Category Archives: Explainers

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 will.i.am and the Prince’s Trust to the Science Museum to announce a new partnership. Will.i.am 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.

Will.i.am explores Google Web Lab at the Science Museum

Will.i.am 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.

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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.

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Bubbles at Sunday Brunch

Guest post by our Explainer Developer Dan

One of the great things about working as an Explainer at the Science Museum is the wide range of work we get the opportunity to do. So as well as working with the public in our interactive galleries and performing science shows on a daily basis, sometimes we get to do something a little bit different. A few Sundays ago, David and I had the opportunity to do one of these different things, in this case, 6 minutes of live television.

Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, a morning magazine show, invited us along to do a segment about bubbles. This was a great opportunity for the Museum to promote our Bubbles show which we perform throughout the year at weekends and we were about to perform a lot more over the half term. We, of course, leapt at the chance.

David and I at the studio before going on air

What was really nice for us was the level of input we had over what we did, which was pretty much free range. After a few phone calls and emails with the production team at Princess Productions and working alongside our press office, we sent through what we thought would fill 6 minutes. It included a brief introduction to why bubbles have a role in science and science communication (Name-checking Thomas Young and Charles Vernon Boys), an experiment for viewers to try at home, some experiments they wouldn’t be able to do at home and our popular finale, the human bubble; A bubble so big, you can fit a human inside it. The week of the show, we discovered that the human we would be using would be Kelly Jones, lead singer of the Stereophonics along with one of the presenters, Simon Rimmer.

Left to right: Me, presenters Simon Rimmer & Tim Lovejoy, David on the end

It was an early start on Sunday morning, the show starts at 9:30, but for rehearsals and set up we arrived before 8. After setting up and meeting the presenters for a “Block” rehearsal, where the camera crew can work out where they need to be and what they will be filming, we basically had to wait until our slot at about 11:00. We watched the show while the nerves built up, I think David was probably more relaxed than me, but I kept thinking about all the things I could say or do wrong in front of the 700,000 strong TV audience!

The segment itself went really well, David had the trickiest bit as he needed to get a paperclip to sit on the surface tension of a small bowl of water. We had prepared some already in case it went wrong, but, ever the professional, David did it on the first attempt. The demo worked really well and we followed it with some carbon dioxide filled bubbles, but had to skip our intended helium filled bubbles as we were running short on time, what with it being live, so moved straight on to the big finale.

As soon as the item finished, the presenters and main crew had to run off to the next area of the studio to continue the show, but the extra crew, along with families of the crew and guests, made a beeline for our table and had a good play with our experiments. We gave them carbon dioxide bubbles to hold and put them in the human bubble until everyone was satisfied, then we headed back to the museum.

Simon Rimmer holding a carbon dioxide bubble

We had lots of great feedback from the crew, our colleagues and the public via the Twitter feeds for both the Museum and Sunday Brunch. All in all a great experience, interesting, exciting and just a little bit different.

Explainer Fact:  Our bubble mix recipe is 95% warm water, 3% washing up liquid and 2% glycerol.  To learn a bit more about bubbles click here.

Google Chrome Web Lab in the Science Museum

Web Lab: See the magic of the web brought to life

Hello there! John and Saam here. We’re two of the crack team of facilitators at the Google Chrome Web Lab, here in the Science Museum.

What’s Web Lab, we hear you ask? It’s a new, interactive exhibition based at the Science Museum about the Internet and the World Wide Web. However, visitors from across the world can also – rather amazingly – visit the exhibition and take part in all of our experiments online at chromeweblab.com

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One of the special things about Web Lab is that it explores the connection between virtual users (on the website) and physical users (in the gallery) – forming a global community. We do that through a series of five unique, web-based experiments.

Google Chrome Web Lab in the Science Museum

There’s the Data Tracer image search, the Universal Orchestra, the Teleporter live stream, the Lab Tag explorer, and arguably the favourite for many visitors, the Sketchbot, that can draw your face in sand!

The experiments are all FUN but they also help you understand how things work on the web. For example, the sketchbots show how the web uses computer languages and protocols to tell machines what to do. The Orchestra, on the other hand, demonstrates the use of ‘web sockets’ to enable two-way communication and real-time interaction over the web, and the Teleporter teaches you about how web technologies use compression to send large amounts of data quickly over vast distances.

Data Tracker, one of 5 Google Chrome experiments in Web Lab

We’ll tell you more about all the experiments in future blogs, but if you’re eager to find out more information right now, visit Web Lab or pop into the Museum, and we’ll be happy to run through the experiments with you in person!

Fun fact to impress your friends: what’s the difference between the internet and the World Wide Web? The Internet is the global network of computers all talking to each other. The Web, on the other hand, is the system of hypertext documents, such as this web page that sits on the Internet, which you can explore with your browser.

