Category Archives: Explainers

Visitor Letters – Pirbright Village School

It’s always a nice surprise receiving letters from our visitors and we try our best to write back as soon as possible.  In fact most of the letters we receive are from Primary Schools who have just visited.

The pupils from Pirbright Village Primary School sent us some lovely letters telling us their favourite parts of the Science Museum.  The pupils loved the Exploring Space gallery, Launchpad and the Space Station IMAX 3D film (click to enlarge letters).


Willam was stunned by the “phenomenal” Exploring Space gallery after seeing the moon lander. The ‘Do Not Touch’ interactive was electrifying!

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

Visitor Letters – Spaldwick School

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible.

Recently pupils from Spaldwick School visited the Launchpad gallery and saw the Feel the Force science show presented by Explainer Dwain on their outing to the Museum (click to enlarge letters).

Explainer Dwain was so impressed that he thanked the pupils of Spaldwick school and answered queries about his co-star in the Feel the Force show – Phil the Frog!


Response Letter – pages 1 & 2

Response Lettter - pages 3 & 4

Response Lettter – 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

Chinese Science Theatre Group visits the Museum

Outreach officer Laura talks about the Science Museum’s new education links with China

The Science Museum recently hosted a very special visit from the Science Theatre Group from the Dongguan Science and Technology Museum (DGSTM) in China.

Much like our Explainers here at the museum, the theatre group perform free science shows for visitors at the DGSTM – the main difference being their performers are mostly between the ages of 6 and 12 years!

Kitted out with beautiful costumes and having meticulously learned their scripts in English, the young performers presented a variety of shows to Science Museum visitors. We learned about the fascinating life of the humble ant in the Amazing Ants show, as well as some lessons about marine conservation in Dr Shark and the Café de Coral. Finally two of the adult performers from the DGSTM dispelled some myths about magic in their interactive show The Magic of Science.


Creatures of the deep


Learning about the delicate balance of the marine eco-system


The Magic of Science with ‘magicians’ Newton and Curie

The visit from the lively theatre group came out of a growing partnership between the DGSTM and the Science Museum following a visit to Dongguan from our outreach team in November last year.

Members of the outreach team worked closely with the DGSTM and the British Council and were able to reach over 7000 people over two weeks in China and Hong Kong. The team performed the ever popular Feel the Force show along with the Mission to Mars workshop.


Investigating magnetism during ‘Feel the Force’


Outreach officer Shane launching rockets with children at the Dongguan Science and Technology Museum

The Science Museum is working to coordinate regular visits to China so it was a great opportunity to reciprocate the DGSTM’s hospitality in hosting their performances here in London.

The shows went down a treat with museum visitors as well as members of local Chinese community groups who attended the performances. Some members of the audience even had the chance to pose for photos with the performers!


Visitor Letters – Parkhill School

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible.

In fact, most of the letters we receive are from primary schools that have just visited the Museum.

Kids being kids, they can be brutally honest in telling us their likes (e.g. big bangs!) and dislikes (also big bangs).

The pupils from Parkhill School visited the Launchpad and saw the Flash! Bang! Wallop! Launchpad show on their outing to the Museum.  One pupil said she learnt so much that her science grade increased a level! (click to enlarge letters)

Parkhill 1

Enjoyed bridge building and thought that listening to music through your teeth is ‘freaky’ inside Launchpad

Parkhill 2

Radhika enjoyed the electrical circuits and wanted to see more ‘mindblowing shows’

Parkhill 3

Krupa was ‘shocked’ by how much she learnt and has now gone up a level in Science

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

Visitor Drawings – What’s your favourite science joke?

What’s your favourite science joke? Does it involve chemical symbols or scientific equipment? These are just some ‘Funnies’ that of our comedic visitors have come up with whilst in the Launchpad gallery. Click on any image for larger pictures.

Building Bridges project comes of age

Building Bridges, an exciting new Science Museum Learning project began last year. Here, the team share a few highlights from the project so far.

Building Bridges is a three year project aimed at year seven (11-12 year old) students, helping them to make sense of the science that shapes their lives. 

Students take part in a special Museum trail

Students take part in a special Museum trail

Building Bridges is doing this by focusing on three outcomes: helping students develop new ideas about why science is important to them/society at large; giving students the ability to communicate these and other ideas clearly; and an increased enthusiasm for science. So far, the project has been working with 16 schools, engaging up to 35 students at each school.

