Category Archives: Information Age

Think, Build, Create! New Code Builder Workshops

Audience Engagement Manager Jen Kavanagh explains how the new Code Builder workshop aims to inspire the next generation of programmers

The Science Museum’s new Information Age  gallery explores communication and information technologies and processes, including the development and use of computer networks. Computing is currently a hot topic for schools, with the launch of the new computer science curriculum coinciding with the opening of this new gallery. As a result, the team here wanted to explore how we could effectively respond to this through the gallery’s learning programme.

Early computing objects on display in Information Age tell stories of user innovation, from Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT Cube computer to the Pilot ACE used by Alan Turing.

Tim Berners-Lee's NeXT computer, which is on display in the Information Age gallery.

Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer, which is on display in the Information Age gallery. Image credit Science Museum / SSPL

These amazing stories show the huge potential of computers, and our new tinkering workshop, Code Builder, aims to build on these further.

After an introduction, the group is set a task to use basic coding language to devise and input procedures into an online programme, test, rework them and see live results. These results come in the form of a small robot, Robotiky, which is programmed using bespoke online software.

A Robotiky robot created at a Science Museum Code Builder workshop

A Robotiky robot created at a Science Museum Code Builder workshop

Coded instructions are written and simulated on screen, and then sent to the robot via a USB connection, allowing the students to see their code in action. The session encourages the development of logic and computational thinking skills, through trial and error, as well as exploring the interaction between hardware, robot, software and computer programme.

This workshop is designed to complement a number of areas of the computing curriculum at key stages 3 and 4. These include evaluating and applying information technology to solve problems, as well as helping pupils understand the hardware and software components that make up computer systems and how they communicate with one another and other systems.

Code Builder runs twice a day every Thursday during term time. Sessions last an hour and are free for schools to attend. To book visit our website.

How did tea and cake help start a computing revolution?

Today (17 November) marks the 63rd anniversary of the LEO 1 (Lyons Electronic Office 1) computer, the first computer to be used in the workplace. 

In 1950 if you fancied a cup of tea or a piece of cake you might have gone to a Lyons tea shop. J Lyons & Company ran tea shops across Britain. But the company was also interested in improving the way its work was managed and conducted, so it decided to build a computer that could support the collection and analysis of this information. Brought to life on 17 November 1951, LEO I played a crucial role in the development of a new computer age.

Working with the team at the University of Cambridge that had built the EDSAC computer in 1949, Lyons developed the LEO I, assembling it at the Lyons main factory building in West London. The computer ran its first program on 5 September 1951, valuing the cost of goods that came out of the bakeries.

Leo I electronic computer, c 1960s

Leo I electronic computer, c 1960s

The company LEO Computers Ltd was formed in 1954 and went on to build LEO II and LEO III. These were installed in many British offices including those of Ford, Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue and the Post Office. The later models were exported as far as Australia and South Africa.

You can find out more about the LEO computer in our Information Age gallery, which looks at the last 200 years of how communications technology has transformed our lives.

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.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee speaks at Information Age reception

By Laura Singleton, Press Officer

Sir Tim Berners-Lee told a Parliamentary reception to celebrate the Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery he believes innovation will continue to overcome big challenges facing the world and specifically those facing the World Wide Web.

Solutions to data security will, he predicted, lie in what he called `redecentralising the web` through local storage of data. He told the audience of leaders from the world of science and technology that through `collaborative systems that are very much more powerful` the web will play an important part in solving massive global problems such as climate change and cancer.

The reception at Portcullis House was hosted by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), whose Chairman Adam Afriyie MP, introduced Sir Tim, remarking that he didn`t think it was `possible to overstate his impact on the development of modern culture’.

Adam Afriyie MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) welcomes guests to the event.

Adam Afriyie MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) welcomes guests to the event. Image credit: Earl Smith

Speaking modestly about his invention (`the thing that started when I wrote a memo`), Sir Tim recalled some of what he called the `nifty things` CERN did at the outset, such as agreeing that it wouldn`t charge royalties and letting him have a `machine to code the thing up`.

