Category Archives: Exhibitions

Celebrating Dorothy Hodgkin: Britain’s First Female Winner of a Nobel Science Prize

Rachel Boon, Content Developer, looks at the legacy of one of Britain’s most famous scientists, one of the stars of a new exhibition, Churchill’s Scientists, which opens in January 2015

Today marks exactly 50 years since Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, on 10 December, 1964. Hodgkin won the prestigious prize “for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”. She was only the third woman to win the prestigious prize – the crowning achievement of a 30 year career spent unravelling the structures of proteins, including insulin.

Dorothy Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1964 for her studies using X-ray crystallography, with which she worked out the atomic structure of penicillin, vitamin B-12 and insulin. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Dorothy Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1964 for her studies using X-ray crystallography, with which she worked out the atomic structure of penicillin, vitamin B-12 and insulin. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Hodgkin first found fame when she finally solved the structure of penicillin on Victory in Europe Day in 1945.

Alexander Fleming had identified the anti-bacterial properties of penicillium mould in 1928 but thought the substance was too unstable to isolate as a drug.  At Oxford University Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and Norman Heatley proved otherwise and successfully purified the antibiotic for human use in 1941.

Once the potential was realised, vast amounts of the drug were needed. Chain spoke of his excitement and challenged Hodgkin to find its structure, promising ‘One day we will have crystals for you.’

Penicillin saved many lives during the Second World War. Allied governments recognised the potential of the ‘wonder drug’ and the race was on to convert a laboratory discovery into a mass- produced drug.

Hodgkin unravelled the structure of penicillin using a method called X-ray crystallography - a technique used to identify the structure of molecules. Hodgkin had been fascinated by crystals from a young age and on her sixteenth birthday received a book about using X-rays to analyse crystals, which greatly inspired her.

You can see Hodgkin’s three dimensional atomic structure of penicillin in our new exhibition opening in January.

Molecular model of penicillin by Dorothy Hodgkin, c.1945. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Molecular model of penicillin by Dorothy Hodgkin, c.1945. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Another notable molecular structure Hodgkin tackled was that of vitamin B12, which she cracked with the help of Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE computer, which is on display in our Information Age gallery.

The Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), 1950. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

The Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), 1950. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

These achievements had an immense impact on chemistry, biochemistry and medical science, establishing the power of X-ray crystallography, and changing the practice of synthetic chemistry.

She was one of the first people in April 1953 to travel from Oxford to Cambridge to see the model of the double helix structure of DNA, constructed by Briton Francis Crick and American James Watson, based on data acquired by Rosalind Franklin, which can also be seen in the Museum’s  Making the Modern World gallery.

Crick and Watson's DNA molecular model, 1953. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Crick and Watson’s DNA molecular model, 1953. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Hodgkin was awarded the Order of Merit, only the second woman to be honoured in this way after Florence Nightingale. She was also the first woman to be awarded the Royal Society’s Copley medal, its oldest and most prestigious award.

She died in July 1994, aged 84. In her honour, the Royal Society established the prestigious Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for early career stage researchers.

The origins of the technique she used date back to when X-rays, one of the most remarkable discoveries of the late 19th century, had been shown to react strangely when exposed to crystals, producing patterns of spots on a photographic plate.

You can find out more about Dorothy Hodgkin in our new exhibition, Churchill’s Scientists, which opens on 23 January 2015. The exhibition will look at the triumphs in science during Churchill’s period in power, both in war and in the post-war era.

The end of AIDS?

Nicola Burghall, Content Developer, blogs about HIV and AIDS, the subject of a new display in the Museums Who Am I? gallery

December 1st 2014 marks the 26th World AIDS Day. The UNAIDS ‘90-90-90’ initiative sets ambitious global targets to end the epidemic by 2030. So how far have we come since the epidemic gained global attention in the 1980s? Here at the Science Museum we decided to explore this question with our new exhibit - The end of AIDS?

The new display ‘The end of AIDS?’ in the Museum’s Who Am I? gallery. Credit: Science Museum

The new display ‘The end of AIDS?’ in the Museum’s Who Am I? gallery. Image Credit: Science Museum

The focal point of the exhibit is an animation called ‘Growing up with HIV’. It was created in collaboration with an inspiring group of young people who live with HIV and the National Children’s Bureau. It tells the story of a young mum-to-be looking forward to the birth of her first child, while she reflects on her life and what it was like to grow up with HIV.


