Lucy Minshall- Pearson and Adam Boal from our Special Events Team write about developing a new series of events for families with children who are visually impaired.
In the Special Events Team we write, develop and present a large programme of events for families during school holidays and weekends. Our aim is to make the museum as accessible as possible. Part of this is running events like SIGNtific, where stories and workshops are presented in British Sign Language, and Early Birds, mornings where the museum opens early for families with children on the Autistic spectrum.
To build on the successes of our SIGNtific and Early Birds events, we wanted to improve visits for families with children who are visually impaired (VI).Having identified our target audience, we did as much research as we could about how to best tailor our events. We set out to talk to as many people as possible, sharing ideas, experiences, and best practice. We looked into how science is taught at schools for partially sighted and blind children, how organisations that work with partially sighted and blind children run workshops and activities, and we sought out the best events at other amazing museums and galleries. Suddenly every visit to an exhibition involved asking around ‘what activities do you do for families with visually impaired children?’, every visit to a website involved scouring their accessible events pages, every meeting with a fellow museum professional involved asking them about what they were doing for this audience.
Visitors enjoying our newly developed workshops. Credit: Science Museum
Most of the programmes for blind and partially sighted people we found were aimed at adults not families. This made us redouble our efforts, and that’s when we met Barry Ginley, the Disability Access Manager from the V&A, and his lovely Guide Dog, Skye. He gave us training on working with people with visual impairments and information on the issues children with VI can face. He had us walk around the Museum blindfolded, an experience which helped us realise how much more aware we became of our surroundings; objects, people and the giant Rugby Tuning Coil all became potential hazards.
Visitors enjoying our newly developed workshops Credit: Science Museum
Did the families enjoy it? Would further events like this be welcome at the Science Museum? It is a resounding yes for both. The feedback we received was extremely positive which made all of the hard work worth it. If you are interested in attending one of our future events for families with blind and visually impaired children, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org saying you’d like to be added to our ‘VI mailing list’.
The Special Events Team will be running a programme of events for families over the Easter holiday. We’re also staying open until 19.00 (last entry 18.15) every day during the Easter holiday, from 28 March 2015 – 12 April 2015, although our interactive galleries will be closing at 18.00.
· Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum and Longitude Prize Committee Chair
· Prof Mike Sharland, Professor of Paediatric Infectious Diseases at St George’s University and Longitude Prize Advisory Panel member
· Imran Khan, CEO British Science Association, Longitude Prize Committee member
· Melissa Sterry, Renowned Futurist
· Prof Chris Toumazou, Regius Professor of Engineering at Imperial College
The event covered a range of topics and there were some great questions for the panel from attendees. You can listen to audio from the event here.
The most eagerly-awaited science party of the season took place a few days ago in the Science Museum once again, after a gap of more than two decades.
The first was held in the museum in 1992 and, last Tuesday, the ‘Scientists meet the Media’ party returned as a joint venture with the Royal Society and with the support of the Observer newspaper and Guardian Media Group.
The event brings together the great minds of science and science journalism and is a unique meeting of the most influential opinion formers and thinkers, including researchers, museum STEM experts, Nobel laureates, science journalists and editors, best-selling authors and broadcasters.
Speeches to the audience of several hundred were given by Ian Blatchford, SMG Director, Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, and John Mulholland, editor of The Observer.
Ian Blatchford took the opportunity at the party to announce the international physics journalism prize of the Institute of Physics and the STFC to Lisa Grossman of New Scientist, who had flown in from Boston.
To mark the approaching end of his presidency of the Royal Society, the museum’s Inventor in Residence Mark Champkins created a present for Sir Paul.
An engraved beer glass presented to Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society. Credit: Science Museum.
He designed an engraved beer glass with the help of fellow laureate Sir Tim Hunt and Roger Highfield of the museum to celebrate Sir Paul’s work on Schizosaccharomyces pombe yeast that earned him the Nobel prize in 2001.
