Category Archives: Explainers

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

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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

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


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.

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!

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.

Observations of a new Explainer

Post written by Explainer Sarah

Hello, I’m Sarah, one of the 12 newest Explainers here at the Science Museum.
I’ve been here nearly 3 months now, and it’s true…time does fly when you’re having fun!

I can honestly say that I have spent the majority of the time smiling and laughing!
There’s a real atmosphere of FUN here and the rest of the Explainer team are great. Everyone has been a “newie” at some point and knows what it’s like, so when you’re stuck they welcome questions and are ready to help.

Science Museum Explainers

During our first week, induction week, the 12 of us were put through our paces doing things like presentations, going on a museum treasure hunt (honestly, it was hard work!), playing team-building games and acting out some of the “Sticky Moments” that can happen when faced with the public.

A highlight had to be watching a fellow “newie” pretending to be a very non-compliant 5 year old who was lost (you know who you are!), giving the Explainer the run-around. (This actually happened to me over the Easter holidays! A very upset 5 year old running up and down outside The Garden howling “Daddy, Daddy where’s my Daddy?!”. Fortunately for me, Dad was located quickly, although he was alarmingly relaxed about it all…..unlike his poor boy!).  Although every situation we looked at had us howling with laughter, there was a real sense that we were learning something really valuable.

It was impressive that over the entire week, we were tested, observed, challenged, encouraged and supported, and we felt confident that although we had a lot to learn, we wouldn’t be thrown in at the deep end. By the end of the week we felt exhausted, but armed with our red Explainer T-shirts we were ready to get stuck into the job…Bring it on!

Crushing dry ice

During our first few weeks, let loose in the museum, we shadowed experienced Explainers. My very first task was to help collect and crush dry ice for the Icy-Bodies exhibit on Launchpad. It’s hard to believe how cold that stuff is (a chilly -78°C) but stories of past Explainers accidentally nearly getting frostbite gives you the incentive to don the geeky lab-coat and specs, along with some massive mits, and treat it with the respect it deserves!

Some of the tasks have been scarier than others. Being on Launchpad schools entrance dealing with the organised chaos on a busy, fully booked day is always an eye-opener. It is a real skill being able to compassionately calm the poor harassed teacher who has battled the tube system with 30 over-excited kids (give them a medal for bravery I say!), or the teacher whose coach broke down and is now an hour late with 60 kids.

Often you feel as if you need eight arms, and eyes in the back of your head, however the experienced Explainers are a model of calm (usually!) and are full of sensible advice and tips. As each day passes and you get stuck in, it gets more instinctive.

Every time I walk into the building in the morning I can’t quite believe I work in THE Science Museum. I feel really lucky to work with such a great bunch of people and have the opportunity to help others catch the buzz for learning about science in such an exciting way.

Explainer Fact:  We use over 6 tonnes of dry ice every year!

Swiss Army Octopus - the perfect camping buddy

Visitor Inventions – Animals

They say the UK is a country of animal lovers and judging by what our visitors have drawn, it is most certainly true!  Why use a standard Swiss Army knife when a friendly octopus can help you instead?  Or why should we continue to burn fossil fuels when hamsters are happy to power devices for us?

We give our visitors the tools (colouring pencils and paper) to doodle down any ideas they have whilst in our Launchpad gallery.

Here’s a selection of animal-based inventions drawn up by some of our imaginative visitors. Click on any image to see bigger pictures.

Explainer Fact: The Museum has a large anatomical horse in the Veterinary section on the 5th floor

Stargazing Live Outreach

Post written by Explainer Kate

In January the Science Museum was asked to take part in the BBC’s Stargazing Live events at Woolwich and Charlton house. Events were held all over the UK to coincide with the second series of the very successful Stargazing Live show. Explainer Dan and I from the Science Museum Learning Team together with some lovely volunteers from STEM, attended the daytime event at Woolwich and the evening event at Charlton House.

On a very sunny day in Woolwich there were lots of free demonstrations, activities and telescopes for the public to look at. Dan and I set up Alka-Seltzer rockets and traced constellations. I also got to look at the sun through a telescope with a specially designed filter which was very exciting.

At Charlton House everybody was hoping for a clear night.  This time we knew that we were not going to be able to set off Alka-Seltzer rockets inside the beautiful Jacobean House, so we also brought a water rocket and arranged the launch pad on the lawn.  Dan had the clever idea of putting glow-in-the-dark sticks inside the water rockets so we could clearly see how high they were travelling up into the air in the dark.

Meanwhile inside the building we set out a huge piece of paper on which people drew constellations, planets and anything else they thought they would find in space. We also had some real NASA space food and the model of the Saturn V rocket for people to look at and we demonstrated how to make film-can constellations.

Unfortunately the night was pretty overcast so it was difficult to get a chance to see much through the telescopes but I did manage to catch a glimpse of Jupiter and some of its moons which was very cool!

Explainer Fact:  Nasa launched a spacecraft called Juno last year to help us learn more about Jupiter.