Category Archives: Research

Listen to Your Heart

Dr. Corrinne Burns, Assistant Content Developer in the Contemporary Science team, writes about Listen to your Heart, a Live Science experiment where visitors explore interoception.

How good are you at figuring out what people are thinking? Can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes? Alternatively, are you cool and collected? Can you regulate your emotional responses?

Surprisingly, researchers think that all these qualities could be related to something called interoception – that is, how good you are at sensing the workings of your inner body, like your heartbeat.

We are very familiar with what scientists call exteroceptive signals – sight, sound, smell and other sensory inputs which comes from outside the body. But until I met Dr Manos Tsakiris and his team, I had no idea that we also experience internal sensory input, produced from within our bodies by our ongoing physiological processes. These interoceptive signals create a kind of constant background sensory noise, and some of us are more aware of that noise than others.

Sections of the heart. Engraving made in Paris, 1864.

Sections of the heart. Engraving made in Paris, 1864. Credit: Florilegius / Science & Society Picture Library

Manos wants to know whether there’s a link between how good our interoceptive awareness is, and how well we engage with other people and our environment. We thought this sounded absolutely fascinating, and so we invited Manos and his research team to do some real live experiments right here in the Museum. Now we need you to come down and take part!

So what happens in the experiment? You’ll place your wrist on a sensor, which will count your heartbeats. Now, without looking at the sensor readout – that would be cheating! – you will be asked to really concentrate, and try to count your own heartbeats.

So this bit of the experiment will tell the guys how good your interoceptive awareness is. The next bit of the experiment will test how good you are at interpreting other people’s feelings, or seeing the world from someone else’s perspective. Or maybe how good you are at regulating your emotions, or whether you prefer to rely on your body or your vision to navigate your way around.

The whole thing will only take ten minutes or so, and you’d be contributing to some seriously cool research. This data could, ultimately, help us to understand how interoception creates our sense of self – that sense that there is a “me” residing within our body.

Manos and the team will be our Who Am I? gallery – every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday until 13th July for Listen to your Heart.

Celebrating 100 Years of the Medical Research Council

A guest blog post by Vivienne Parry, MRC Council Member

This year the Medical Research Council (MRC) celebrates 100 years of life-changing discoveries. The MRC has its roots in the National Insurance Act, passed by Parliament in 1911. At the turn of the last century, TB was as great a concern to the Edwardians as cancer is to us today. Desperate for cures, government proposed that one penny per working person per year should be taken from their national insurance tax and put into tuberculosis treatment and research. We would call it ring fenced funding today. By 1913 it was recommended that this research should be extended to all diseases. An advisory council and executive committee was convened to oversee this research and administer funds — and thus it was that the MRC was established.

X-rays showing the healing effects of cod liver oil and sunlight on the lower leg bones of a child with rickets. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

X-rays showing the healing effects of cod liver oil and sunlight on the lower leg bones of a child with rickets. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

And what a 100 years it has been. You can read about some of our outstanding achievements on our Centenary Timeline including the 1916 discovery that rickets is caused by a lack of Vitamin D, the 1933 finding that flu is caused by a virus, the unravelling of the structure of DNA by MRC researchers in 1953, and the invention of the MRI scanner in 1973. Our scientists also invented DNA fingerprinting in 1984 and helped Parkinson’s disease patients with deep brain stimulation in 1995. More recently we have developed the phone app Txt2stop which doubles a smoker’s likelihood of quitting.

A reconstruction of the double helix model of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

A reconstruction of the double helix model of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Although it’s great to look back, MRC-funded research continues to have a huge impact on health both in the UK and globally. Less well known is the profound impact that this research has had on our economy and society. We want to share these successes and our birthday celebrations with the British public who today continue to provide the funding for our research through their taxes.

A scientist analysing DNA microarrays. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

A scientist analysing DNA microarrays. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

So far this year we have hosted an installation at Imperial College London looking at the past, present and future of science; saw Her Majesty The Queen open the new building for the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (51 years after opening the original); and revealed that antibiotics won the public vote in our Centenary Poll on the most important medical discovery of the past 100 years. We’ll be celebrating our official birthday on 20 June with our Centenary Open Week, which will see more than 60 public events taking place around the country.

Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic penicillin in 1929. Antibiotics were voted as the top invention in the MRC's Centenary Poll. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic penicillin in 1929. Antibiotics were voted as the top invention in the MRC’s Centenary Poll. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

To launch Open Week we are offering a ‘teaser’ of MRC research by joining forces with the Science Museum to host The Life Game – a free festival taking place this weekend. Visitors will be able to enter Life and take their character (pal) on a journey through the years talking to our scientists, taking chances and making choices as they progress through the festival, creating the story of a long and healthy life for their character.

Visitors will be able to meet scientists to find out about how friends and family can affect health; ground-breaking research on the brain; the impact of living in different social and physical environments; antibiotic resistance; the allergens that can be found by exploring inside a giant nose and how a disease outbreak can spread. People can also gain an insight into how MRC research is helping to improve the lives of transplant patients, and find out how they compare to other visitors in our health tests.

To celebrate the centenary of the Medical Research Council, visitors at the Science Museum were given the chance to create a pal and take them through a unique life journey. If you would like to see all the different pals created during the The Life Game, then please click here.

Strange objects give a feel for the origins of X-ray crystallography

A guest post by Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College.

The things and objects of history are important because they provide a tangible connection to the past. Seeing, or better yet holding and touching, the stuff that generations now dead made and worked with enlivens history, shucking us from the present and its endless clamour for our attention.

The Hidden Structures exhibition at the Science Museum trips us into the history of X-ray crystallography with a small but intriguing display of objects from the 1940s through to the 1970s. The exhibition commemorates the centenary of the development of the technique, by the father and son team of William and Lawrence Bragg who figured out how the scattering of X-rays by crystals could be analysed to reveal the atomic and molecular arrangements within, providing a vista of the structure of matter that had never been seen before.

The Braggs first applied the technique in 1913 to show how the patterns of X-rays diffracted onto photographic plates by table salt — sodium chloride — could be interpreted to reveal the organisation of the two atoms within its crystals. It was apparent from the beginning that the method was applicable to anything that could be induced to crystallise, even the most complex molecules of chemistry and biology. Soon structures composed of tens or hundreds or even thousands of atoms were emerging from UK labs, which established itself at the forefront of the technique thanks in no small part to the inspirational leadership of the younger Bragg.

Hidden Structures 1The first protein structures; left to right — myoglobin, perspex stack of electron density, haemoglobin

The artefacts in the Hidden Structures display come mainly from the first bloom of chemical and biological crystallography; there is Dorothy Hodgkin’s ball-and-stick model of penicillin, John Kendrew’s wormy brown representation of the oxygen-storage protein, myoglobin, Max Perutz’s black and white slabbed structure of haemoglobin, the oxygen-transporter from human blood, and in pride of place, Hodgkin’s huge model of the atomic structure of insulin.

These scientists had to be very hands-on at all stages of their work — growing crystals, carefully measuring X-ray diffraction patterns recorded on photographs, and printing out the electron density maps produced by their analysis. These three-dimensional maps (there is one for haemoglobin in the display, printed in sections on stacked sheets of perspex) show where the electrons are concentrated, so defining the positions of the atoms. The early models simply depict the contours of these maps and give the overall form of the protein molecule. Coming some years after X-rays had unveiled the elegant double-helix of DNA, their crude irregularity was at first a disappointment: “hideous and visceral” wrote Perutz.

But the resolving power of X-rays soon improved and those early crystallographers had to swap plastic and plasticene for intricate assemblies of rods, each representing a bond between two atoms, that were put together with loving attention to detail. Hodgkin’s insulin model from the early 1960s may not be beautiful, but it is mesmerising — and hugely informative.

Hidden Structures 2Hodgkin’s atomic structures: left, insulin; right, penicillin.

X-ray crystallography continues apace. Thousands of protein structures have been solved, providing a detailed understanding of the workings of biology at the molecular level. We see clearly now not just how hormones like insulin work, or how haemoglobin picks up and drops off its cargo of oxygen, but also how DNA is synthesised and decoded, how ion channels enable the transmission of nerve signals, how the immune system fights off infection. No pharmaceutical company works blind in the 21st Century; all use X-ray crystallography to reveal the molecular targets of therapy, whether from a virus or bacteria or a cancerous cell, as part of the quest for new drugs and vaccines.