Enjoy Christmas all year round with a Christmas tent

Visitor Inventions – What they really wanted for Christmas

“Wow! It’s what I always wanted….” is the standard response when you receive presents from your friends and family.  But was it really?  Whether you received the latest gadget, perfume or socks – some of our visitors dream of receiving jetpack boots, a time machine and a walking toilet.

Below is a selection of inventions that our visitors came up with when in the Launchpad gallery.  Click on any image for larger pictures.

Explainer Fact:  The Museum is only closed 3 days a year – 24th-26th December

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Visitor Letters – Flash! Bang! Wallop!

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

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

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

The pupils from South Park School recently saw the Flash! Bang! Wallop! Launchpad show on their outing to the Museum.  From the letters that we received, they appeared to have a blast!  They particularly enjoyed the fact that their show presenter claims to be “Barbie’s boyfriend”.

Click on any image to enlarge.

This is what Explainer Sam has to say about his special relationship:

Barbie and I are still going strong and love working together on the Flash! Bang! Wallop! show.  She knows she is in safe hands and what could be a better way to spend your time with your partner than to be shot out of a cannon!  I am really glad that our natural chemistry comes across in the show.  Many people have likened us to Jason and Kylie, Richard and Judy – not to mention Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh.  I hope that as well as learning science, the people who enjoyed our show have learnt another lesson.  Love comes in many sizes.

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

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Visitor Drawings – London 2012

‘Inspire a generation’ – that was the motto for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.  Some of our visitors were so inspired by the Games, when handed some colouring pencils and paper, they were only ever going to draw one thing.  And in the true Olympic spirit, our visitors strived to make their drawings the very best they could be!

Here’s a selection of London 2012-inspired drawings.  Click on any image for larger pictures.

Explainer Fact: Check out the Genium Bionic Prosthetic System and running blade currently being shown in the Antenna gallery.

Flower from Taiwan loves the Museum

Visitor Drawings – Love for Science

Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, recently visited the Museum to give a presentation on the importance of science museums and their role in inspiring the next generation.

From the number of drawings we receive from our visitors expressing their love for science (and the Museum itself), we must be doing something right!

Here’s a selection of science-loving drawings created by our visitors when in the Launchpad gallery. Click on any image to see bigger pictures.

Explainer Fact: Web Lab (beta), a series of Chrome Experiements by Google, is now open to the public in the Basement of the Museum.

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Right Royal Adventure

Post written by Explainer Eli

As millions descended upon London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities, a team of valiant Science Museum knights mounted their noble steed (the outreach van) and headed to a far flung region of the Great British Isle (Cumbria). Their quest, to entertain the good folk at the 2012 Whitehaven Jubilee festival using nothing but sensational science!

Science Museum ‘Knights’ – Learning team on the outreach

Over the two days we succeeded in our mission; wowing the crowds with table top science experiments including cordial cornflour slime, courtly carbon dioxide filled bubbles and aristocratic Alka-Seltzer rockets!

We also performed a number of shows; ‘The Bubble Show’ and ‘The Greatest Hits Show’ that would have made our Majesty proud!

The London celebrations may have had a 1000 boat flotilla but Whitehaven’s Harbour was equally as splendid…

Fit for a Queen! – Whitehaven Harbour

Other highlights of the festival included performances by Katherine Jenkins, The Enemy and The Charlatans.

Our dwelling for the duration of the festival was a pleasing palace with tight security (we were given a code that opened a box, which released a key that opened another box, which in turn revealed a key code entry pad for opening the door). The hotel even came complete with a trio of terriers that could rival any corgis and to top it all there was also a patriotic parrot!

Patriot Parrot

On Saturday, after a days hard work, we decided to make the most of our northern adventure and headed for a drive over the very scary Hardknott and Wrynose pass to feast on a splendid Chinese in Windermere.

Chinese Feast

During the drive, the satellite navigation system kept telling us to “Turn around” and at one point we definitely smelt burning tyres! Many of the knights had become too accustomed with city dwelling and had never experienced such crazy roads. There were screams from Outreach Officer José of “Slow down Nate, use the engine!”

Reaching the summit of the mountain, blowing the cobwebs away after a hard day explaining science to the masses, was just what we needed.

Feeling on top of the world!

On Sunday, Explainer Dominique’s impressive ‘Bubble Show’ bought the tent’s work to an elegant end, which was no mean feat as the Red Arrows were performing lots of spectacular stunts outside.

Red Arrow flyby

People of Cumbria we salute you! Thanks for coming to see us; we all had a fantastic time!

Thank you Cumbria! The Knights before returning back to their castle

Thanks to the Samuel Lindow foundation and the National Nuclear Laboratory for inviting us! Hopefully we will be returning next year…

Explainer Fact: For more top science experiments, check out the Science Museum’s website or visit us in South Kensington, London.