Category Archives: Explainers

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Building Bridges – ‘Guardians of the Gallery’ VIP event for students

Anna Fisher, Learning Resources Project Coordinator, shares the latest news from the Building Bridges project.

An amazing VIP late-night event occurred at the Science Museum last week for students involved in the Building Bridges project.  The students have been working with us all year and this special celebration was a chance for them to show off the work they have done to their families, and get involved in a variety of exciting activities such as extracting strawberry DNA, eating ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, testing their tolerance of chillies and getting creative with SM:Art Mechanics.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream tasting © Science Museum

For the past three years the Building Bridges project has been working with schools across London and Reading to expose and engage students with science inside and outside the classroom, and at home with their families. All of the students involved have followed a year-long programme made up of Outreach shows, classroom resources, museum activities, workshops with research scientists and family activities.

The project hopes to use the new resources that have been developed to better engage families in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). All of the resources have been researched throughout the project and we hope that they will help support both informal and formal learning.

This year students have all worked really hard and contributed to their own exhibition, ‘Guardians of the Gallery’, which was showcased at the VIP event. This exhibition showcased objects that the students had chosen to represent how science and technology helps us to solve everyday problems. For example, a dress made from LEDs with a solar-powered handbag was chosen as something that you could wear to a VIP event, a self-driving car was the travel option of choice for one student working out how they were going to get to their holiday destination, and a daylight simulating lamp was suggested by one student as something that would help them get up early.

Guardians of the gallery exhibition © Science Museum

With the help of some incredible teachers, wonderful students and the helpful teams within our Learning department, the Building Bridges project has been able to develop and deliver a number of new, successful activities and events for this year’s programme. We are looking forward to meeting the students taking part in the project next year, and using the research findings to increase science engagement and literacy even further.

If you are looking for exciting activities for your family in the Museum head to our events calendar to see what’s on.  The Learning team run fun free science shows in the Museum every day of the week, with extra workshops, storytelling, drama characters and family-friendly tours at weekends and during the school holidays.

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Explainer Vines

Eddie, a Science Museum Explainer, on demonstrating science in six seconds.

Are you following the Science Museum Learning team on Twitter? We share lots of interesting facts, ideas and suggestions for teachers (and for anyone else interested in learning about science as well).

We post Vine videos highlighting some of the best experiments and exhibits that we have at the Science Museum. I make these short six second videos, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my favourite videos with you.

Alka seltzer rocket

The alka seltzer rocket is part of our Materials demo. The film canister is fired into the air when gas produced by the alka seltzer tablet expands inside. This was quite a tough Vine to film as the launch is a little unpredictable!

Cornflour on speaker

This experiment is part of our Sound demo, although it’s actually an experiment that demonstrates a material phenomenon. This substance is cornflour mixed with water, which is a non-newtonian fluid. When sound travels through the mix, it gives it energy to lock together in a solid shape.

Newton’s Wheel

The Newton’s Wheel is part of out Light Demo, and is one of our most popular Vines to date. This very simple experiment shows how white light is made up of all of the different colours of the rainbow blended together. When the wheel spins around, our eyes can’t differentiate all the different colours, and it appears as white.

Jumping Ring

You can find the jumping ring in Launchpad, in the Magnetism section. The metal ring is launched into the air by a powerful electromagnet at the base of the pole. This experiment needed the help of Explainer Ben to press the button for me, so we could get the jump in shot!

Plasticine Peter

This smashing experiment is part of our Supercool schools event, which is all about heat and its effect on different materials. We use plenty of liquid nitrogen in this show to demonstrate some of these temperature changes, such as letting our friend here, Plasticine Peter, “cool off”. This is my favourite vine that we’ve ever produced.

CO2 in Bubble Mix

When you put solid carbon dioxide into water, it begins to sublime. This means it goes straight from a solid into a gas, without going through a liquid phase. When we sublime it in bubble mix, it makes some incredible CO2 filled bubbles, which in our tube, makes a Bubble Volcano! It also created a bit of a mess on the floor!

We’ve done almost eighty Vines now on the channel, and there’s more on the way, so make sure to stay tuned to @SM_Learn for all the best experiments that the Science Museum has to offer, in six seconds or less.

Equations in Action

Ben, an Explainer at the museum, looks at some of the equations in action in our Launchpad gallery.

