Category Archives: Writer in Residence

French human skin with tattoos

Writer-in-Residence

Our writer in residence, Mick Jackson, gave us a few words on his tenure here at the Science Museum.

The flag on top of the Science Museum has been lowered to half-mast. It’s a modest gesture, marking the fact that my tenure as writer-in-residence is slowly drawing to a close. People ask, with some justification, what a writer-in-residence actually does. Well, in my case, it was a number of things: I offered writing surgeries to the museum’s staff (a surprising number of whom are privately working on a novel or collection of stories), I composed a short ‘jogging memoir’ to coincide with the Olympics and I generally tried to make myself available and useful.

In return I was given access to some of the museum’s more obscure nooks and crannies, as well as its extensive stores (two of the items that made the greatest impression on me were the 19th Century ‘French human skin with tattoos’ and early lunar photographs). I also took part in a press interview with Sky TV’s ‘The Book Show’ – talking about the residency here as well as appearing in the Bookseller magazine.

French human skin with tattoos
Human skin, with tattoos of women’s heads, France, 1900-1920

Just as importantly, I was given access to the museum’s employees. I could list a hundred inspiring meetings I’ve had over the year but shall limit myself to one. Did you know that the Science Museum has a disused observatory on its roof? No, neither did I. The curator of astronomy and modern physics, Alison Boyle, showed me round soon after I arrived. I know practically nothing about astronomy but the visit encouraged me to start finding out. Until I saw a notice on the wall I’d never previously come across the concept of sidereal time. In the short term it inspired a short story which was commissioned by The Verb / Radio 3, ‘Information regarding the stars’, but I’ll be surprised if I don’t revisit the idea.

The Science Museum

Anyway, heartfelt thanks to the museum and all who work in her. I’m sure that I’ll be drawing on the ideas I’ve uncovered here for years to come. As a farewell gift to the public I shall be tweeting some behind-the-scenes photos of the museum over the coming weeks (@mickwriter). After that, who knows? The Science Museum’s a big place. If I can just keep a hold of my security pass people might not notice that I never actually left …

A picture from Mick Jackson's memoir - My Running Hell’ - an everyman’s jogging memoir

Writer in residence Mick Jackson publishes a short memoir

Our Writer in Residence, Mick Jackson, has published a short memoir, ‘My Running Hell’ commissioned by the Museum as part of his residency and to tie in with the season of sport in London this summer.

Find out more about the memoir in Mick’s guest blog post and head along to Lates on Wednesday where he will be reading small excerpts

By Mick Jackson

I’m your typical middle-aged man: balding, bespectacled and with a bit of a beer-gut. There’s not a lot I can do about the first two, but I try to keep the beer-gut in check by running two or three times a week.

Running’s great – you get to patronize those friends of yours who do no exercise, plus you can get stuck into that great slab of Battenburg, safe in the knowledge that the same calories will be burnt off within seconds of pulling on your running shoes. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

I’ve been running since my teens, when I was actually built for running and if I need the physical benefits – cardio-vascular workout, etc – more these days, then I also need the mental benefits. After an hour or so shuffling along the Downs I can feel almost human.

A picture from Mick Jackson's memoir - My Running Hell’ - an everyman’s jogging memoir

So when the Science Museum was scouting around for ideas for a booklet to tie in with the Summer of Sport I thought that perhaps it was time to celebrate the everyday runners who, like me, may fall a little short of Elite standards, but whose heroism is marked by the fact that they manage to crawl out of bed on a Sunday morning and head out into the rain.

The booklet will be launched at the Science Museum Lates event on Wednesday, 25th July. The event is free. The booklet’s free. It’s going to involve a balding, bespectacled middle-aged man puffing and panting on a running machine. What’s not to like?

Follow Mick on Twitter and find out what other projects he is working on throughout his residency.

Mark Champkin's with his gift for Stephen Hawking

A ‘black hole light’ as a birthday gift to Prof Hawking

By Mark Champkins

When I was asked to design Stephen Hawking a 70th Birthday present on behalf of the Museum, I have to confess, I was a little overwhelmed. I was chuffed to be asked, but didn’t really know where to start.

