eyebrows, the moustache, and the goggles are ‘skinned’ to curves and joints, before being placed under the influence of ‘controller curves.’ It is then possible to ‘pose’ each element of the model, and to achieve different emotions in the way in which each controller is positioned.

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Texturing:
The ‘texturing’ process is where we add colour and shading to the model.  The geometry is ‘mapped’, as if you were skinning an animal, so that the surface is laid out on a flat, 2D image. This is called ‘UV Mapping’. Using Photoshop, colour information can be painted onto these flat images, which the computer then wraps back around the model.

Texturing

Animation:
i-nstein is animated by posing him in different positions over time. The animator sets ‘keys’ on the time-line, and the computer fills in the spaces between the key frames. Once the animation is complete, a low quality ‘playblast’ movie is created so that the director can sign off the animation before the character is lit and rendered.

Animation

Lighting:
Once the animation of a shot is complete, the model is replaced with a higher resolution ‘mesh.’ This Mesh has a much higher ‘poly-count’ than the low quality ‘proxy mesh’ used for animation. The more polygons the software has to display, the slower the feedback, so this is why make the substitution at this stage. Once the lighter is happy with the general mood and look of this view a render can be made.

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Rendering:
A ‘render’ is a high quality, full resolution image of a particular frame of the animation. It brings all of the underlying elements together and outputs them as one single file. It can take a very long time for the computer to calculate. It took 60 seconds per frame to render i-nstein. There are 25 frames per second. To render 1 second of animation took 25 minutes. We produced about 9 minutes of animation, which took 225 hours to render. That’s almost 9 and a half days of rendering!

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i-nstein is starring in Science Museum Live: The Energy Show at the Science Museum until 31 August. Read more information and book tickets here. 

Cultured Beef

Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group, writes about the world’s first lab-grown or ‘in vitro’ hamburger. Would you eat the burger? Vote here 

The world’s first lab-grown or ‘in vitro’ hamburger was cooked and eaten today at a press conference in London for a demonstration project to show the future of food, funded by Google’s Sergey Brin.

The cultured cell burger, estimated to be worth around  £220,000, was created by Prof Mark Post of Maastrict University in a project that took him two years.

A burger made from Cultured Beef. Credit: David Parry/PA

A burger made from Cultured Beef. Credit: David Parry/PA

The burger was cooked in butter by chef Richard McGowan before an audience of journalists, then subject to a taste test by US-based food author Josh Schonwald and Austrian food researcher Hanni Ruetzler.

The verdict? Close to meat, though more like ‘animal protein cake’, said Schonwald. All commented that it lacked fat, salt and pepper.

A cooked burger made from Cultured Beef. Credit: David Parry/PA

A cooked burger made from Cultured Beef. Credit: David Parry/PA

You can follow the press conference on Storify, watch a video here and read reports by the BBC, Daily Telegraph, New York Times and Popular Science.

The event heralded  a ‘Brave Moo World’  according to Channel 4.

To create the hamburger, muscle cells taken from the shoulder muscle of a cow and multiplied to form muscle tissue, the main component of beef.

The cells arranged themselves into tiny ‘myotubes’ which are grown around gel hubs, attached to Velcro ‘anchor points’ in a culture dish.  Electrical stimulation was then used to make the muscle strips contract and ‘bulk up’.

With this technique, a single strand can produce over a trillion new strands. And when all these tiny pieces are added together, tissue is the result; it took 20,000 of these small strands of meat to create one normal sized hamburger.

Other ingredients include salt, egg powder, and breadcrumbs. Beetroot juice and saffron were added to provide authentic beef colouring.

One reason Brin is backing this project is that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that the demand for meat is going to increase by more than two-thirds in the next four decades and current production methods are not sustainable.

Livestock also contributes to global warming through releases of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, via belching and farting.

According to Prof Post, research carried out at the University of Oxford suggests that producing cultured, or in vitro, beef could use as much as 99% less space than current livestock farming methods and will have smaller emissions.