The glass was presented to Sir Paul by Dame Mary Archer, Chairmanof the Science Museum Group’s Board of Trustees.
To the delight of the audience, Highfield filled Sir Paul’s glass with champagne rather than millet (S. pombe) beer, an acquired taste.
An empathy experiment was also conducted on partygoers in the museum’s Information Age gallery by Prof Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, who has carried out many experiments at the event over the decades.
Ian Blatchford, Director, Science Museum, Group, addresses the audience during the party, one of the museum’s contributions to British Science Week.
John Mulholland, Editor, The Observer, discussed the important relationship between scientists and journalists.
Presentation of the engraved S pombe beer glass by Dame Mary Archer, Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group to Sir Paul Nurse, President, Royal Society
Richard Webb and Lisa Grossman (international physics journalism prizewinner) of New Scientist, Ian Blatchford, Science Museum Group Director, and Sir Paul Nurse, President, Royal Society
Author Bill Bryson with standup comedian and QI writer Dan Schreiber, and TV producer and creator of Spitting Image, Blackadder, QI and more, John Lloyd
Gia Milinovich, television presenter and writer, and Prof Armand Leroi, Imperial College London
UCL’s Mark Miodownik, winner of the Royal Society Winton book prize, with science writer and Science Party candidate Michael Brooks, technologist and businessman Conrad Wolfram, and SMG’s Director of External Affairs, Roger Highfield
Sir Martyn Poliakoff from Nottingham University, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, with Professor Roger Kneebone of Imperial College London
Sir William Stewart, former Chief Scientific Adviser, and Dame Mary Archer, Chairman, Science Museum Group Board of Trustees
UCL scientist, Royal Court actor and former Science Museum director Professor Chris Rapley takes the empathy test, designed by psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire
Tom Chivers, senior writer at BuzzFeed, with science journalist and TV producer Simon Singh, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets
Professor Nicky Clayton of the University of Cambridge, Scientist-in-Residence with the Rambert Dance Company, steps out with science blogger and author Ed Yong
Palaeoanthropologist Professor Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum with Professor Armand Leroi of Imperial College London, also a science author, and BBC science presenter Dr Adam Rutherford
Sheila Kanini from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory with BAFTA and EMMY award winning executive producer Anthony Geffen and Ruth Roberts, head of development, from Atlantic Productions
Bob Ward, Lord Stern’s Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, with SMG’s Director of External Affairs, Roger Highfield, and Martin Ince, President of the Association of British Science Writers
Sir Michael Marmot, University College London, with Michelle Martin, Claudia Hammond and Deborah Cohen of the BBC
Marc Abrahams, Editor and Co-Founder of the Annals of Improbable Research
Charles Clover, Sunday Times, and Lord Rees, former President of the Royal Society, Astronomer Royal and Chair of the Longitude Committee
Cindy Forde, Chief Executive Officer, Cambridge Science Centre, talking to Mark Henderson of the Wellcome Trust
Lord May of the University of Oxford, former President of the Royal Society, and Ian Blatchford, Director, Science Museum Group
Liz McInnes, MP, and Robin McKie, Science Editor, The Observer
Chancellor George Osborne today visited the Science Museum with Sir James Dyson who announced plans to create the Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College London, basing it in the museum’s Post Office building.
The Chancellor (l), with Sir James Dyson and Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford (r). Credit: Science Museum.
The museum will use the proceeds from the sale of the building to Imperial to catalyse the biggest transformation in its history. In this way the sale will help the museum inspire the next generation of young scientists and engineers on whom the economy depends and who could go on to study at the Dyson School.
The new School has been made possible by a £12 million donation from the James Dyson Foundation. The Chancellor and Sir James were shown around the building by Science Museum Director, Ian Blatchford and Imperial Provost Professor James Stirling.
George Osborne, said: “Backing Britain’s world leading science, research and innovation is a key part of our long term economic plan.”