A ‘black hole light’ as a birthday gift to Prof Hawking

After giving it some thought I reckoned it would be worth talking to some people that knew him and his theories really well, so I approached the Museum curators, Boris and Ali, who have been responsible for putting together a display about his life and work.

They were amazingly helpful, explaining a little about his theories about Black Holes and his work to unite the field of quantum physics with the cosmological. They showed me some images of his office, and his most prized objects and awards, along with some models he had made of the way light falls into a black hole. They also directed me to one or two objects in the Museum that have relevance to his work, one of them being Geissler Tubes.

Geissler tubes are beautiful! Alison and Boris described to me how a fella called Geissler was experimenting with vacuums, and created Geissler tubes by pumping gasses into the vacuum tube, and passing a current through the gas. The gasses glowed as they emitted photons, and though they started out as a curiosity, they led to two developments that relate to Hawking’s work. Firstly, the tubes led to the development of the equipment used to discover the electron – the first sub-atomic particle, which in turn, arguably led to the field of Quantum Physics. Secondly, the Geissler tubes led to the creation of Crookes radiometer, which as it’s name implies detect radiation, linking with Hawking’s identification of his very own form of radiation, that which escapes from a black hole.

I then hit upon the idea of making a “Black Hole Light” using the closest thing available to a Geissler tube – neon tubes. I liked the pun, and how it alludes to Hawking Radiation.

The form I chose for the lamp was inspired by the profile of the model I had seen in Hawking’s lab, demonstrating how light is sucked into a black hole.

I rather liked the idea of uniting the technology that led to the birth of Quantum Physics (in the form of a Geissler-inspired neon tube), with a form that is representative of the path light would take spiralling into a black hole. Mixing Cosmology with Quantum Physics, and trying to reconcile them in one artefact. Something of a metaphor for Hawking’s work.

Having made the light, I am really pleased with it. I really hope it can also serve a practical purpose in his home or office, and that he’ll like it!

View the rest of the pictures in our Flickr set

 

Mick Jackson

Writer in residence

Mick JacksonMick Jackson is a prize-winning author and screenwriter, who has recently become our new writer-in-residence.

His first novel, The Underground Man, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and won the Royal Society of Authors’ First Novel Award. He has published three novels and two illustrated collections of stories with Faber and Faber, his most recent being The Widow’s Tale in 2010. He also writes screenplays and has directed documentaries.

Mick will be at here until September, 2012. Some of his interests which he hopes to explore during the residency are early photography, astronomy, airships, submarines and the history of medicine (particularly The Common Cold Unit).

Throughout his residency he will be keeping us up to date with blog posts. His first post is below. 

Being the writer-in-residence at a major London museum can be pretty demanding. There are people to meet, notes to be made, etc. – and all the thinking on top of that. When the stress threatens to overwhelm me I tend to head for ‘Agriculture’ on the First Floor. In one display case a series of tractors slowly turn in their own small circle, constantly tilling the same grey soil. It’s my equivalent of a Japanese raked gravel garden. After a couple of minutes, a sort of English pastoral Zen settles upon me and I’m right as rain.

To be honest, when I began the residency I was hoping for a hat of some description, with my title printed on it. And maybe a special phone on which I could be notified of potentially-interesting events: ‘There’s something weird going on in Marine Engineering. Grab your notebook and get yourself down there.’ As I approached the crowd I would say, ‘Let me through, please, I’m the writer-in-residence. This scenario may have potential as a short story, or a quirky piece for Radio Four.’

Instead, I am left to wander round the galleries in hatless anonymity. There’s the odd perk, of course. As a member of staff I get 20% discount on my lattes. And curators, who possibly have better things to be getting on with, seem quite prepared to sit down with me and discuss their specialist field. This morning I have been contemplating sidereal time and horary quadrants. Anything to do with Time or Cosmology, I find, can easily bring on a bout of brain-ache. But the moment I feel the pressure building I head back to the tractors – the slowly-turning tractors – and within five minutes my equilibrium is restored.

Mick Jackson
Writer in Residence