Category Archives: Lates

Science Museum makes Lily’s wish come true

Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, examines Lily Cole’s gift culture project impossible.com which launched its ‘giving trees’ at the Science Museum in September

Visitors to the Science Museum’s adults only Lates event left a total of 1500 wishes in a little copse of ‘giving trees’ established in the museum’s Wellcome wing by the model, actor, activist and entrepreneur Lily Cole.

The wishes were left during the September, October and November Lates, which were visited by as many as 15,000 visitors. Each person who took part was invited to upload their wishes to Lily Cole’s ‘gift culture’ social network, impossible.com.

The impossible.com website, which is currently still in beta, is a tool to facilitate a gift culture in which people can exchange their skills, knowledge or possessions for free.

Through the website people have been giving screen printing lessons, knitting lessons, business advice and even an astronaut who asked for help to send a little girl with an illness to Japan.

Lily Cole delivering Science Museum presents to Manchester Children's Hospital for her impossible project. Image credit: Lily Cole

Lily Cole delivering Science Museum presents to Manchester Children’s Hospital for her impossible project. Image credit: Lily Cole

The site, impossible.com, available online and as an app available from the Apple App Store was conceived by the 25 year old Lily with a friend during the depths of the financial crisis in 2008. The impossible tree initiative was launched to an audience in the museum’s IMAX theatre at the September Lates evening.

In the Science Museum, Lily expressed her belief in the universal kindness between strangers that can be harnessed by impossible.com to challenge our bartering economy through a currency of “thank-yous” instead of money.

Lily said: “Hosting our wishing trees at the Science Museum for the last three months – alongside a talk on the science of cooperation – was such a (scientifically) magical beginning for impossible. A huge thank you to everyone at the Science Museum who helped organise it, and to everyone who came and left a wish.”

The museum answered one of Lily’s wishes too, and provided gifts – micro-copters – for her to deliver to children in the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

“Thanks also for the toys and helicopters which we delivered to Manchester Children’s Hospital in answer to someone’s wish. It gave me great joy to deliver them” she added.

impossible.com was developed with advice from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Nobel Peace Prize recipient and economics professor Muhammad Yunus. On the advice of Yunus, impossible.com will run as a for-profit social business, with profits being re-invested into the company or in other social enterprises.

The impossible.com app is available on https://itunes.apple.com/app/*impossible*/id638819253?ls=1&mt=8

Impossible trees grow in the Science Museum

My evening with the entrepreneurial Lily Cole, by Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs

A little copse of ‘giving trees’ will once again sprout in the entrance to the museum’s Wellcome wing as part of our highly-successful Lates events.

The olive trees first appeared at our last adults-only evening to celebrate the work of the actor, activist and entrepreneur Lily Cole. That night Lily and I met in the museum to discuss her ‘gift culture’ social network Impossible.com, which is now being developed into an App.

Shinto Wish Trees at Lates.

Shinto Wish Trees at Lates. Credit: Science Museum

The last time we encountered each other, we discussed her work with the World Land Trust to help elephant migration routes. This time around, and before a packed IMAX, Lily and I compared notes on the ideas behind her grander vision of cooperation, as seen in her website impossible.com, which is currently in beta. 

She conceived the idea for her new sharing economy during the depths of the financial crisis and has followed through with admirable determination on her plans to create a moneyless system for exchanging goods and services. Or, as Lily put it:  ‘What if technology could communicate people’s needs?’

Lily has consulted many people for her project, including Muhammad Yunus, who won the noble peace prize for micro finance. Indeed, one of her investors was so inspired by his first meeting with her that he started work on her app without any prompting.

At the core of Lily’s thesis lies her belief in the universal kindness between strangers, one that impossible.com taps into, which challenges our bartering economy through a currency of “thank-yous” instead of money.

While she approaches the question of cooperation from the perspective of her Cambridge University background in arts, anthropology and economics, I adopted that of my co-author Martin Nowak of Harvard University, who has done experiments to study the origins of cooperation, whether by studying idealised mathematical agents or people.