Thanks to that same generosity of spirit at CERN, the Information Age Gallery is now home to `that machine` – the NeXT computer on which Sir Tim invented the web. Having told the audience a little about the transformation in communications technology in which he has played such a fundamental role, Sir Tim urged the audience to `go to the Science Museum and learn about it`.

Alongside lighter moments such as his impression of a dial up modem, Sir Tim said he and others would continue ‘carrying placards’ to defend their original vision of the web as ‘neutral, like a blank piece of paper’, recognising that this would lead to ongoing robust exchanges with governments and others around the world.

Guests, including Professor Dame Wendy Hall and parliamentarians such as Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Baroness Jay, were invited to explore exhibits provided by the Science Museum and meet the Information Age exhibition team, including lead curator Dr Tilly Blyth. Future technologies were represented by Cubic Transportation Systems and Elsevier, which each showcased examples of how big data is shaping business, including transportation systems.

Martin Howell, Director, Worldwide Communications at Cubic Transportation Systems, which sponsored the event, spoke about the need to “get a balance between benefit and privacy”.

Martin Howell, Director, Worldwide Communications, Cubic Transportation Systems.

Martin Howell, Director, Worldwide Communications, Cubic Transportation Systems. Image credit: Earl Smith.

Jean Franczyk, Deputy Director of the Science Museum, spoke of her delight at the initial success of Information Age, which has already received 50,000 visitors, and thanked Sir Tim for his contribution to the gallery.

Jean Franczyk, Deputy Director of the Science Museum.

Jean Franczyk, Deputy Director of the Science Museum. Image credit: Earl Smith

From the first transatlantic telegraph cable that connected Europe and North America in minutes rather than weeks, to the advanced computing power of the modern smartphone, Information Age looks at the communication networks that created our modern connected world. The gallery features more than 800 stunning objects from a tiny thimble to the 6-metre high aerial tuning inductor from Rugby Radio Station that stands at its centre.

Last night’s event was attended by representatives of some of the organisations that helped to make Information Age possible such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, BT, ARM, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Google, Accenture, Garfield Weston Foundation, Wolfson Foundation, Bonita Trust and  Motorola Solutions Foundation.

The event followed last year’s successful reception for the Science Museum’s Collider exhibition, which was also hosted by POST and its Director, Dr Chris Tyler.

Earlier in the day, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham was among the guests at a POST seminar on Big Data and Governance.

Information Age: evolution or revolution?

On Friday 24 October 2014, the Science Museum celebrated the launch of a new permanent gallery; Information Age. The gallery explores over 200 years of information and communication technologies and was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen who marked the occasion by sending the first tweet by a reigning monarch. In the afternoon, the Museum’s IMAX auditorium continued the celebrations, bringing together a panel of some of the world’s leading thinkers and entrepreneurs to share their insights and predictions about the big events that have shaped the communication technology we are familiar with today, and look ahead to what the future may hold.

Director of External Affairs Roger Highfield introduces the panel at Information Age: evolution or revolution?

We’re repeatedly told that we are experiencing more rapid technological advances than ever before. But over the past two centuries, our predecessors witnessed transformational developments in communication technology that were arguably far more revolutionary, from the laying of the first telegraph cable that connected the UK and USA to the birth of radio and TV broadcasting.

What can we learn from their experiences? Is what we are going through truly an unparalleled revolution, or does our focus on the now distort our perspective on an ongoing evolution in our relationship to information?

Click here to listen to the whole discussion and decide for yourself…

Chaired by Tom Standage, Digital Editor of The Economist and author of The Victorian Internet and Writing on the Wall, the expert panel brought together to discuss this question featured:

  • Hermann Hauser, computing engineer and co-founder of venture capital firm Amadeus Capital Partners
  • Baroness Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of lastminute.com, Chancellor of the Open University, chair of Go ON and board member of Marks and Spencer
  • Mo Ibrahim, mobile communications entrepreneur and founder of Celtel, one of Africa’s leading telecommunications operators, and
  • Jim Gleick, best-selling author of Chaos and The Information

The opening of Information Age marks the start of the biggest period of development of the Museum since it was opened over a century ago. Over the next five years, about a third of the Museum will be transformed by exciting new galleries, including a brand new mathematics gallery designed by Stirling Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid.