But all the work of recording and analysing data and building models has now migrated to computers. For sure this has greatly accelerated the pace of research and discovery, but there are no more photographs or stacks of electron density or models made of stuff for future generations to pick up and wonder at. All the more reason therefore to cherish the crystallographic arcana on show at the Science Museum.

Stephen Curry is a professor of structural biology at Imperial College. He writes regularly about science at the Reciprocal Space and Occam’s Corner blogs.

Frank Whittle, G B Bozzoni and H Harvard testing the first British Jet engine

Fuelling Prosperity

A guest blog post by Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Director Programmes and Fellowship, Royal Academy of Engineering on science and its impact on the UK economy.

The UK has a proud track record of research excellence. We are responsible for 14 of the top 100 medicines in use today (second only to the USA) and have developed technology found in 95% of the world’s mobile phones. Thanks to previous sustained investment we have the most productive research base of the world’s leading economies and our researchers have claimed over 90 Nobel Prizes.

The recent Great British Innovation Vote showed the impact and diversity of our achievements over the last century – and many exciting new developments just opening up, from ionic liquids and graphene to hypersonic planes and quantum dots.

Quantum dots can be ‘tuned’ to release photons of light at a given frequency.

Quantum dots can be ‘tuned’ to release photons of light at a given frequency. Image credit: Nanoco Industries Ltd.

Many of the great challenges that we face – like food security, climate change, energy security and the impacts of ageing – require expertise and collaboration right across the humanities, social, engineering, physical, medical, chemical, biological and mathematical sciences. Responding to climate change, for example, requires an understanding of both the scientific evidence and the engineering approaches to tackle it plus the socioeconomic effects and how they interact.

So efficient is our research system that it achieves world-leading results despite the government spending less on research than our competitors do. The UK government spent just 0.57% of GDP on research and development in 2011, in comparison to 0.85% in Germany and 0.92% in the USA.

Frank Whittle, G B Bozzoni and H Harvard testing the first British Jet engine

Frank Whittle, G B Bozzoni and H Harvard conducting research and testing on the first British-designed Jet engine

This week the UK’s four national academies – the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society – are together asking the government not to take this success for granted. Fuelling Prosperity explains why continued investment in R&D is essential to rebalancing the UK economy. Listen here to an interview with Sir Paul Nurse on this report. 

The Academies wish to see a stable 10 year investment framework for research, innovation and skills, which should sit at the heart of its emerging industrial strategy and plans for growth.

The science budget is essential to the future economic development of the country and it should continue to be ringfenced to ensure that our highly efficient research system is well resourced. Science, research and engineering should continue to inform policy making across Whitehall.

The Academies want the UK to provide a world class research and innovation environment that is attractive to talent and investment from industry and from overseas and that inspires and supports the next generation of researchers.

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.

Portrait of a woman looking thoughtful, c 1950.

What *should* we be worried about?

By Pippa Murray and Will Stanley

Ask most people what is worrying them and their answer is often personal. Ask leading thinkers and you could end up worried yourself.  The latter was put to the biggest science minds for this year’s annual question – What should we be worried about? – from the good people at Edge.

Each year, this online literary salon poses a new question – previous examples include ‘What is your favourite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?’ and ‘What will change everything?’ – and requests that each contributor responds with a scientifically informed argument. The aim is to step away from the pressing news of the day, and share something new and thought provoking.

Portrait of a woman looking thoughtful, c 1950.

Portrait of a woman looking thoughtful, c 1950
Credit © Photography Advertising Archive/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

With this in mind it seems right to start with Larry Sanger’s essay, the co-founder of Wikipedia and Citizendium, which looks at the rise of internet silos. In Sager’s opinion, these online websites for news or opinion breed hostility and single mindedness by hosting ‘objectively unsupportable views that stroke the egos of their members,’ that make us ‘overconfident and uncritical’ about the world around us.

Continuing on the theme of modern technologies, Nicholas HumphreyEmeritus School Professor at the London School of Economics, raises his concerns on fast knowledge. While many view today’s easy access to smartphones, search engines and the information that they provide us at the click of a button as a good thing, Humphrey argues the opposite. He states that nowadays, ‘everyone finds themselves going to the same places, when it’s the arrival and not the journey that matters, when nothing whatever memorable happens along on the way, I worry that we end up, despite our extraordinary range of experience, with less to say.’