In Launchpad, if there’s one scientist we can’t get enough of, it’s Sir Isaac Newton. Although he lived around 300 years ago, the influence of his brilliant ideas still pervade many of our interactive exhibits and, if asked to name a famous scientist, his name is never far from people’s lips. A true giant of maths and physics, it wasn’t until Einstein that scientists found a different set of shoulders to stand on in order to see further.

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Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton Image credit: Science Museum/SSPL

Much could be said about his work in optics (he named the spectrum, for example) or his work in aiding the entry of pets into the home (supposedly, he invented the cat flap), but it is his work into classical mechanics that we constantly refer to in Launchpad, i.e. how stuff moves.

The Water Rocket is a perfect example of his laws of motion. In this hourly demonstration, a mixture of air and water is pumped into a plastic bottle, leading to an increase in pressure inside the bottle, so that, when the launch button is pressed, the “rocket” speeds down a track at up to forty miles an hour.

It is Newton’s third law of motion that is most obviously in evidence here: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When the air and water fly out of the end of the bottle with a certain force, this pushes the rocket in the opposite direction with an equal force.

Newton’s second law (The force moving an object is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration, or F=ma) sneaks in too, as the fact that the bottle is lighter than the ejected air and water means that it undergoes a greater acceleration from the same force, and so it flies further and faster down the track.

All of these laws, as well as many other scientific ideas, were written down by Newton in his impressively named book, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. This book (understandably often shortened to simply Principia) was written entirely in Latin, as was the style at the time, and was published in 1687. And there is a copy in the Science Museum, in the Cosmos & Culture gallery.

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Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica Image Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

It is difficult to appreciate how important this book was to the world of science. As well as being ground breaking to physics, it also introduced the world to mathematics involving calculus. Rarely has a book been packed with so much!

Although there are controversies surrounding Newton and his work, particularly regarding his treatment of contemporary scientists Hooke and Leibniz, there can be little doubt that the impact he had on physics deserves recognition. So go and see the book in which the principles were all written down and then go to Launchpad and see this exciting physics in action.

If you are a teacher planning a visit to Launchpad with your students, you can find out more information here

Fireworks And Fun For British Science Week

To mark British Science Week, the Science Museum hosted a special event with the British Science Association for over 400 children from the Kids Company London Centres. Kids Company Team Leader Lycia reflects on a day of science based fun

Bang! Whizz! Pop! What a fabulous time we spent at the Science Museum earlier this week as we joined forces with the British Science Association to give a group of young people a wonderful day out to celebrate British Science Week.

Matthew Tosh entertains an audience of children from the Kids Company's London Centres in the Science Museum's IMAX theatre

Matthew Tosh entertains an audience of children from the Kids Company’s London Centres in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre. Image credit: Megan Taylor

On arrival we were welcomed into the Museum’s famous Launchpad gallery, which we had entirely to ourselves and where the children were allowed to roam around playing on the various exhibits before being taken to the IMAX theatre for a special science show. The children adored exploring the Launchpad exhibits and the room buzzed with excitement with comments such as, “This is awesome!”, “I wish we could spend a week here!” and “I’m going to get my mum to take me back!”.

It was particularly wonderful to see the reactions of children who normally report to not liking science, enthralled by the mass of exciting experiments to explore.

We were then lead into the impressive IMAX theatre where we were greeted with soothing music and comfortable seats as one of the Science Museum’s Explainers gave a warm welcome to Matthew Tosh, our entertainer for the morning. For the next hour Matthew captured our attention from start to finish with an array of bangs, flashes and pops, all interspersed with digestible nuggets of fascinating science. His enthusiasm for his work was infectious and it was great to see the children listening attentively as he spoke about the importance of following career paths which excite them.

Matthew Tosh explains the science behind fireworks in his show in the Science Museum's IMAX. Image credit: Megan Taylor.

Matthew Tosh explains the science behind fireworks in his show in the Science Museum’s IMAX. Image credit: Megan Taylor.

After being dazzled by an incredible show, we left the IMAX feeling uplifted and inspired. On leaving the theatre, it was great to hear some of the comments from the children – “That was so good!”, and “I really want to be a scientist in the future!”

We wish to say a big thank you to the Science Museum and the BSA for such a memorable day.

British Science Week is a ten day programme of science, technology, engineering and maths events and activities across the UK for people of all ages and runs until Sunday 22 March. 