Information Age is now open, located on floor 2 of the Museum. A new book entitled Information Age, to which the event’s panel have all contributed, is also now on sale in the Museum shop and online.

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.

Her Majesty The Queen sends her first tweet to unveil the Information Age

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs

Her Majesty The Queen this morning opened the pioneering Information Age gallery at the Science Museum by sending her first tweet to the world, 76 years after The Queen’s first visit to the museum.

HM The Queen opens the Science Museum's Information Age gallery by sending her first tweet

HM The Queen opens the Science Museum’s Information Age gallery by sending her first tweet. Credit: Science Museum

The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh had earlier toured the landmark gallery, which explores the six networks that have transformed global communications, listening to personal recollections of people whose first experience of television was watching her Coronation in 1953.

Inviting Her Majesty 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 while addressing around 600 guests including communications entrepreneurs, authors and experts, from Baroness Lane Fox, Hermann Hauser and Mo Ibrahim to Prof Steve Furber, James Gleick, Tom Standage and Sir Nigel Shadbolt.

“You made the first live Christmas broadcast in 1957,” he added, “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. “

Then Mr Blatchford invited Her Majesty to join him to “send your first Tweet”.

The Queen removed a glove to send her pioneering tweet from the @BritishMonarchy Twitter account.

 

The Queen's first Tweet

The Queen’s first Tweet

This marked the first time that a reigning British monarch contributed one of the half billion or so tweets that are sent every day.

The Queen has a long relationship with the Science Museum and first visited in March 1938, as a princess, a few years after it launched a pioneering Children’s Gallery.

Today she explored Information Age: Six Networks That Changed Our World, the first museum gallery dedicated to the history of information technologies, containing more than 800 iconic objects and six state-of-the art interactive displays in story boxes connected by an elevated walkway.

The £16 million project saw collaborations with leading artists and thinkers, including Olivier award-winning video and projection designer Finn Ross, artists Matthew Robins and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, broadcaster Bonnie Greer and developer of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

From the dramatic story of the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable that connected Europe and North America  to the birth of the modern smartphone, it looks at how today’s  world was forged with six communication networks: the telegraph; the telephone, radio and television broadcasting; satellite communications; computer networks; and mobile communications.

Lead curator Dr Tilly Blyth showed The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh around the exhibition, from the bright yellow call box from Cameroon to the BBC’s first radio transmitter from 1922 to the monumental 6-metre high aerial tuning inductor from Rugby Radio Station that lies at the heart of the gallery.

This strangely beautiful web of copper and wood was once part of the most powerful radio transmitter in the world and was donated to the Science Museum by BT.

Over 410,000 people follow the Science Museum on Twitter via @sciencemuseum.

We use twitter to share as many fascinating objects (some weird, others wonderful) and stories from our exhibitions and collections as possible.  In the past we have shared science jokes and organised a Q&A with an astronaut.

We’ve even taken our followers inside Charlie Brown, the Apollo 10 Command Module.

Our curators regularly take over the @sciencemuseum account, taking hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter tours of their favourite objects. In the past, @rooneyvision has shared his story of how we made the modern world, with @ali_boyle selecting her favourite objects from our astronomy collection (you can read the #CosmosTour here).

The @ScienceMuseum account was also at the heart of the Great British Innovation vote which attracted more than 50,000 votes from the public for their favourite innovation.

We love reading tweets from the millions of you who visit each year, sharing stories of visits, getting engaged and even dancing under our rockets.

From astronauts to pop stars, we have had the pleasure of meeting and tweeting many famous faces. Astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, joked with us about driving a NASA moon buggy, with Chris Hadfield sharing stories of life on board the International Space Station, and will.i.am joining us for a tour of the museum.