In contrast to Sanger and Humphrey, Simon Baron-Cohen dissects an age old debate, that of C.P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ from 1969. In his essay, Baron-Cohen recognizes the efforts of literary agents and publishers to make science more accessible, particularly to non-scientists, but states that in other fields of science, such as sex differences in the brain, these two cultures remain separated by a deep chasm.

Among these 140 contributors is one from our own Director of External Affairs, Roger Highfield, who argues the need for more science heroes to step forward, stating that ‘When it comes to selling the magic of science we need to accept that the most powerful way is through heroic stories.’ Highfield worries about the decline of scientific heroes, because their function as ‘viral transmitters of science in the crowded realm of ideas’ is of vital importance. He concludes that scientific literacy is vital for a modern democracy to function.

Other contributors, such as Steven Pinker, take an alternative approach, eliminating some of the problems that people fixate on. In Pinker’s case he looks at the causes of war, suggesting new and more relevant approaches to these worries. Kevin Kelly chose to turn the focus of a well known topic on its head, sharing the lesser-known worry of under-population.

And while reading all these essays may lead you to worry about many more things than you usually do, a common theme of these essays is the importance of sharing knowledge and challenging the status quo in today’s society, which is not such a bad idea after all.

Read more of what you should be worying about here

One of 12 cognitive tests which look at memory, reasoning, attention and planning abilities

Biggest intelligence test exposes the limits of IQ

By Adam Hampshire, Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario

To what extent are some people smarter than others? For a century, psychologists have believed that we can boil differences in cognitive skill down to a single number known as an Intelligence Quotient (IQ). But does one number really represent an individual’s ability to remember, to reason and to think? The answer is an emphatic no, according to the results of a landmark experiment conducted on many tens of thousands of people with the help of Roger Highfield of the Science Museum Group.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPVxAxzhvDA']

With Roger and my colleague Adrian Owen, who works with me at the University of Western Ontario, I describe our findings today in the journal Neuron.

Our  attempt to answer this simple question dates back more than five years, when Roger encountered work that I had conducted with Adrian at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge on a reliable way to carry out cognitive tests online so we could monitor rehabilitation after brain injury, the effect of smart drug trials and so on.

Roger wondered if we could use this test to carry out a mass intelligence test. Drawing on earlier data from brain scans,  Adrian and I came up with a series of tests which we knew would trigger activity in as much of the brain’s anatomy as possible, combining the fewest tasks to cover the broadest range of cognitive skills.

In half an hour, respondents had to complete 12 cognitive tests which look at memory, reasoning, attention and planning abilities, as well as a fill in a survey about their background and lifestyle habits (Roger and Adrian describe the tests here).

One of 12 cognitive tests which look at memory, reasoning, attention and planning abilities

We expected a few hundred responses. But thanks to articles in The Daily Telegraph, Discovery and New Scientist, 110,000 people took part from every corner of the world. Once I had used statistical methods to analyse more than a million data points on a representative group of around 45,000, I found that when a wide range of cognitive abilities are probed, the variations in performance can only be explained with at least three distinct components: short-term memory; reasoning; and finally, a verbal component.

No one component, or ‘IQ’, explained all the variations revealed by the tests.

To bolster our results, Adrian and I used a $5 million brain scanner, which relies on a technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to study 16 participants as they carried out all 12 tests.  We found that each of the three different factors identified by the analysis did indeed correspond to a different brain network: these differences in cognitive ability map onto three distinct circuits in the brain.

The results disprove once and for all the idea that a single measure of intelligence, such as ‘IQ’, is enough to capture all of the differences in cognitive ability that we see between people. Instead, several different brain circuits contribute to intelligence, each with its own unique capacity. A person may well be good in one of these areas, but they are just as likely to be bad in the other two.

Because so many people took part, the results also provided a wealth of information about how factors such as age, gender and the tendency to play computer games influence our brain function.

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For example, people who regularly played computer games did perform significantly better in terms of both reasoning and short-term memory. Smokers performed poorly on the short-term memory and the verbal factors, while people who frequently suffer from anxiety performed badly on the short-term memory factor in particular.