Roger Highfield and Lily Cole discuss cooperation at Lates

Roger Highfield and Lily Cole discuss cooperation at Lates. Credit: Science Museum

What Nowak has shown, with the help of a famous game theory experiment called the Prisoner’s Dilemma, is that evolution undermines cooperation without the help of mechanisms.

We know such mechanisms must exist because cooperation is so ubiquitous. Some of my examples from nature were familiar to the audience, such as leaf ants, bees who tirelessly harvest pollen for the good of the hive, and naked mole rats.

Because of the many parallels between these societies and multicellular creatures, where the job of reproduction is specialised, mole rate colonies, ant nests and beehives are known as superorganisms.

Some of my examples were downright odd, such as the ‘unicorn of the sea’, or pyrosome. These are composed of thousands of individuals, called zooids,  which form hollow bioluminescent cylinders up to 20 m long and large enough for a scuba diver to swim inside.

Cooperation is ancient, dating back to the dawn of life on Earth, more than three billion years ago. Among filaments of cyanobacteria, for example, one dies every 10 or 20 to feed its neighbours with nitrogen. Other bacteria forage in groups, much as a pride of lions hunt together.

Slides from the Science of Cooperation discussion

Martin Nowak has identified five basic mechanisms of cooperation: direct reciprocity (I scratch your back, you scratch mine); indirect reciprocity (I scratch your back and someone else scratches mine); spatial selection (exploiting population structure, whether due to geography, friendship or common interests); multilevel selection (I will sacrifice myself for the greater good) ; and, finally, kin selection (we help our relatives – nepotism). People use all five – that’s why Martin and I call them supercooperators. Of that list of mechanisms, Lily’s impossible.com makes the most use of ‘indirect reciprocity,’ which is linked to the evolution of social intelligence and language.

Our views of cooperation overlap on one key point: that to prevent environmental catastrophe, we need to improve the way that we work together not just for our own good but also for the benefit of future generations: we need to do more to cooperate with the unborn, if you like.

After the event, Lily and I returned to the little copse where museum visitors had been encouraged to write their wishes on wooden boards, following the Shinto tradition, in the hope that at least one of the 4000 people who visited that night could make it come true.

Jimmy Wales, American Internet entrepreneur and a co-founder of Wikipedia had joined the milling crowd earlier that evening as they penned their wishes in Sharpie onto small wooden boards and hung them on the trees. Later we met Science Minister, David Willetts, who was there to meet the winners of the Medical Research Council’s Max Perutz prize, and Dr Penny Fidler and her colleagues from the Association of Science and Discovery Centres, who were attending their annual conference.

Lily has also been 3D scanned for a new museum exhibition 3D: Printing the Future (try to find the resulting mini Lily on the exhibition wall) and contributed to a mass experiment on music, #Hooked, organised by our sister museum, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

Our experience with Lily was, in its own way, a wonderful testament to the power of cooperation.

The next Science Museum Lates is space-themed and runs from 6:45-10pm on Wednesday 30th October.

The Pavegen dance floor, used to generate electricity from movement

Climate Change Lates

The unpredictable British weather has had a big impact on our lives already this year. So, as we emerge from the April showers, what better theme for a Lates evening is there than the science of climate change?

Join us for a fun and thought-provoking evening where we take a closer look at the new technologies being pioneered to help solve some of the most pressing climate related issues that affect our daily lives.

How do we meet the demand of a growing population and the expansion of our cities? Ian Bowman, Head of Sustainability UK and NW Europe, Siemens looks at how new technology is the key to meeting these challenges and offers up solutions which have minimum ecological impact such as the use of wind power technology, electric vehicles and hybrid transport and more eco-friendly healthcare systems. For more examples of eco-engineering you can check out the hydrogen fuel cell car which is on display in our Atmosphere gallery.

Original equipment used by Charles Keeling to sample carbon dioxide levels in the air on display in the Atmosphere gallery.

