Category Archives: Research

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?

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Workshop: A History of Science on TV and at the Museum

BBC Science on Show broadcast from the Museum (credit: Science Museum)

Would you like to explore the linked histories of science on TV and at the Museum? Our ‘Intermedial Science’ project is investigating these aspects of the popular culture of science in Britainin the fifties and sixties (see previous post). We are comparing how topics such as space exploration and atomic energy were put on display at the Museum and presented in television programmes. This AHRC-funded project has been under way since early March this year and has proved very exciting. The Science Museum’s archives hold many hidden treasures, and so little has been written so far on Science TV in post war Britain that we are pretty much walking in uncharted territory. On 20th September, we will be sharing the excitement generated by this research.

BBC Science on Show broadcast from the Museum (credit: Science Museum)

On the day we would like to invite everyone who is interested in learning more about the history of museum display and science on TV to join us for a workshop in which we will present some of our findings, and share first thoughts on the next steps for this fascinating project. It will be the occasion to hear people who made this history, in theScienceMuseumand at the BBC science department, telling us their sides of the story. 

The event, starting early in the afternoon, will be in two parts. The first bit, more suited to people with a specialist interest, will be a research academic workshop. It will involve a presentation of findings from the research and a hands-on session during which participants will be offered the opportunity to reflect on an individual science broadcast. The second part of the day, open to the public, will consist in a ciné-club style session. A Horizon Special will be screened in the presence of former producers and editors of the programme. This will be followed by a roundtable discussion and then a Q & A session during which participants will be invited to reflect on the presentation of science on TV in the past forty years and more.

If you’re interested in attending, please drop us a line at:

This event is part of the Intermedial Science project which has been made possible by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.