The group created the animation in just four workshops. First they visited the Who Am I? gallery, where they learned about our visitors and science communication. We then discussed what HIV means to them and interviewed an expert about what it does. Over the following sessions we narrowed down what were the most important messages and how to help visitors relate to them.

A key idea was to challenge some of the commonly held misconceptions by explaining what HIV does and the success of current treatment. They decided to tell a personal story about the struggles we can all face growing up.

Struggle and progress turned out to be a strong theme for the animation – referring both to science (trying to improve treatment for HIV) and people (trying to live full, healthy and happy lives).

The rest of the display was built up around the conversations we had during the workshops and from talking with experts. A key message is the importance of testing. In the UK 20% of the estimated 100,000 people who live with HIV are not aware of their infection. In the display we included a postal sampling kit from the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is available for free to high-risk groups.

You can also find a concert programme from the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, held in 1992. It was at this event that 100,000 red ribbons were first distributed in the UK. The ribbon is now the iconic symbol of public awareness and support for people living with HIV and AIDS.

From our stores we brought out a collection of drug packaging which represents all the drugs an HIV patient may have taken in one month in 1999. Today some patients can take just one pill a day and trials have begun for a monthly injection. The last section of the display looks at the latest research and includes the story of Timothy Ray Brown – the only person to have been cured of HIV.

I hope you will be able to visit the display and find it as enlightening and inspiring as I have working on it. I’d like to end this post with a few words from our group:

‘We are all going through our own struggles, but we can achieve anything we want’.

The end of AIDS? opened on 28 November and will be on display in the Science Museum’s Who Am I? gallery until late February 2015.

Imitation Game Special Preview at the Science Museum

Laura Singleton, Press Officer, describes an extraordinary celebration of codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing at an exclusive screening of the new film, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch

Alan Turing’s remarkable story is “heart-breaking and shocking, but important to tell” said Morten Tyldum, Director of The Imitation Game, at a special preview screening at the Science Museum`s IMAX theatre.

Dave Calhoun, Global Film Editor at Time Out in conversation with Morten Tyldum, director of The Imitation Game. Image credit: Science Museum / Jennie Hills

Dave Calhoun, Global Film Editor at Time Out in conversation with Morten Tyldum, Director of The Imitation Game. Image credit: Science Museum / Jennie Hills. 

Turing was “a puzzle and a mystery to explore” continued Tyldum when asked about his inspiration for making the film. He “wasn’t just a mathematician, he was a philosopher. It’s a tragedy he couldn’t stay with us longer” he added during a conversation with Dave Calhoun, Global Film Editor of Time Out about the making of the film, to a packed audience.

The conversation touched on the importance of authenticity – by finding locations (Turing’s old school and Bletchley Park) that worked best to tell the story, and praised the efforts of the actors for their emotional performances.

Morten Tyldum talks about  the making of the film to an audience in the Science Museum's IMAX. Image credit: Science Museum / Jennie Hills

Morten Tyldum talks about the making of the film to an audience in the Science Museum’s IMAX. Image credit: Science Museum / Jennie Hills

Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, began proceedings by welcoming guests and thanking Studio Canal for choosing the Science Museum as the venue for the screening. He declared that “the making of this film represents yet another welcome sign that Turing is at long last getting the recognition that he so richly deserves.”

He spoke of the growing public recognition of Turing’s incredible achievements, demonstrated by a recent public poll, in which over 50,000 people voted, in which Turing’s Universal machine emerged as the most important innovation in science and technology in the past century. The vote demonstrated that “even arcane mathematics can garner popular support”, which the Museum is keen to exploit in the forthcoming Mathematics gallery opening in 2016.

He then moved onto Benedict Cumberbatch’s visit to the Museum’s  award-winning Turing exhibition to help his preparation for  the role of Turing and the Pilot ACE computer, now one of the star objects in the new Information Age gallery, before giving a warm welcome to Tyldum.

Guests admire an Enigma machine in the reception held in the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum / Jennie Hills

Guests admire an Enigma machine in the reception held in the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum / Jennie Hills

At an earlier drinks reception in the Information Age gallery, an Enigma machine, brought out specially for the event, attracted crowds as Tyldum was joined by members of Turing’s family to pose for photographs.

The Imitation Game Director Morten Tyldum pictured with members of the Turing family in front of 1951-164 National Physical Laboratory's Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) pilot model and 1980-1200, Three-ring Enigma cypher machine. From Left to right; Mark Barnes (Husband of Rachel), Rachel Barnes (Daughter of Inagh Payne, Turings niece) Morten Tyldum, Tom Barnes (Son of Rachel) Shuna Hunt (Alan Turing's niece) Nevil Hunt (Son of Shuna Hunt).