Each group takes part in three key activities over the year: an outreach visit into their school, a school visit to the Science Museum and a family event held at the Museum. The outreach visits were lots of fun for everyone: students got involved in the gloriously disgusting It Takes Guts show and took part in the “Science Communication” session. This gave them the opportunity to think about the stories behind the objects, and also learn science demos to present back to their friends.

Lucy presents 'It Takes Guts'

Lucy presents ‘It Takes Guts’

In May, we welcomed students to the museum for a fun filled VIP day where schools were treated to their own exclusive events and a visit to Launchpad. They also met real scientists during a science journalism session, discussing subjects including the painkiller quality of chillies, and resuscitation. Finally, the students explored the Making the Modern World gallery, searching for objects to help a very important guest…

The Queen awaits her subjects

The Queen awaits her subjects

Last weekend, we said goodbye to our first year of students with a fun filled family weekend at the Museum. The students brought their families to the museum and enjoyed an entire gallery of activities especially for them, including meeting with research scientists and the Imperial College Reach out Lab.

Year one of Building Bridges has been amazingly busy and a lot of fun. We can’t wait for year two!

When Science and Musicals meet…

Tracey Morgan, Outreach Team Leader, looks back at London’s West End Live event.

On Saturday the 22nd and Sunday the 23rd of June, the Science Museum joined Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, London Film Museum, Forbidden Planet, the Theatres Trust, Banqueting House and Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop along with all of the West End Theatres to celebrate the hugely popular London event West End Live at Trafalgar Square.

The Science Museum was glad to be invited back for a 9th year running, giving visitors the chance to dabble in a bit of science in between catching excerpts from West End musicals on the main stage. In our marquee we ran our action packed Science Museum Game Card Challenge.

Mastering the Stupid Egg Trick

Trying out puzzle challenges

Visitors were challenged to test their skills in our 3 science zones, taking on a challenge from each zone and collecting stamps to get their hands on a prize at the end. Solving puzzles, investigating the Bernoulli effect, learning the ‘Stupid Egg Trick’ getting gooey in a bucket of cornflour slime and many more activities were on offer.

If you didn’t make it to our marquee this year, or if you did and you’ve caught the science bug, why not download our free Kitchen Science booklet and try out our experiments at home or in the classroom.

Prince’s Trust students take on the Launchbox Challenge

Laura Meade and Ronan Bullock, Outreach Officers in our Learning team, write about the Science Museum’s new partnership with the Prince’s Trust.

Earlier this year, we invited musician and the Prince’s Trust to the Science Museum to announce a new partnership. recently gave a £500,000 donation to the Prince’s Trust, and we’re using some of this money to work with XL Clubs in schools across the country. explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

The Outreach team has been visiting schools across the country, ‘grossing out’ whole year groups with the It Takes Guts show and working with XL Clubs – aimed at 13-19 year olds at risk of underachievement or exclusion – for the Launchbox Challenge.

We’ve already been to schools in the East of England and taken a trip to Wales. Students are treated to a gruesome, in-depth look into the nether regions of the human digestive system with the chance to find the answers to all those digestion questions like where do burps come from? 

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Investigating the small intestines in the It Takes Guts show

The Launchbox Challenge workshop set students the challenge of building their own chain reaction machines, giving them the chance to exercise their powers of invention. They must include as many ‘energy transfers’ as they can think of – maybe a chain of dominoes failing down, then knocking a ball down a tube and so on. The team work and creativity we have seen on all our visits so far has been brilliant. Here are a few of our favourite contraptions:

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Students in Wales and thier chain reaction machines

The Science Museum’s outreach team will be taking the Launchbox Challenge across the country and working with XL Clubs to engage young people with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). We have thoroughly enjoyed our XL Clubs visits so far and the feedback has been great. Look out for our red van coming to a school near you soon!

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Stopping to admire the view in the Snowdonia National Park, Wales

T. Alva Edison and his Amazing Phonograph!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning Apprenticeships

Guest post by Apprentices Jorden, Vicki & Toni

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


Apprentices left to right: Jorden, Vicki & Toni

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

Apprentice Jorden refilling Launchpad exhibits

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

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

Apprentice Vicki setting up a Launchpad show

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

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

Apprentice Toni handing over lost property to security

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

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