Original equipment used by Charles Keeling to sample carbon dioxide levels in the air on display in the Atmosphere gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Great London Flood. Some experts think that the increased risk of flooding from climate change may render the Thames Barrier redundant by the middle of the century. So how will London be protected? Meet Tim Reeder, Regional Climate Change Programme Manager at the Environment Agency who will talk about the challenge of planning for sea level rise in London and how the Thames Estuary 2100 plan is going to tackle it.

Imagine if your night in a club or walk to work could power the lights for your journey home. Test out your moves in the Energy Dance-off, which features an incredible energy harvesting dance floor from Pavegen that converts the kinetic energy of your dance steps into electricity, powering a reactive light installation.

The Pavegen dance floor.

The Pavegen dance floor. Image credit: Pavegen

Already used by runners at this year’s Paris Marathon, every impact on a Pavegen tile generates between 4 and 8 joules of electrical energy, power that would otherwise have gone to waste. You can also follow the dance floor on twitter to see just how much energy Lates visitors generate.

Throughout the evening you can have fun with the Climate Playground and try your hand at some old-school kids’ games and indulge in all the usual Lates activities such as the Silent Disco, Pub Quiz and Launchpad gallery.

Entry to Lates is FREE and open to anyone over the age of 18. Can’t get to London on Wednesday? You can also follow Lates via @sciencemuseum & #smLates

A zombie with its handler

ZombieLab: Grappling with consciousness

On Wednesday night, the zombies outbreak began, driving over 5,000 people to the Science Museum’s Lates to search for answers and a better understanding of consciousness. 

A zombie with its handler

A zombie with its handler

Scientists from across the UK will gather in the Science Museum this weekend (2/3 Feb, 11-5.30pm) for ZombieLab. Worried members of the public are invited to study zombies and the science of consciousness as society searches for answers. 

Here’s our guide to ZombieLab and the murky world of consciousness…

First, you must prove you’re not already been afflicted with Quarantine. With ten minutes until the safe house doors slam shut, complete the tasks to show you’re fully conscious and you might survive…

Next, watch experts from Cambridge and UCL give a live clinical diagnosis of one of the afflicted, before Prof Anil Seth answers the questions you’ve always wanted to know in his Are Zombies Conscious? talk.

Visitors must prove they are not already afflicted through a series of tests at ZombieLab

Maya Kaushick at Imperial and Frank Swain, author and zombie expert, will look at what affects our behaviour, the way we experience the world and whether current research could explain the cause of a zombie outbreak? We also ask how our senses drive our conscious experience, and how can we use this knowledge to better understand how zombies hunt?

As the Zombies lurch towards you, can you escape their grasp? Adrian, the neuroscientist behind new smartphone app Zombies, Run! will be on hand to explain how fear and hungry are powerful motivators while you outrun a zombies pack, and Collective behaviour experts Edd Codling and Nikolai Bode of the University of Essex will put you through your paces in the zombie predator-prey game, Horde.

Pro-Zombie Action Group

Zombies are people too!

Time passes, and as a cure is found, society asks are zombies accountable for their actions? Join the Trial and decide whether zombie-killers should be imprisoned, not celebrated. The Community Jury Initiative needs you to decide. Outside the Trial, the Pro-Zombie Action Group will be in full swing: Zombies are people too! Stand up for zombie rights with banners, speeches and impromptu demonstrations.

If zombie films are more your thing, buy tickets here for our exclusive Sunday afternoon showing of Warm Bodies.

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If you’ve enjoyed ZombieLab, please make a conscious decision and donate £3 to the Museum. You can text Zombie to 70500 or donate here.

Babbage's Difference Engine No 2, 1847-1849 drawings

Happy New Year

We’re welcoming in the New Year with a look at just a few of the exciting things happening here at the Museum in 2013.

Zombie hordes will invade the Museum in late January as we explore the science of consciousness and debate the ethical implications of a Zombie attack. Running during Lates and over a weekend, ZombieLab will feature live games, performances and talks from leading consciousness researchers across the UK.