The Post Office Building is located next to the Science Museum and had been used by Royal Mail until last year as well as housing staff offices, which will be relocated to other parts of the South Kensington site.
The reinvestment of proceeds, approved by the Chancellor, will allow the Science Museum to invest more than £20 million in transforming around a third of the museum over the next five years. It will allow the museum to bring the standard of its buildings and infrastructure in line with the world-class visitor experience offered by new permanent galleries being created that include a new interactive gallery that will open in 2016 along with a new mathematics gallery as well as new medicine galleries due to open in 2019.
Ian Blatchford said: “Alongside the significant support we receive from our funders and DCMS, this investment will support bold plans for our museum to fire up the imagination of our million young visitors annually, inspiring a new generation of scientists and engineers. We hope many of them will aspire to study at the Dyson School. This is a win, win, win announcement for young people, our institutions and the UK economy which urgently needs more engineers to fuel growth.”
The Dyson School will teach a four year MEng course in Design Engineering with a curriculum, developed in partnership with Dyson engineers to give industry relevance, blending technical discipline with creativity.
James Dyson said: “We want to create engineers who are bold and commercially astute. They will use their skills, nurtured in the Dyson School, to develop future technology that will catalyse Britain’s economic growth.”
Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: “Design combines the best of technical expertise with creativity and the Dyson School of Design Engineering is uniquely placed to bring these together in its student experience and research. Imperial and Dyson passionately share a vision for educating engineers to elicit innovative thinking and problem solving. The James Dyson Foundation’s generous donation, along with Dyson’s industrial expertise, gives us the opportunity to create a world-leading School for a new kind of engineer to design the future.”
Last year 450,000 young people visited the Science Museum on educational trips or benefit from its outreach programme, more than any other UK museum. Among 3.3 million visitors to the museum last year, around 1.7 million people visited in family groups.
Bang! Whizz! Pop! What a fabulous time we spent at the Science Museum earlier this week as we joined forces with the British Science Association to give a group of young people a wonderful day out to celebrate British Science Week.
Matthew Tosh entertains an audience of children from the Kids Company’s London Centres in the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre. Image credit: Megan Taylor
On arrival we were welcomed into the Museum’s famous Launchpad gallery, which we had entirely to ourselves and where the children were allowed to roam around playing on the various exhibits before being taken to the IMAX theatre for a special science show. The children adored exploring the Launchpad exhibits and the room buzzed with excitement with comments such as, “This is awesome!”, “I wish we could spend a week here!” and “I’m going to get my mum to take me back!”.
It was particularly wonderful to see the reactions of children who normally report to not liking science, enthralled by the mass of exciting experiments to explore.
We were then lead into the impressive IMAX theatre where we were greeted with soothing music and comfortable seats as one of the Science Museum’s Explainers gave a warm welcome to Matthew Tosh, our entertainer for the morning. For the next hour Matthew captured our attention from start to finish with an array of bangs, flashes and pops, all interspersed with digestible nuggets of fascinating science. His enthusiasm for his work was infectious and it was great to see the children listening attentively as he spoke about the importance of following career paths which excite them.
Matthew Tosh explains the science behind fireworks in his show in the Science Museum’s IMAX. Image credit: Megan Taylor.
After being dazzled by an incredible show, we left the IMAX feeling uplifted and inspired. On leaving the theatre, it was great to hear some of the comments from the children – “That was so good!”, and “I really want to be a scientist in the future!”
We wish to say a big thank you to the Science Museum and the BSA for such a memorable day.
British Science Week is a ten day programme of science, technology, engineering and maths events and activities across the UK for people of all ages and runs until Sunday 22 March.
Held in the conference centre at the National Railway Museum, the meeting gave Science Museum Group staff an opportunity to share the ambitious strategic plans being shaped at the Group’s sites around the country and, in Terry Morgan’s presentation, to hear how Europe’s largest construction project is being kept on time and on budget.