The Imitation Game Director Morten Tyldum pictured with members of the Turing family in front of the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) pilot model and 1980-1200, Three-ring Enigma cypher machine. From Left to right; Mark Barnes (Husband of Rachel), Rachel Barnes (Daughter of Inagh Payne, Turing’s niece) Morten Tyldum, Tom Barnes (Son of Rachel) Shuna Hunt (Alan Turing’s niece) Nevil Hunt (Son of Shuna Hunt). Image credit: Science Museum / Jennie Hills

The reception provided VIP guests including Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, science writer Marcus Chown and journalist and former Science Museum Trustee Janet Street-Porter, with an opportunity to marvel at the Pilot ACE computer and many of the other objects in the new gallery.

Dogs in Space

By Doug Millard, Deputy Keeper of Technology and Engineering and Julia Tcharfas, Curatorial Assistant.

On this day (3 November) in 1957, just one month after the launch of Sputnik, a dog called Laika became the first living creature to orbit the Earth. But sadly, with no means of returning her safely to Earth, she was on a one-way mission. Enough reserve supplies were prepared for Laika to survive one week in orbit inside the Sputnik 2 satellite, but she overheated and died only a few hours after launch.

Dog spacesuit and ejector seat used on suborbital rocket flights launched from Kapustin Yar, Soviet Union, c. 1955. Credit: Zvezda Research, Development and Production Enterprise, photo by Rosizo.

Dog spacesuit and ejector seat used on suborbital rocket flights launched from Kapustin Yar, Soviet Union, c. 1955. Credit: Zvezda Research, Development and Production Enterprise, photo by Rosizo.

Laika’s flight followed earlier stratospheric flights with dogs as crew. These sub-orbital missions were crucial for gathering knowledge of what happens to living creatures in space, as well as testing the equipment, ejection and parachute landing systems that would later be used by cosmonauts. The space dogs were used all the way up until the first manned space flight and after, flying in Vostok-type spacecraft.

On 22 July 1951, after six months of training, two small dogs nicknamed Tsygan and Dezik were launched from the site of the first Soviet cosmodrome in a region called Kapustin Yar. At a height of 110 km, the head of the rocket containing the dogs separated and began to free-fall back down to Earth. They experienced intense G-forces during descent, but after a heavy jolt from the parachute, the cabin containing the two four-legged pilots slowed and touched down safely. The trip, which lasted 15 minutes from start to finish, made Tsygan and Dezik the first animals to experience space flight and to emerge from the craft unharmed.

The completely new field of space biology was asking many questions about whether humans and other animals could survive an extended trip into outer space. The scientists involved needed to test the boundaries of endurance on actual living creatures. Was it possible to survive the extreme accelerations and decelerations of launching and landing? How could basic life-support needs – such as air, water and food – be supplied away from the home planet? And finally, would the experience of weightlessness inside a small capsule be harmful? Scientists needed to test life-support equipment, develop a training regimen for crews and perform tests in space. All of this had to be completed before human crews could embark on space exploration.

By the time of the first Soviet space dog crew, American scientists had attempted a number of launches using monkeys in V2 and Aerobee rockets, and all of them ended in the death of the animals. But the information collected during the flights demonstrated that the animals could cope with the intense G-forces and stresses of the rocket launches.

Chief Designer Sergei Korolev decided that the Soviet space programme would, on the other hand, work with dogs. The choice of dogs, ‘man’s best friend’, over monkeys, among our closest genetic relatives, was based on rational reasoning springing from emotional attachment. The Russian scientists believed they could build stronger bonds with the animals and so ensure their obedience. They also believed that the dogs eking out an existence on the harsh streets of Moscow would possess a survivalist temperament.

Belka and Strealka in the arms of Oleg Gazenko, following their day-long space flight, 1960. Credit: Institute of Biomedical Problems, Moscow.

Belka and Strealka in the arms of Oleg Gazenko, following their day-long space flight, 1960. Credit: Institute of Biomedical Problems, Moscow.

There were strict criteria for scouting the first star squad of dogs. They had to be female, because the specialised clothing and toilet technology was easier to tailor to them. And they needed to be small in size: 6 to 7 kg each to accommodate the strict weight limit for the rocket. These dogs also needed to have light-coloured fur, in order to show up clearly in front of the on-board camera. The scientists had even attempted to bleach the fur of one of their favourite darker dogs without success.