We are now launching a new version of the tests here. To ensure we do not bias the results of the new tests, we can’t say much about the agenda other than that there are many more fascinating questions about the true nature of intelligence that we want to answer.

Adam Hampshire works at the Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.

A Lifetime of Work

A Lifetime of Work: The Lovelock Archive

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum

It’s an amazing image to conjure with: the 23-year old James Lovelock, our most famous independent scientist, cradling a baby in his arms who would grow to become the world’s best known scientist, Stephen Hawking.

Lovelock told me about this touching encounter during one of his recent visits to the Science Museum, a vivid reminder of why the museum has spent £300,000 on his archive, an extraordinary collection of notebooks, manuscripts photographs and correspondence that reveals the remarkable extent of his research over a lifetime, from cryobiology and colds to Gaia and geoengineering.

A Lifetime of Work

A Lifetime of Work: Notebooks, manuscripts photographs and correspondence from the Lovelock archive

Lovelock, who was born on 26 July 1919, must have encountered the great cosmologist in the year of Hawking’s birth, 1942, when he was working at the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research, after graduating in chemistry from Manchester University the year before.

Hawking’s father was Frank Hawking (1905-1986) who spent much of his working life at the NIMR studying parasitology. Lovelock was doing research at the time of the encounter on sneezing and disinfection, publishing his first scientific paper, in the British Medical Journal, that same year.

As for his impact, there’s no better way to emphasise Lovelock’s stature than to read the foreword of one of his recent books, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, by Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal, and the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, who describes him as among the most important independent scientists of the last century: “He is a hero to many scientists – certainly to me.”

Lovelock has made headlines for his views on the environment, and his support for nuclear power (he once told me he would happily store nuclear waste in his garden), but he is best known for introducing the world to the seductive idea of Gaia, which says the Earth behaves as though it were an organism. The concept first reached a wide audience in 1975 in an article published in New Scientist, but was ridiculed, attacked for being teleological, even mocked as an “evil religion”.

Lovelock’s computer simulation, Daisyworld, helped Gaia mature from a hypothesis into a theory by putting it on a mathematical foundation. Light, and dark, coloured daisies evolved within an idealised world, waxing and waning to balance the way they absorbed and reflected sunlight to regulate the temperature, so it was optimum for plant growth. Among the items acquired by the museum is a Hewlett Packard computer that Lovelock used for Daisyworld.

Lovelock’s computer simulation, Daisyworld

Lovelock’s computer simulation, Daisyworld

Bolstering Lovelock’s Gaian vision came experimental evidence, the discovery that sulphur from ocean algae circulated worldwide in a form that has since been linked with the formation of clouds that are able to cool the world by reflecting sunlight back into space. Today, Gaia’s influence stretches beyond Earth to music, fiction and even computer games.

The Science Museum’s collection includes Lovelock’s Electron Capture Detector which he invented in 1956 to detect a range of substances, he explained, ‘mostly nasty poisons and carcinogens, or else harmful to the atmosphere like nitrous oxide and halocarbons.’ In the summer of 1967 Lovelock used it measured the supposedly clean air blowing off the Atlantic onto Ireland’s west coast and found that it contained CFCs, now known to cause ozone depletion. ‘It’s sad that it would now be almost impossible for a lone scientist like me to make or use an ECD without breaking the health and safety laws,’ he told me.

Electron capture detector for a gas chromatograph

James Lovelock developed this highly sensitive detector for measuring air pollution in 1960.

I have met this green guru on and off since 1991 and, the last time we talked, he was as provocative as ever. The attempts to model the Earth’s climate system do not yet fully include the response of the ecosystem of the land or oceans, and Lovelock warned about feedback effects, some that can damp down climate change and others that accelerate it, and he predicts a threshold above which there could be a five degree increase in temperature.

He is withering about the attempt of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to forge a consensus, a word that he says has no place in science. That is no surprise. From 1964 Lovelock has worked as an independent scientist and he is writing a book about being a lone scientist in response to an article in the Wall Street Journal which argued that the scientific process can only happen through collaboration. Lovelock believes that lone scientists can work more like artists in that they can be reflective and do not necessarily need other people to collaborate with.

And when it comes to the fate of our home world, all is not lost. Lovelock, like many others, is receptive to another idea that, relatively recently, was laughed off as unrealistic, even a little mad: geoengineering, or “planetary medicine”, which could mean cooling the Earth by the use of space mirrors or clouds of particulates.