Win tickets to The Energy Show plus a stack of DK science books for kids

To celebrate the launch of our summer family show for the summer, The Energy Show, we’ve teamed up with DK Books. You have the chance to win 4 tickets to the show and a stack of DK science books for kids – perfect to keep the family entertained throughout the holidays. See live experiments and explosions at the Science Museum and then learn more at home with this fantastic selection of books guaranteed to inspire curious minds. To enter, simply retweet our tweet on Twitter today before 16.30.

DK Science Books

Here’s a sneak peek of the show!

A winner will be chosen at random and we’ll get in touch via Twitter. Good luck!

The Energy Show is running at the Science Museum until 31 August 2013. More information and tickets here.

Find out more about DK’s science books for children on the DK website.

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.

Wonder in science: Infinite Monkey Cage at the Science Museum

Will Stanley writes about the recent recording of BBC Radio 4′s Infinite Monkey Cage  in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre.

In their favourite episode of the current series, Professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince used the awe and wonder of science as their inspiration, discussing why all children have it and the reasons many adults don’t. And the venue for this recording? Well, it had to be the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum.

Brian Cox and Robin Ince, presenters of Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage

Brian Cox and Robin Ince, presenters of Radio 4′s The Infinite Monkey Cage

Guests on this special edition of BBC Radio 4’s witty, irreverent take on the scientific world included author and historian Richard Holmes, comedian Josie Long, American astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the Museum’s Director Ian Blatchford.

Ian explained that one reason that children love the Science Museum is because it is brimming with stories and old things; a refreshingly different thing to hear in the digital age. “We’re working on a project to show the history of communications, and when you show young people a telephone exchange or even a dial telephone, they are amazed by that.”

Comedian Josie Long “took it out on chemistry”, burning her notes after finishing exams in protest at not being able to study her favourite art subjects. After historian Richard Holmes described building a “magnesium bomb” in chemistry classes, Brian Cox exclaimed, “They are dangerous these arts people, because they were prevented from being scientists at a young age.”

The Infinite Monkey Cage panel at the Science Museum

The Infinite Monkey Cage panel at the Science Museum. From left: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Josie Long, Robin Ince, Brian Cox, Ian Blatchford and Richard Holmes.

Venturing safely back to the eighteenth century, Richard Holmes, author of the Age of Wonder, described his re-discovery of science when researching how Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Humphry Davy, a poet and a scientist, had worked together on Nitrous oxide experiments.

Questioned about whether we are losing our childlike wonder in the twenty first century, Neil deGrasse Tyson – a modern day Carl Sagan, known for his answer to the most astounding fact about the Universe – said that “a scientist is simply a child who never grew up, because they still wonder.”

The extended version of the show, featuring the wooden balls of pioneering chemist John Dalton, a coil of wire demonstrating how Michael Faraday tamed electrons and other remarkable objects from the Science Museum collection, can be downloaded here as a podcast.

Asked about their ultimate museum objects, the panel’s choices ranged from objects that are bigger than you are, to a working time machine and the Holy Grail.

Finally, comedian and rap artist Doc Brown closed Infinite Monkey Cage with this special tribute to his – in fact almost everyone’s - childhood hero, Sir David Attenborough.

Mallard 75: Celebrating Britain’s steam record

Sam Potts, Communications Officer at the National Railway Museum writes about a rather special gathering in York for Mallard75.

On 3 July 1938 Mallard made history when it became the fastest steam locomotive in the world. The locomotive reached 126mph on the East Coast main line, a record which still stands today, 75 years later.

Mallard’s triumphant record breaking team. From left – fireman Tommy Bray and driver Joe Duddington who had worked on Mallard since it was built and knew what it could do.

Mallard’s record breaking team. From left – fireman Tommy Bray and driver Joe Duddington. Credit: NRM

Mallard is a streamlined A4 Pacific, designed by Sir Nigel Gresley to be the flagship locomotive for the London & North Eastern Railway’s Silver Jubilee services. In total 35 A4s were built at Doncaster Works, with only 6 surviving the end of steam in 1968.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the record, the National Railway Museum brought together the four UK-based A4s in York.