In the six years of stratospheric dog flights only a few launches ended in tragedy. But through these sacrifices enough information was gathered on whether living beings were likely to survive a trip into space. After the launch of an untrained puppy called ZIB (a quick replacement for a runaway dog), Chief Designer Korolev was ecstatic. At the landing site, when greeted by the happy puppy, he announced to his colleagues:

‘Space travellers will soon be flying in our spaceships with state visas – on a holiday!’

These early tests, conducted in secrecy, culminated in the final question: could a living creature survive a prolonged stay in zero gravity?

The most successful canine mission was perhaps the one performed by Belka and Strelka in 1960, who completed 18 orbits and returned to Earth in perfect health. They were greeted by an international press corps at a news conference in Moscow and their friendly faces were broadcast around the world. Belka went on to have a litter of puppies, one of which was given to the American first lady Jacqueline Kennedy by Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev.

White House dog Pushinka, a puppy of the Soviet space dog Belka. Credit: Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

White House dog Pushinka, a puppy of the Soviet space dog Belka. Credit: Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

At the time of this gift, Korolev already knew the name of the cosmonaut who would be the first to fly into space. By the time of Gagarin’s flight, 48 dogs had been to space and 20 had perished.

Discover the dramatic history of the Russian space programme in our new exhibition, Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, opening soon.

Wonderful Things: Memory box

Rosanna Denyer from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.

By 2015, 850,000 people in the UK will have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a term used to describe the symptoms of diseases that cause memory loss, confusion and problems with communication. Dementia is progressive,so the symptoms become worse as time goes on.

Until 1906 it was thought that dementia was an inevitable part of growing old. This changed when Dr Alois Alzheimer,a leading neurologist who researched the brain and the nervous system, gave a lecture about a disease which caused memory loss, hallucinations and problems with communicating and understanding. He was describing what we now know as Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Doctors now know that the death of neuron cells in the brain is the main cause of dementia. Neurons need nutrients, oxygen and close contact with other cells in order to survive. Scientists are always looking for possible cures for dementia, a great deal of the research is aimed at treating the symptoms, for example trying to delay memory loss.

However, treatment for memory loss does not lie solely in the hands of scientists. Memory boxes, such as the one on display in the Who Am I? gallery, are used by people with dementia, with their friends and families, to help them retain memories.

Memory Box

Memory Box in the Who Am I? gallery at the Science Museum

Photographs and objects that have special memories connected to them can be kept inside the boxes. The person with dementia can look through the box and be reminded of people, places and events from their lives. They can be used to trigger memories of a past career or love.

In the next 10 years a further one million people in the UK will develop dementia. Whilst scientists research and test treatments, families and communities will continue to develop ways to manage the symptoms. A memory box may seem simple, but it is a method which is accessible, affordable and effective.

The issue of how to treat and manage dementia is experienced by communities all over the world. By 2030, the number of people with dementia worldwide is estimated to reach 65 million.

Some countries are finding unique ways to help people live with the symptoms of dementia. One care home in Amsterdam has created an entire village which is ‘dementia friendly.’ The 152 residents live in the small village of Hogewey which has a restaurant, theatre, beauty salon and village shop.  The village is staffed by healthcare workers and volunteers and gives elderly people with dementia a safe environment in which to enjoy everyday life.

What memories would you want to keep in your memory box?

The memory box can be found in the Who Am I? gallery, on the first floor of the Wellcome Wing in the Science Museum.

Celebrating the opening of Information Age

By Laura Singleton, Press Officer

On Friday, we were delighted to welcome Her Majesty The Queen to open our pioneering new Information Age gallery at the Science Museum. The Queen opened the gallery by sending her first tweet, 76 years after her first visit to the Museum.

The Queen sends her first tweet to open the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The Queen sends her first tweet to open the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The historic moment took place in front of around 600 supporters of the Museum who had gathered to celebrate the opening of Information Age. The audience included communications entrepreneurs, authors and experts, from Baroness Lane Fox, Hermann Hauser and Mo Ibrahim to Prof Steve FurberJames GleickTom Standage and Sir Nigel Shadbolt.

Guests received a warm welcome from Ian Blatchford, Science Museum Director, before being treated to a performance of John Adams’ ‘A Short ride in a fast machine’ by the Philharmonia concert band.