Launchpad ‘Build a Bridge’ Challenge

In Launchpad our visitors ask questions, experiment, challenge themselves and discover the science behind exhibits – often with impressive results! This is especially true with our “Build a Bridge” activity.

To celebrate our visitors’ hard work and engineering skills, here are a collection of some of their masterpieces – that not only stand up but are also easy on the eye. Click to enlarge.

Try building your own bridge on your next visit to Launchpad!

A Day In the Life of an Explainer

A guest post by Sarah, one of the Science Museum’s Explainers. 

Hello again…I’m Sarah, one of the Explainers here at the Science Museum and I’m here to tell you about a day in my life as an Explainer. The first thing to say is that there is no such thing as a typical day!

You may have read my previous blog “Observations of a New Explainer” a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve learnt loads of new things and gained lots of new experiences, such as running our brand new Information Age workshop Code Builder (about basic computer programming) and performing the Feel the Force lecture theatre show to primary schools.

One particular highlight has been learning to present the brilliant Rocket Show, an interactive show aimed at Key Stage 3 children about Newton’s Laws of Motion, so I’ve chosen to tell you a bit more about one of the days when I perform this show.

I have to say that one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done since I’ve been here is learning the Rocket Show and presenting it to my very first audience of school kids. Handling a packed show space of 100 plus assorted teenagers, teachers and other visitors is both daunting and thrilling!

I’ve had audiences that have ranged from just a handful of visitors to those packed with very excited and unruly teenagers; enthusiastic holiday-time audiences (my favourite) to shows whereby the kids are so busy texting on their phones or scribbling down notes that they don’t respond!

I’ve learned it’s a real skill to be able to adjust your approach to engage different audiences and give them a memorable and exciting experience…..but that’s what we do!

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Explainer Sarah transferring hydrogen gas from a rubber bladder into a Pringles tube

“What goes into preparing for and delivering a Rocket Show?” you ask. Well, imagine I’ve just rushed up 4 floors to the Launchpad Showspace after an hour in the Garden gallery. After collecting some props, I rush back down four floors behind the scenes of the Science Museum to collect the essential ingredient that gives the Rocket Show its wow-factor…..Rocket fuel!

“What ….isn’t that highly dangerous stuff??”, I hear you cry.  Well, potentially yes, but we take safety extremely seriously. The fuel we use is hydrogen gas which is very flammable and is kept in cylinders outside. Rain or shine (quite often rain!) it’s collected in special rubber gas-bladders and carried (carefully) to Launchpad.

Some of the hydrogen gas is used to fill balloons for use in the show, but what happens to the rest? The rest is used for the amazing indoor rocket that demonstrates Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion (“for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”), where we attempt to launch a Pringles tube into Space…something that gets a response from even the teenagers!

So, together with setting fire to stuff and blowing stuff up, we dress up, ride on chairs with wheels and generally have a rocket-tastic time with the help of plenty of brave volunteers and the brilliance of Sir Isaac Newton.

Intrigued?? Why not visit and see a Rocket show!

Explainer Fact: We fire a thousand Pringle Rockets every year.

Visitor Inventions – Future Fashion

As it’s London Fashion Week, we take a look at the future fashion creations from visitors to our Launchpad gallery.

You may be forgiven to think that this season’s must-have fashion are found on the catwalks of London, Paris or Milan (and you may very well be right!). But this hasn’t stopped our wonderfully imaginative visitors from designing their own creations whilst in the Launchpad gallery. Whatever your fashion sense; from inflatable boat dresses to telescopic shoes, there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Click to enlarge the images.

 

Visitor Letters – Loughborough School

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible. Earlier in the year Loughborough School visited the museum to see the Feel the Force science show presented by Explainer Dwain on their trip to the Museum (click to enlarge letters).

Explainer Dwain was thrilled that so many pupils enjoyed his show that he wrote back thanking the pupils of Loughborough school as well as updating them on his co-star from the Feel the Force show – Phil the Frog!

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Response Letter – pages 1 & 2

Response Letter - pages 3 & 4

Response Letter – pages 3 & 4

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

Making a Splash!

Katie Burke, who manages the Interactive galleries and Explainer team, talks about the development of the new Splash! app.

One of the things I love about my job within the Learning department is the variety of things I get to work on. When we were approached to help with the development of a new app aimed at our pre-school audience, I was really excited. I’m not particularly techy and I don’t know my RAM from my ROM but that didn’t matter – my role in the project was to make sure the app fitted in with the educational ethos of our children’s interactive galleries in the Museum.