Alongside Mr Morgan, the other highlight of the day was the formal introduction to the Group of our new Chairman, Dame Mary Archer.
In conversation with Roger Highfield, the Group’s Director of External Affairs, Dame Mary gave a fascinating account of her route into science and governance within large and ambitious organisations.
This ranged from her long experience as a chemist in academia, notably in Oxbridge and the Royal Institution, London, to being on the Board of Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for two decades, and Chairman for the last 10 years.
The Group’s Director, Ian Blatchford, also held a question and answer session in which he addressed the opportunities and challenges facing our museums, which have seen a cut in Government support of more than 30 per cent in real terms since 2010.
He left the audience of more than 140 people from across the Group in no doubt that our approach to the challenging financial climate would continue to be characterised by audacity and not retrenchment.
Fitting then that the meeting’s final keynote speaker, Terry Morgan, is guiding a project that currently employs over 10,000 people and aims to transform rail transport in London.
He also stressed the challenges of finding sufficient skilled engineers to deliver the project and underlined his personal commitment to both sustainability and the workforce legacy that will be delivered by Crossrail’s apprentice scheme.
Ian Blatchford commented: “There’s much that we, as the world’s leading group of science museums, can learn from Crossrail’s approach as we continue to transform our sites through ambitious permanent galleries, inspiring temporary exhibitions and impactful live programming. We’re also playing a critical role in inspiring the next generation of engineers who will work on the major projects that follow Crossrail.”
Around 600,000 young people in educational groups visit our museums in London, Manchester, York, Bradford and Shildon each year.
On Friday 20 March 2015, a solar eclipse will be visible across the UK (and Europe, parts of Asia and Africa). It’s the last chance to see a major solar eclipse event in the UK until 2026.
Photograph of an eclipse taken from Skylab in 1973. Credit: SSPL / NASA
To celebrate the solar eclipse, curator Ali Boyle selected her favourite objects from our collection and shared them in a Twitter tour. Ali picked out key objects and images to show how the UK has celebrated eclipses in the past. You can read the tour below.
In the UK, the eclipse began at approximately 8.30 GMT, reaching its maximum obscuration at 9.30 GMT (although the times will vary slightly across the UK). Remember it is vital to protect your eyes when watching the eclipse, and there is more advice on how to see the eclipse safely here.
Laura Body from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.
Inside this little bottle is a substance which marked a huge turning point in medical history: Penicillin. The first antibiotic to be discovered and mass-produced, it appeared to be a wonder drug which enabled doctors to effectively treat infection for the first time in history.
Glass bottle of penicillin powder, 1943 Credit: Science Museum/SSPL
In 1928, Dr Alexander Fleming returned from holiday to find a mould growing in one of the Petri dishes in his lab. Upon closer inspection under a microscope, he discovered the mould was preventing the growth of bacteria in the dish, and he came to a remarkable conclusion: the Penicillium mould could potentially be used to fight infection.
It was 10 years later that Fleming’s discovery was picked up and worked on by a team at Oxford University. The team, in collaboration with American scientists, developed Fleming’s discovery into an effective drug which could be mass produced. This crucial breakthrough came during World War II, when vast quantities of the lifesaving antibiotic were desperately needed for treating a range of war-related infections.
The substance in our bottle is some of the first penicillin to have been manufactured, clinically tested and used by the military. In an effort to begin mass producing the drug, a solution was made by a chemical company and then sent on a truck to a team in Oxford University. Their job was to take the weak solution, extract the valuable penicillin from it and purify it. The browny-yellow colour is due to remaining impurities in the sample.
Advertisement for penicillin production from Life magazine, 1944 Credit: Science Museum/SSPL
However, as Fleming correctly predicted in his Nobel Prize Lecture, the misuse of Penicillin would cause harmful microbes to become resistant to the antibiotic.