Standing in front of the monumental aerial inductance coil from Rugby Radio which was donated to the Science Museum by BT, Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group, Lead Principal Sponsor of the gallery, spoke of his tremendous pride in seeing the iconic tuning coil reassembled and on public display.

The Queen meets Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group at the opening of the Information Age gallery.

The Queen meets Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

He used the opportunity to highlight some triumphs from BT’s history of pioneering new technologies, from the first electric telegram to the first transatlantic telephone call. He said that the “spirit of the Information Age creates a future of endless possibilities” and that BT was thrilled to be involved in the gallery.

Simon Segars, CEO of ARM, Principal Sponsor, stressed the growing need for more young people to take up careers in engineering, which he described as “vital to the future prosperity of the UK”.

The Queen meets Simon Segars, CEO of ARM. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen meets Simon Segars, CEO of ARM. Image credit: Science Museum

Mr Segars described how his first visit to the Science Museum as a child had inspired him to pursue a career in engineering. He expressed his hopes that today’s young people would take similar inspiration from the Information Age gallery.

The relationship between the arts and science was the focus of Patricia E Harris’ speech as CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Principal Funder of the gallery. Ms Harris spoke of Bloomberg’s interest in supporting institutions that harness the power of both arts and technology, praising Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s new digital and interactive artwork in the gallery. Information Age was, she said, a “perfect fit” for Bloomberg’s support, as the Science Museum is one of the most popular museums in the UK.

The Queen meets Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Brian McClendon, VP Engineering, Google at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen meets Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Brian McClendon, VP Engineering, Google at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The Museum’s ability to inspire the next generation, was further highlighted by Brian McClendon, VP Engineering at Google and the founder of Google Earth. Google is a Principal Funder of the gallery and has contributed a number of objects including a Google Corkboard Server which is on display in the Web section of the gallery.

On arrival at the Museum, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were greeted by the Lord Lieutenant, Sir David Brewer, the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Councillor Maighread Condon-Simmonds, Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum and Dr Gill Samuels, Interim Chairman of the Science Museum Group. Her Majesty also received a welcome cheer in the Energy Hall from a group of children from Marlborough Primary School who were visiting the Museum that day.

The Queen is greeted by school children as she enters the Museum with Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen is greeted by children from Marlborough Primary School as she enters the Museum with Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford. Image credit: Tim Anderson

Within the Information Age gallery, Lead Curator Tilly Blyth gave The Queen a short tour of some of the exhibition highlights, from a bright yellow call box from Cameroon to the BBC’s first radio transmitter from 1922. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh also visited the broadcast area of the gallery and listened for the first time to recordings of the personal recollections of people whose first experience of television was watching the Coronation in 1953.

Following the tour, Ian Blatchford welcomed The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, describing Information Age as “the beginning of a renaissance for the Museum”. He thanked BT for its generous donation of 80 objects to the gallery and expressed his delight that “our friends at CERN have lent us Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer, the first web server.”

Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford welcomes The Queen to the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford welcomes The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh to the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Carole Souter CBE, Chief Executive of The Heritage Lottery Fund emphasised the importance of collaboration between public and private donors and their £6 million contribution to the gallery. She spoke warmly of HLF’s “great respect and fondness” for the Science Museum and our commitment to bringing science and technology to life in a way that everyone can relate to.

The Queen meets Carole Souter, CEO of the Heritage Lottery Fund at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen meets Carole Souter, CEO of the Heritage Lottery Fund at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

The Queen later accepted an Honorary Fellowship of the Science Museum from Dr Gill Samuels, Interim Chairman of the Trustees. The presentation was made by Michael G Wilson OBE, Chairman of the Science Museum Foundation and Ms Edwina Dunn, Trustee of the Foundation. The Fellowship is an honour normally awarded to outstanding scientists.

The Queen is presented with a Science Museum Fellowship at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Tim Anderson

The Queen is presented with a Science Museum Fellowship at the opening of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Inviting The Queen to open the gallery, Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford remarked on how royalty had embraced communications technology, from the day Queen Victoria took an interest in the invention of the telephone, which was demonstrated to her in January 1878 by Alexander Graham Bell at Osborne House, Isle of Wight. “Your Majesty has followed in this tradition,” said Mr Blatchford. “You made the first live Christmas broadcast in 1957 and an event relished by historians took place on 26 March 1976, when you became the first monarch to send an email, during a visit to the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment.”

He then invited The Queen to join him to “send your first Tweet”. The Queen removed a glove to send her pioneering tweet from the @BritishMonarchy Twitter account.