The app was made in partnership with a digital agency called GR/DD. We knew we wanted the app to appeal to our pre-school audience so we looked to our most popular exhibits for this age group for inspiration. The water area in our Garden gallery is a firm favourite of our younger visitors and so it made sense to start there.

Garden water area

The water exhibit in the Garden gallery

GR/DD came up with an idea for an app in which children could experiment with floating, sinking and mixing colours within a bath tub environment. We all loved the idea. For me, bath time as a child holds some really happy memories so I really hoped we could recreate that playful atmosphere with the app.

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Tiliting the screen causes the water to move

Choosing which objects to use in the app was a tricky process! They had to be instantly recognisable to children so that they could make the link between the object and how it behaves when it is put into water. During the development process I’d often show my team of Explainers the draft plans to see if they had any ideas or feedback based on their experience of working within the Garden gallery and it was really useful to get their input.

Early on in the process we all agreed that it was important to include a Parents’ Zone within the app. We wanted to provide some information for parents about how they could use the app to encourage the development of key scientific skills. In our interactive galleries we encourage learning through play and open questioning. For that reason, the Parents’ Zone includes hints and tips about open questions that parents can ask their children whilst they play the app or later on during real bath time.

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Parents’ Zone – tips on how parents could use the app to encourage the development of key scientific skills

After months of development we are all so pleased with the final Splash! app. I love how the water on screen moves and flows as the device is tilted and turned, and the sounds that the objects make when they drop into the water. I think the app perfectly captures the fun atmosphere I remember as a child.

It’s aimed at pre-school children but in my experience the adults enjoy playing just as much as the children. In fact, we should probably add a footnote onto the app description which says “for big kids too!”

If this post has whet your appetite to play on Splash! make sure you run the hot tap to the top of the bath to see what happens – it’s my favourite bit!

Discover more about Splash! (priced at 99p) and our other apps here.

Mischievous Mirrors – From the 18th century to the modern day

Explainer Affelia in our Learning team looks at some mischievous mirrors in the Science Museum. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? We all know this famous saying from Snow White, but mirrors are incredibly useful in our day to day lives. We use them in the morning to check our hair, in cars to avoid crashes and some buildings have them in corridors for safety. But there are some other, more mischievous, ways to use them. For example, our Grab the Bling exhibit in Launchpad uses a huge spherical concave mirror (one that bulges inwards) to trick people into thinking they can touch a desirable watch.

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This watch is impossible to grab

In fact, the concave mirror produces something called an inverted real image of the watch. This means that the image of the watch is upside down compared to the real watch and is made by beams of light meeting at a single point in front of the mirror. People would then think that the image is the actual watch and try to snatch it, when in fact our watch is perfectly safe underneath.

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How Grab the Bling works: the spherical concave mirror reflects the light so that the actual watch (in black) looks like it’s easy to steal but in fact the viewer only sees its image (in grey)!

Mirrors are also used in our Seeing Through Walls exhibit which I like to use to pretend that I’m Superman.

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Seeing through walls exhibit inside Launchpad

Looking at the shape of the tubes, it’s clear that light can’t go up or through the wall and so it must go down. The two tubes are connected by a pipe in the raised area of the floor

Four mirrors are carefully placed where the tubes change direction so that the light can be directed around the tube and you and your buddy can see each other!

seeing through walls

How Seeing Through Walls Work. Why do they look farther away than they expected…? (Clue: Think about how long the tube would be if it went through the wall…)

The Science in the 18th Century gallery next door to Launchpad has many interesting devices that use mirrors to work. This gallery is pretty awesome because it’s filled with equipment used by King George III and his science tutor, Stephen Demainbray, to learn about science. Basically, it’s a 250 year old version of Launchpad! One of the equipments in this gallery that uses mirrors to trick people is a polemoscope, or “jealousy glass”.

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Jealous of my polemoscope? Displayed in the Science in the 18th Century gallery

They were used by opera goers to look at other people in the audience in private. They look very similar to opera glasses which were used to see the actors on stage more clearly, but instead a mirror inside is slanted at 45° so that the user can see what’s going on to one side of them. This makes the polemoscope ideal to secretly spy on people!

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How a polemoscope works

So there you have it, it seems that mirrors aren’t only used to see who’s fairest of them all, but also who’s the cheekiest!