Babbage's Difference Engine No 2, 1847-1849 drawings

Babbage’s Difference Engine No 2, 1847-1849 drawings

British philosopher and mathematician Charles Babbage, famous for his designs of automatic calculating machines, will be the focus of a new display this spring, as the Museum showcases the newly digitised Babbage archive and its collection of technical plans, drawings, scribbling books and letters.

In the summer, we’ll open Media Space, a brand new 1800 m² venue with two exhibition spaces and a café bar. A collaboration with the National Media Museum, Media Space will showcase some of the 3.2 million items from the National Photography Collection in a series of temporary exhibitions.

Media Space

Before work began on Media Space. Image © Kate Elliott

Photographers, artists and the creative industries will use our collections to explore visual media, technology and science through the wider programme of exhibitions and events at Media Space.

Finally, we’ll end the year with an exploration of one of the great scientific and engineering endeavours of our time: the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva.

Opening in autumn 2013, this new exhibition will give visitors a close-up look at remarkable examples of CERN engineering, including the vast dipole magnets. We’re working with CERN scientists and theatrical experts to produce a truly immersive experience which transports visitors into the heart of the LHC.

A Higgs boson is produced in the ATLAS detector

A Higgs boson is produced in the ATLAS detector at CERN

Also on display in the exhibition will be historic objects from our collections, including the apparatus used by JJ Thomson  in his electron discovery experiments and the accelerator Cockcroft and Walton used to split the atom.

So whether it’s Zombies, Media Space or the Large Hadron Collider that interests you, there’s something for everyone in the Museum this year.

Luvvies and Boffins

Luvvies & Boffins Night at the Museum

Guest post by Peter Barron, Director of External Relations, Google EMEA

This week saw the second gathering of Google’s Luvvies and Boffins — this time with added boffinry courtesy of the Science Museum in London.

The idea came from Eric Schmidt’s MacTaggart lecture, delivered in Edinburgh last summer, in which he said Britain needs to bring art and science back together if its creative industries are to have a successful future. Guests were handed lapel badges denoting “Luvvie”, “Boffin” or the Renaissance “Luvviboff”.

Besides great cocktails and conversation, the evening featured a stellar line-up of computing-themed activities. There were guided tours of the new Turing Exhibition, up-close demonstrations of the Babbage Engine in action, and hands-on soldering workshops to make Lumiphones.

As an added bonus, our evening coincided with Science Museum Lates, an adults only event at the museum on the last Wednesday of every month. Geek activities abounded — punk science comedy, a cockroach fancy dress tour, even an impressively silent disco.

Overall, it was a wonderful evening. Thanks to the Science Museum for being such great hosts.

See highlights from the night over on storify

Computer game character with a gun

Gaming Lates

To tie in with our magnificent PLAYER live gaming festival, the theme of this month’s Lates was – wait for it – gaming.

We had the usual heady brew of science talks, silent disco, Beau Lotto’s Lab, pub quiz and so on.

But this month the Lates crowd also got to be shot at by giant avatars, to participate in an adapted and enormous game of something similar to Pong and to play super-sized Battleships in in our Shipping gallery. Not your average Wednesday night out…

These games and more will be going on until the 2 October – check out the full PLAYER programme.

We also kicked off a SCVNGR trek that will be running for the next few months. Using your smartphone you have to complete a series of challenges around the Museum – all very scientific, but some significantly silly.

If you know what a Klein bottle is, you should probably come down, maybe team up with some friends and try to imitate one…

Click on the pics below to have a closer look.

Photos all by Patu Tifinger.

Person Sneaking

Take me to your scientist

With less than a month until our live gaming festival, Player we have been speaking to some of the people creating the games you can get involved with over the five days.

Read Holly from Hide and Seek’s guest post about their game Take me to your scientist  below:

There’s something really, really enticing about the idea of being in a museum after everyone else has gone home. Who doesn’t, at closing time, dream for just a moment of ducking behind a display case or hiding inside a supercomputer, then coming out when there’s nobody else around?