Following a fanfare from the Philharmonia, The Queen was presented with a specially created bouquet of flowers by Catherine Patterson, the daughter of Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group. Made from punch cards and telegraph printing tape, the bouquet was designed by Mark Champkins, the Science Museum’s Inventor in Residence.

Catherine Patterson presents an 'information bouquet' to HM The Queen. Image credit: Tim Anderson

Catherine Patterson presents an ‘information bouquet’ to The Queen. Image credit: Science Museum

The Information Age gallery is now open to the public on the second floor of the Science Museum. More information can be found on our website.

Information Age has been made possible through the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, BT (Lead Principal Sponsor), ARM (Principal Sponsor), Bloomberg Philanthropies and Google (Principal Funders). Major Funders include the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Bonita Trust and Motorola Solutions Foundation. Additional support has been provided by Accenture (Connect Circle Sponsor) as well as the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Cambridge Wireless (CW) Qualcomm Foundation, The David and Claudia Harding Foundation and other individual donors. The Science Museum would also like to thank the BBC for their assistance.

Open for Business: The story of contemporary British industry

Curator Ben Russell reflects on the story of contemporary British industry, on show in our Open for Business exhibition. 

Our collections include some of most celebrated icons of manufacturing and engineering in history, including Puffing Billy, Newcomen’s engine and Stephensons’s Rocket. These objects embody the ingenuity, resourcefulness and resolve of the engineers and manufacturers who created them.

Stephenson's 'Rocket' (1829) on display at the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ (1829) on display at the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

Fast forward to the present day, and it seems like many people’s perceptions of manufacturing continue to be dominated by heavy industrial images of men in boiler suits bathed in oil, up to their elbows in a machine. Of course, that’s still an integral part of industry, and one not without its attractions. But what we don’t often recognise is just how much contemporary British manufacturing has (literally) smashed these conventions into pieces.

Many people think Britain doesn’t actually make things anymore, but the reality is very different. Making things and selling them around the world remains strategically important for Britain, and its resilience continues to draw many manufacturing companies back to the UK after relocating to the Far East. As well as the mass production of everything from tin can tops to cars, many British companies thrive by carving out their own unique niches, from building yachts to weaving fine textiles. Many companies make a reputation for the excellence of their product: Quality sells.

Princess Yachts. Plymouth. GB. 2013. Open for Business © Chris Steele-Perkins, Magnum Photos

Princess Yachts. Plymouth. GB. 2013. Open for Business © Chris Steele-Perkins, Magnum Photos

Our exhibition Open for Business tells the story of contemporary British manufacturing through the images of nine Magum photographers. They each concentrated on a different region of the UK, visiting one-man businesses and FTSE 100 companies like Airbus and Renishaw, to try and create a snapshot of industry across the UK.

Their subjects can seem surprising, with photographs that include Aardman animators and theatre propmakers, as well as shipbuilding and factory workers. Renowned photographer David Hurn wanted to show the variety of manufacturing in Wales. Rather than just focus on the coal mines more commonly associated with industry in Wales, he chose to photograph Corgi Hosiery, a Welsh company that produces a range of socks designed by Prince Charles.

Renewable Energy. Scotland. GB. 2013. Open for Business © Stuart Franklin, Magnum Photos

Renewable Energy. Scotland. GB. 2013. Open for Business © Stuart Franklin, Magnum Photos

The incredible diversity of British manufacturing challenges the perceptions of what’s needed behind-the-scenes to make things. Roles in contemporary UK industry are vast, varied and can no longer be defined by the image of men in boiler suits.

Of course, it was ever thus: in the Industrial Revolution, Britain’s reputation as workshop of the world was attributed, not to the rise of the machines, but to the excellence of her people. In 1803, a French commentator praised ‘the wonderful practical skills’ of Britain’s ‘adventurers in the useful application of knowledge, and the superiority of her workmen in rapid and masterly execution’. The same could equally be said about making things in Britain today.

See more stunning images in our Open for Business exhibition, which closes 2 November 2014. 

Make Life Worth Living – Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter, 1968-72

In this post Hedy van Erp, co-curator of the new Media Space exhibition Make Life Worth Living, looks at the background of the exhibition and the significance of the photographs on display.

Nick Hedges was commissioned by housing charity Shelter to document the poor conditions suffered by many around 1970. He travelled around the UK for four years and photographed people in slum properties in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and other major cities. A selection of these images – 100 out of the 1000 vintage prints held by the National Media Museum – can now be seen in the Virgin Media Studio at Media Space.