Today, antibiotic resistance poses a serious threat to progress, as people are dying from bacterial infections which used to be treatable. It is thought 25 million courses of antibiotics are incorrectly prescribed every year in the UK for ailments such as coughs and colds that don’t require the use of this valuable treatment. To combat this growing issue, the Longitude Prize set a challenge to design a test that will help healthcare professionals administer antibiotics correctly, with a £10 million prize for the winning idea.
Do you think the development of Penicillin was the most important medical breakthrough in history, or are there other more important advances?
To see this object and discover more about the story of penicillin, visit the Churchill’s Scientists exhibition, open until March 2016.
To mark the birthday of Philosophical Transactions, Roger Highfield surveys the history of citizen science, which dates back much further than many realise.
Even though the term ‘citizen science’ only entered the Oxford English Dictionary last year, the practice is several centuries old, as quickly becomes evident when thumbing through back issues of the oldest journal dedicated to science.
Philosophical Transactions, which celebrates its 350th birthday on 6 March, has plenty of evidence of citizen science that dates back long before the 20th century, before the internet put terabytes of data at our fingertips, long before TV and long before even the term ‘scientist’ was coined in 1833.
Halley’s solar eclipse observations printed in Philosophical Transactions. Credit: Royal Society
When in 1749, crowds gathered in Green Park in London to watch the great firework display of King George II, a 20 year old Fellow of the Royal Society, Benjamin Robins, published an appeal in the Gentleman’s Magazine to ask people to help record this spectacle of the age, which he reported in Phil Trans.
Due in great part to the complex instructions devised by Robins (citizen scientists take note), only one report was sent in, from a Welshman some 140 miles away who couldn’t see individual fireworks, but upon seeing flashes, reckoned that the pyrotechnics were a waste of money.
Creature surveys date back a long time. When Charles Darwin was developing his theories of evolution he browsed popular natural history magazines and sought out information from an army of almost 2000 correspondents (a project to compare this approach with today’s citizen science is now under way by Chris Lintott and Sally Shuttleworth at Oxford, with Gowan Dawson in Leicester.)
The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900, is but one example of a long-standing tradition which has persisted to the present day. Butterfly counts are another example, with schemes starting in the UK and North America in the mid 1970s.
Various wildlife surveys were also conducted by MegaLab, a project that began with the BBC and Daily Telegraph in 1995, using mass media and phone lines to earn the ‘mega’ prefix. Some projects were citizen science in the strict sense defined by the OED (‘‘scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions’). Others invited a broader form of citizen engagement, where a mass audience provided test subjects to further understanding of the human body and mind.
The first experiment, which was in the latter category, was conducted with Prof Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire. We used national television, radio and press (BBC1’s Tomorrow’s World, BBC Radio One and The Daily Telegraph, where I was science editor) to test whether it is easier to detect lies in print, radio or TV.
A million call attempts were made but, due to overload, we only recorded data on 40,000. In the journal Nature, Richard Wiseman reported that the radio listeners detected the lies 73.4% of the time, the newspaper readers 64.2% and the television viewers 51.8%.
The web extends the reach of scientists engaging with citizens, and in many different ways. One was to harness idle computer processing power, as with seti@home, which helps look for extraterrestrial intelligence, or a DIY climate forecasting project that I launched in The Daily Telegraph.
The web could also help reach out to an audience. MegaLab used the web to conduct Turing tests, for example, and there are many more examples of internet based projects, such as Galaxy Zoo, which asks for help in classifying images of distant galaxies, and the fold.it site, which runs a game to fold the structure of selected proteins as well as possible.
The web also allowed an intelligence test to be undertaken worldwide in 2010 by New Scientist, which I edited at the time, with Adrian Owen, now at the University of Western Ontario, and colleagues. Some 110,000 people took part and the findings challenged the idea of IQ and led to a paper in the journal Neuron.