Four remaining UK-based A4s in York for Mallard's 70th Anniversary.

Four remaining UK-based A4s in York for Mallard’s 70th Anniversary. Credit: NRM

For the 75th anniversary of the record, we decided to do something even more special – reunite all six survivors, including the two A4s which had been given to America and Canada in the 1960s.

Dwight D Eisenhower was presented to the National Railroad Museum Wisconsin in 1964.

Dwight D Eisenhower was presented to the National Railroad Museum Wisconsin in 1964. Credit: Daily Herald Archive/ NMEM / SSPL

In summer last year work began to bring the North American locomotives from their respective homes, back to the UK. Both locomotives were moved, appropriately enough, by rail to Halifax, Nova Scotia ready to be shipped to Liverpool.

Dwight D Eisenhower during its journey from Greenbay, Wisconsin to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Dwight D Eisenhower during its journey to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Credit: NRM

In October 2012, after a 2,527 mile journey by sea, both locomotives arrived back on English soil for the first time in over 40 years.

Dominion of Canada returns to English soil after 40 years abroad. Credit: Ant Clausen

Dominion of Canada returns to English soil after 40 years abroad. Credit: Ant Clausen

Both of the North American locomotives have been cosmetically restored to their former glory by the National Railway Museum, and have been on display in both York and Shildon.

Finishing touches are made to Dwight D Eisenhower, during its cosmetic restoration. Credit: NRM

Finishing touches are made to Dwight D Eisenhower, during its cosmetic restoration. Credit: NRM

Today is the first day of a fortnight-long celebration of Mallard’s record, and the first time that all six of the A4s will be seen together, which really is a once in a lifetime event.

Mallard is moved into place with five sister A4s to celebrate the world record. Credit: NRM

Mallard is moved into place with five sister A4s to celebrate the world record. Credit: NRM

To find out more about how you can join us to celebrate Mallard’s remarkable world record, visit nrm.org.uk/mallard75.

Listen to Your Heart

Dr. Corrinne Burns, Assistant Content Developer in the Contemporary Science team, writes about Listen to your Heart, a Live Science experiment where visitors explore interoception.

How good are you at figuring out what people are thinking? Can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? Alternatively, are you cool and collected? Can you regulate your emotional responses?

Surprisingly, researchers think that all these qualities could be related to something called interoception – that is, how good you are at sensing the workings of your inner body, like your heartbeat.

We are very familiar with what scientists call exteroceptive signals – sight, sound, smell and other sensory inputs which comes from outside the body. But until I met Dr Manos Tsakiris and his team, I had no idea that we also experience internal sensory input, produced from within our bodies by our ongoing physiological processes. These interoceptive signals create a kind of constant background sensory noise, and some of us are more aware of that noise than others.

Sections of the heart. Engraving made in Paris, 1864.

Sections of the heart. Engraving made in Paris, 1864. Credit: Florilegius / Science & Society Picture Library

Manos wants to know whether there’s a link between how good our interoceptive awareness is, and how well we engage with other people and our environment. We thought this sounded absolutely fascinating, and so we invited Manos and his research team to do some real live experiments right here in the Museum. Now we need you to come down and take part!

So what happens in the experiment? You’ll place your wrist on a sensor, which will count your heartbeats. Now, without looking at the sensor readout – that would be cheating! – you will be asked to really concentrate, and try to count your own heartbeats.

So this bit of the experiment will tell the guys how good your interoceptive awareness is. The next bit of the experiment will test how good you are at interpreting other people’s feelings, or seeing the world from someone else’s perspective. Or maybe how good you are at regulating your emotions, or whether you prefer to rely on your body or your vision to navigate your way around.

The whole thing will only take ten minutes or so, and you’d be contributing to some seriously cool research. This data could, ultimately, help us to understand how interoception creates our sense of self – that sense that there is a “me” residing within our body.

Manos and the team will be our Who Am I? gallery – every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday until 13th July for Listen to your Heart.

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.