Children playing at 'Weddings', The Gorbals, Glasgow, 1970 © Nick Hedges  National Media Museum, Bradford

Children playing at ‘Weddings’, The Gorbals, Glasgow, 1970 © Nick Hedges National Media Museum, Bradford

Detached from the original Shelter context and combined with many images which have never been seen before, Make Life Worth Living does not just show the misery in housing around 1970, but is in fact a cinematic narrative of Hedges criss-crossing the UK from 1968 to 1972. The selection is reminiscent of Robert Frank‘s groundbreaking book The Americans. Like Frank, Hedges at the time was a true ‘noir’ photographer.

It has been said that Nick Hedges’ work for Shelter is strongly related to the American tradition of social documentary established by photographers like Lewis Hine and Paul Strand. Moreover, an analogy can be found in the work of Walker Evans, when he was hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the poor conditions of the farmers in pre-Second World War America.

“Make Life Worth Living”, terrace of back-to-back houses, Leeds, West Yorkshire, July 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

“Make Life Worth Living”, terrace of back-to-back houses, Leeds, West Yorkshire, July 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Hedges also continued the rich tradition of socially committed photography in Britain. In fact, few photographers have captured better than Hedges what is both so upsetting and captivating in the look of Britain around 1970. Yet this is more than the aesthetics of poverty. Hedges’ Britain is at times a gritty place full of shadows, where you get the feeling things may not end well, but you still can’t stop looking.

Kitchen of slum house, Birmingham Duddleston, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Kitchen of slum house, Birmingham Duddleston, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

The images taken outside the derelict houses – street scenes, city and rural landscapes – have a casual, almost drive-by feel. But you quickly see how carefully Hedges chose the images he shot over four years. Signs, interiors, children and animals keep cropping up, echoing from image to image. These images possess an energy and a visual harshness that contradict what may at first glance be mistaken for objective photojournalism.

It’s not only permissible, but also rewarding to take pleasure in Hedges’ images; the way light falls on a kitchen floor, the terraced houses running down to a factory, the pile of shoes in the window of a second hand shoe shop, or the vacant stare of a mother holding her baby. When life is hard, which it often is in these photographs, we have to look hard, but when we do, Hedges shows us beauty in many places.

A playground by the shipyards. Govan, Glasgow, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

A playground by the shipyards. Govan, Glasgow, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Apart from showing beauty, disconnection and decay, Hedges’ poignant work offers us an important part of Europe’s past and culture. 40 years later, his Shelter archive is an incredibly strong body of work with which Hedges created history with his camera, history that happened in the form of scenes that can now become symbolic archetypes embedded in a national consciousness. Nick Hedges shows us life worth seeing – the words ‘worth seeing’ in fact being a gross understatement.

Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter, 1968-72 runs in the Virgin Media Studio at Media Space until 18 January 2015. Entry to the exhibition is free.

Grand Designs For Information Age

Nick Rolls, Design Project Leader at Universal Design Studio, reflects on the design of the Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery.

Artist's impression of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Universal Design Studio

Artist’s impression of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Universal Design Studio

In early 2011, we were commissioned to work on the Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery.

From the outset, we knew this project would create a special challenge. With an impressive range of assets –  200 years of inventions, 800 unique objects and a vast gallery space measuring 2,500m2, this would be a unique gallery within the Science Museum.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was organising the huge empty space into a navigable gallery whilst giving each object and story a platform on which to shine.

We started with the largest and most impressive object of all – the aerial tuning coil from Rugby Radio Station, which we decided to place at the heart of the gallery.

Made from timber and webs of cables, this incredible object looks almost primitive in construction. This ambiguity made it a great tool for us to draw visitors into the centre of the gallery and make them question their preconceptions of modern communications. It is a world away from the common communication devices that spring to mind – mobile phones, micro-chips and digiboxes.

We learnt that the tuning coil was housed underneath a copper shroud – we think to dissipate heat and prevent the timber structure from igniting. This provided us with a material that resonated with the object’s history and a warm, reflective surface for the display. The coil is located where visitors can learn about the transmitter, signal and receiver.

From the centre you can see that the gallery is divided into six networks – each one telling stories from a specific section of communication technology. Placed around the outsides of the gallery, similar to the idea of a town square or plaza, we placed large double height display cases. These display structures are designed to house a vast array of objects.