And it was a remarkable day when both Prof Stephen Hawking and Nobel prize-winner Prof Peter Higgs met in the Science Museum for our Collider exhibition opening.

This year a record breaking 450,000 young people visited the Science Museum on educational trips, or benefitted from its outreach programme, more than any other UK museum. Our Learning team (@SM_Learn) helps schools to plan their visits as well as sharing science demos and experiments that wow visitors every day.

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 the 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), the David and Claudia Harding Foundation and other individual donors.  The Science Museum would also like to thank the BBC for their assistance.

Revealing The Real Cooke and Wheatstone Telegraph Dial

John Liffen, Curator of Communications, blogs about an important discovery to be displayed for the first time in our new Information Age gallery opening 25 October 2014.

The Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery features over 800 objects spanning 200 years of telecommunications. Many have been on display before, but most are on show for the first time in this gallery. Among these are newly-acquired objects that show the latest developments in communications, while others are drawn from the Museum’s extensive collections.

One object in particular represents what we believe to be a major discovery.

The object in question is a large Cooke and Wheatstone electric telegraph dial, on loan from Kings College London since 1963. The object has never before been on public display because of doubts over its authenticity. However, I am now confident that it dates from 1837, the year that the practical electric telegraph was introduced in Britain.

Cooke and Wheatstone's Five Needle Telegraph © Science Museum

The newly-identified Cooke and Wheatstone Five Needle Telegraph, 1837 © Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

Since 1876, the Museum has displayed a smaller five-needle instrument and has claimed it to be one of the original instruments installed at either Euston or Camden Town in 1837 when Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke demonstrated their electric telegraph system to the directors of the newly-opened London and Birmingham Railway.

I had long been suspicious of this because there were several technical features which just did not ‘add up’. All the history books repeated the Museum’s assertion about its originality and yet there was no real evidence to confirm it. I decided it was time to find out for certain.

The smaller Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph instrument, now believed to date from about 1849 © Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

The smaller Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph instrument, now believed to date from about 1849 © Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

I researched the whole story again, this time using only contemporary records such as Cooke’s letters, other manuscript documents and press reports. After much work, I concluded that the large dial was almost certainly one of the two 1837 originals, whereas the smaller instrument was likely to be one of the working models made for demonstration at a High Court hearing in 1850 when a rival company was disputing Cooke and Wheatstone’s priority in the invention.

The layout of the dial was Wheatstone’s idea. Any of the 20 letters on the dial can be indicated by making the appropriate pair of needles point to it. No knowledge of a code is needed and the dial is big enough for a crowd of people to see it working. Then as now, good salesmanship was needed to put over new technology.

Sheet 1 of the drawings for Cooke and Wheatstone’s 1837 electric telegraph  © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library

Sheet 1 of the drawings for Cooke and Wheatstone’s 1837 electric telegraph © Science Museum/ Science and Society Picture Library

So why is this discovery so important?

The electric telegraph was the first practical use of electricity and from the 1840s onwards it transformed world communications. After a transatlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1866, messages between Europe and North America took only hours to arrive rather than weeks. Moreover, Cooke saw the emerging railway system as a major customer for the new technology. To operate safely, the railways needed to observe a timetable based on a standard time system.

View taken from under the Hampstead Road Bridge  looking towards the station at Euston Square, 1837

View taken from under the Hampstead Road Bridge looking towards the station at Euston Square, 1837 © Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

The electric telegraph enabled Greenwich time to be distributed right across Britain, and within a few years local time, based on the times of sunrise and sunset, had been replaced by standard (Greenwich) time. The telegraph could also help catch criminals. In 1845 a message sent from Slough railway station to Paddington enabled murder suspect John Tawell to be identified, arrested, and in due course, executed.

After many years of doubt, I am now satisfied that one of the key inventions from the beginning of electric telegraphy has been authenticated and rightly takes its place in our new Information Age gallery.

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.