So the opportunity to design a game for the closed Science Museum, to run from 10pm, was astonishing. It’s a gorgeous building to play in anyway, but using it simply as that – as a building, a space – would have been a waste. We were determined to devise a game that really draws on the fact that it’s not just any building: it’s theScienceMuseum, full of exhibits and corners and strange history and great big towering engines.

It would be a shame to give too much away, but Take Me To Your Scientist will pit players against some… slightly unusual visitors to the museum, visitors who have a very specific reason for being there. It’s just possible that the future of Earth depends on you.

Person Sneaking

 

Take me to your scientist runs at September Lates starting at 10pm. Spaces are limited so avoid disappointment and book your tickets today.

To book tickets call 0870 870 4868 they cost £8 plus a £1 booking fee.

Stay up to date on our daily news by following us on Twitter or joining us on Facebook.  And for exclusive news about upcoming events and offers sign up to our newsletter.  See you at Player!

People mixing up their bath bombs

Chemistry Lates

Chemistry was the key to this month’s Lates – the chemistry of bath products, warfare, alcohol and even luuurve…

As well as all the talks and tours (cockroaches included) you could make elemental fridge magnets and bath bombs to take home. The bath bombs looked like pink/green/blue porridge to start with, but looked much more appealing after they’d started to set.  

Elsewhere there were people wandering around clutching huge bubbles full of cloudy carbon dioxide or throwing crazy shapes in the Space gallery to the music that only they could hear. You meet all sorts at Lates…

Check out Patu Tinfinger’s beautiful pictures of the evening: 

We also had a little experiment with a smartphone app called SCVNGR that gives you points for completing challenges and even lets you set challenges for other people to complete – read my earlier post for details.

After a rough count and excluding a couple of staff members, 30 people used the app and completed around 70 challenges.

We had some really nice responses – great pics of people performing loud moves in the silent disco and some thoughtful / funny responses to the ‘Object of Desire’ challenge. Most picked their favourite Museum object and explained why they love it, but someone took a picture of a bottle of beer and one guy rather sweetly took a picture of lovely lady who I suspect is his girlfriend. Now that’s chemistry in action…

I think there would have been more activity if there wasn’t already so much to do at Lates. It seemed the perfect testing ground but maybe the app is better suited to spicing up a regular daytime visit to the Museum when there isn’t quite so much going on.

The other issue was that we were trying to encourage people to create their own challenges – something that very few people did. But there’s still time…

You can use SCVNGR whenever you come to the Museum, so next time you’re here have a little play, and - if inspiration strikes – leave a challenge to inspire everyone who comes after you.

Object of Desire challenge on SCVNGR app

Gaming the Museum

Here at the Science Museum we like to play games.

Our galleries are full of things to play with, both physical and digital. In Launchpad there are contraptions where you can build up pressure to fire a rocket, multi-player mechanical games with levers and pulleys and a rotation station that spins you like an ice-skater.

Over the years we’ve also created lots of free online games, from the physics-based blockbuster Launchball to cute Thingdom and challenging Rizk. Plus, in October we’re going to hold a live gaming festival in association with Trigger. More details on that one in good time…

We’re also interested in how we can make the experience of visiting the Museum a bit more playful on a day to day basis.

One of the things that we’ve been looking at is a mobile app that promises to create a game layer over the real world. SCVNGR encourages you to complete challenges associated with places (in this case the Science Museum) in order to get points.

There are a bunch of pre-set challenges for every place – take a picture, leave a comment, check in on your own or with friends. But you can also create your own challenges, which is what we’re going to ask you to do at Lates on Wednesday.

I’ve already set up one to get us started – ‘Object of Desire’ asks you to take a picture of your favourite object in the Museum and tell the world why you love it.

Object of Desire challenge on SCVNGR app

Object of Desire challenge on SCVNGR app

But now it’s over to you and we’re really excited to see what challenges you come up with. They can test people’s knowledge, get them to look really hard at our collections or they can just encourage some scientific silliness. It is Lates after all…

To get involved you’ll need a smart phone running the free SCVNGR app. It’s available for iPhones and Android phones.