Floorplan of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Universal Design Studio

Floorplan of the Information Age gallery. Image credit: Universal Design Studio

These display structures serve several purposes. One function is to hold up the elevated walkway that encircles the gallery. More importantly, they allow visitors to engage with the incredible objects and stories told in each of the six networks. For this reason, they became known as storyboxes. To provide a varied experience, both a producer and a ‘voice’ were assigned to a storybox for each network, creating an installation of their conception.

The sheer quantity of objects on display within the gallery required meticulous planning of the space.

Stories with large numbers of objects fill showcases, which in turn create smaller spaces and routes throughout the gallery. A key concern was to ensure visitors knew where their attention should be focussed, especially in a gallery without a prescribed route.

We crafted a space that used solid forms and open apertures within the gallery, providing clear groups of objects along with vistas from one section to another.

Lastly, we designed a large encircling walkway that loops around the gallery. We introduced this to provide an overview of the space and an alternative perspective of the gallery. We felt it was important for visitors to understand the context of each story within the scheme of the gallery – allowing them to connect objects from one end of the space to the other.

Fundamentally, this is a gallery about incredible objects, people and stories. The format of the gallery plays a supporting role to these awe-inspiring exhibits. We hope visitors will enjoy experiencing the gallery through the space we have designed.

The Information Age gallery will be welcoming visitors from 25 October 2014. For more information visit sciencemuseum.org.uk/informationage.

Life on the Exchange – Stories From The Hello Girls

Sunday 5 October marks the 54th anniversary of the Enfield Exchange switching from manual to automatic exchange. To celebrate, Jen Kavanagh, Audience Engagement Manager, spoke to telephone operators from the 1950s and 1960s who shared their stories for the new Information Age gallery.

Today when we pick up the telephone, the digital automated system makes connecting a call quick and simple. But before this automatic system was introduced, telephone exchange operators had to help us on our way.

Manual Telephone Exchange Enfield. October 1960. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Manual Telephone Exchange Enfield. October 1960. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

In the first half of the 20th century, women worked across the country, connecting calls and helping people get in touch with one another. The work required concentration, patience and an excellent manner, but the community created within these exchanges was fun and social once shifts had ended.

Women working on the Exchange at Enfield. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Women working on the Exchange at Enfield. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

One of the last manual telephone exchanges was based at Enfield, north London. The Enfield Exchange’s switch from manual to automatic exchange, marked the end of an era in communication history. A section of the Enfield Exchange, donated to the Science Museum by BT, forms a part of the Museum’s collection, and will go on display in the new Information Age gallery.

To bring this amazing piece of history to life, we spoke to women who worked as telephone exchange operators in the 1950s and early 1960s, recording their stories through oral history interviews.

These former ‘hello girls’ gave their insight into how the exchange worked and what the job of an operator involved, but also shared wonderful stories about the friends they made and the social life they experienced once they’d clocked off.

A switchboard from the Enfield Exchange, which will go on display in the Science Musuem's new Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

A switchboard from the Enfield Exchange, donated to the Science Museum by BT, which will go on display in the new Information Age gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

One of these former operators, Jean Singleton, shared her thoughts on what made a good telephone operator, even if she didnít feel she was one!

‘How do I know? [Laughs] I wasn’t a good telephone operator, I was a naughty telephone operator! Well, first of all, you had to have a nice speaking voice, you couldn’t go there if you were a Cockney, speaking in a Cockney way, or a Northern way, you had to speak the Queen’s English, or King’s English as it was then. I suppose I had a decent enough voice. You had to be polite, and the customer sort of was always right, more or less, you know, you didn’t swear back at somebody if they swore at you, you weren’t allowed to do that sort of thing. If you found you were in trouble with a person on the telephone, you just passed them over to your supervisor, and they would deal with it.’

A close up view of the Enfield switchboard. Image credit: Science Museum.

A close up view of the Enfield switchboard. Image credit: Science Museum.

Another former operator, Rose Young, talked about some of the kit that was used whilst working on the exchange.

‘The first headsets were very heavy, you’d have a mouthpiece that came up in front of you on a plastic piece that had a tape on that you hung round your neck. And then the headpiece was like a metal band with a very heavy earpiece, you had one ear free so that you could hear what was going on around you and one that you covered, that covered your ear, but they were very heavy.’

Visitors to Information Age will have the opportunity to hear more from these incredible women through an interactive audio experience which will sit alongside the original section of the Enfield Exchange. We’ll just have to make sure we edit the cheeky bits!

Discover more about these stories when the Information Age gallery opens on Saturday 25 October.