Another substantial citizen science project – #hookedonmusic – was created by computational musicologists at the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University. The project has been run by Wellcome Trust public engagement fellow Erinma Ochu and the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester to investigate the science of songs which may have implications for future research into dementia. To date there have been 175,000 players of #HookedonMusic, reviewed here, across 199 countries and research papers are expected based on its findings.
The range of citizen science is expanding. To prove that you don’t have to be an adult to do original science, children from a Primary School in Blackawton, Devon, published the results of an experiment on how bees forage for food in different coloured flowers in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters in 2010.
Working with Royal Society Research Fellow, Beau Lotto, they came up with a question, made simple observations about simple phenomena, and discovered ‘bees use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which flower to forage from.’ Gratifyingly they also discovered that ‘science is cool and fun.’ Lotto also ran a laboratory at the Science Museum from late 2010 to the spring of 2012 called, appropriately enough, Lotto Lab.
The museum, through its Lates and Live Science program, has offered many other researchers a chance to experiment on the museum’s three million plus visitors each year. Subjects tackled over the past 15 years range from face scans for surgeons in Great Ormond Street Hospital to gait analysis with Oxford Brookes, synaesthesia with Sussex, and risk-taking with UCL.
Various papers have been published as a result of experiments on visitors, for instance on self recognition and also the way groups behave and crowd behaviour, explored in our ZombieLab event. We are currently running a taste experiment (you can take part here) devised by food scientist Charles Spence from Oxford University, with the support of chef Heston Blumenthal.
And, no doubt, a range of new technologies, such as cheap open source computing power from the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, drones and 3D printing, will aid the long, remarkable and productive rise of the citizen scientist.
The Royal Society is marking the anniversary of Philosophical Transactions with the launch of a series of short films, special issues of the journal, an exhibition and other activities.
Roger Highfield is Director of External Affairs, Science Museum, and a member of the Royal Society’s Inspiring Stories committee.
Anne Prugnon, New Media Manager, examines the Science Museum’s creative use of digital technology in enhancing visitors’ experience of the Information Age gallery.
Featuring over 800 objects and spanning 200 years of dramatic moments in the history of communication and information technology, the Information Age gallery provided us with the perfect opportunity to bring a new edge to storytelling through the most advanced digital technology. In each of the six areas of the gallery (Networks) digital elements work in harmony with historical objects to help increase visitors’ understanding and enjoyment of the Museum’s collections.
A wide view of the Information Age gallery showing the Constellation Network. Image credit: Andrew Meredith for Universal Design Studio
In a Science Museum first, the gallery features a suite of transparent interactive LCD screens that sit in front of significant objects from our collections (see one in action in the video below).These displays allow visitors to discover more about the various objects while using creative lighting to retain the object in central view.
A number of object display cases have been specially designed to include video screens. This enables important archive films to be presented alongside related objects and to form an integral part of the narrative within each case.
Visitors can also enjoy trying out a number of interactive replicas of historical objects, while sensors track their interaction with each object. As people use the model they can see in real time how the information is transmitted, demonstrating the invisible science behind the technology.
At the heart of each Information Age Network sits a Story Box, a large semi-enclosed space that brings the six gallery themes to life in surprising and creative ways.
Each Story Box allows you to engage in the various themes of the gallery, through the use of LEDs and video environments to multiple screen projections, mobile phone controlled animations and even a mechanical puppet theatre.
A visitor explores the Web Story Box. Image credit: Science Museum
Throughout the gallery, people can use their mobile devices to find further content on the Museum’s website and can download a number of apps specially designed for the gallery.
Another highlight is Fiducial Voice Beacons, a digital art installation by BAFTA award winning artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. The artwork consists of a series of glimmering light beacons on the ceiling of the gallery, each containing a sound recording that is translated into a light sequence.
Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and his artwork, ‘Fiducial Voice Beacons’. Image credit: Science Museum
Visitors interact with the artwork by downloading a free app which allows them to listen to each recording or contribute with their own message. The Information Age apps and art installation are supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
You can find out more about the Information Age gallery here.