Lovelock, who has been visiting the Science Museum since the age of seven, teamed with a former Museum Director, Chris Rapley, to devise another way to cool our overheated world: pumping chilly waters from the ocean depths to fertilize the growth of carbon-hungry blooms.

The BBC’s 2LO transmitter

Research: putting a very big ‘open’ sign on the door

By Tim Boon, Head of Research & Public History

At the end of last month, the Science Museum Group formally launched its new Research and Public History Department. Research is at the heart of every great museum; without it we cannot understand the stories our collections tell, how our audiences engage, or how to slow the deterioration of our objects.

BBC Horizon producers discuss the programme’s history at the Science Museum

Horizon producers discussing the programme’s history at a recent AHRC-funded event organised by the Research & Public History Department.

If research is so central, it may seem odd that we are having this launch now in 2012. And, of course, research has always had a role at the Museum. But what this launch signifies is a hunger to do more, in a greater variety of ways, and with an increasingly diverse range of partners.

Any scholar intrigued by the Museum’s collections, its galleries, or curious about the way that its galleries act as a public space for science and technology, is invited to work with us to delve deeper and to understand better; to research with us.

The BBC’s 2LO transmitter

The BBC’s 2LO transmitter, subject of a recently-completed AHRC-funded collaborative doctorate.

Ludmilla Jordanova, the eminent historian and Science Museum Group Trustee, argued at the opening event that, “it is fitting that a group of museums about ‘science’, which in many languages still has the broad meaning of knowledge and learning, should use and foster a wide range of approaches to understanding some of the most central phenomena of human existence, namely science in its more specific sense, medicine and technology.”

But what is research? Ludmilla suggested that it is ‘sustained nosiness’; that it is a kind of ‘systematic curiosity’. This definition gives a clue to that other phrase in our title, public history. At one level, academic research is simply a more intensive version of what all of us do when we visit a museum or gallery with a wish to understand more and better.

So, we are interested in how our visitors think about the history of science, and in developing insights that will enable us to attune our offer better. But we also know that the academics who work with us – historians, education experts, geographers, media scholars and many others – bring new and exciting ways of seeing from their own disciplines.

The research door is open; we encourage you to come in.

Dance of DNA at Science Museum

Switch To A Different You?

By Dr Corrinne Burns, Assistant Content Developer

Do you look like your parents? Do you have your mother’s green eyes, or your father’s freckles? We’re so used to thinking of physical traits in terms of genes – genes for height, genes for eye colour, even genes for baldness. But new research reveals that your genes are only a tiny part of what makes you, you. In our new display case, Switch To A Different You? – the Science Museum explores the significance of a groundbreaking discovery.

Switch To A Different You?

Genes make up only around 2% of your DNA. So what’s the rest of it for? We used to think that most of our DNA was junk – but it isn’t. Scientists working on the Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements project – called ENCODE for short – have discovered that, in reality, our “junk” DNA is made up of millions of switches, which act to turn those few genes on and off. Your DNA is, in effect, a gigantic, dynamic, dancing switchboard.

What does this mean for science – and for our sense of identity? If our genes are such a small part of our DNA, then why do we look the way we do? How does our childhood environment influence the behaviour of our genetic switchboard? If we could live our life again, would we look very different? And how will the discovery of this vast genetic switchboard help us to understand – and maybe treat – genetic diseases?

The Museum is celebrating ENCODE’s groundbreaking discoveries in a unique way. Ling Lee, on the science news team here at the Museum, came up with the wonderful idea of visualising DNA replication via an aerial silk dance. So Ling, together with Ewan Birney, one of the ENCODE project leaders, worked with acrobat Michèle Lainé of Viva Aerial Dance to choreograph a spectacular (and scientifically accurate!) performance. Join us on the Who Am I gallery at 1.30 pm tomorrow, Thursday 6th September, to see the dance that Ling and Michele created – and to find out more about the science that inspired the display.

Dance of DNA at Science Museum

In Switch To A Different You?, we begin to explore the significance of ENCODE’s discoveries. We don’t have all the answers – this science is so new that we don’t yet know where it will lead us. But we want to know what you think. If you could live your life all over again, do you think you’d be the same person you are today?