Tag Archives: Contemporary science

The end of AIDS?

Nicola Burghall, Content Developer, blogs about HIV and AIDS, the subject of a new display in the Museums Who Am I? gallery

December 1st 2014 marks the 26th World AIDS Day. The UNAIDS ‘90-90-90’ initiative sets ambitious global targets to end the epidemic by 2030. So how far have we come since the epidemic gained global attention in the 1980s? Here at the Science Museum we decided to explore this question with our new exhibit - The end of AIDS?

The new display ‘The end of AIDS?’ in the Museum’s Who Am I? gallery. Credit: Science Museum

The new display ‘The end of AIDS?’ in the Museum’s Who Am I? gallery. Image Credit: Science Museum

The focal point of the exhibit is an animation called ‘Growing up with HIV’. It was created in collaboration with an inspiring group of young people who live with HIV and the National Children’s Bureau. It tells the story of a young mum-to-be looking forward to the birth of her first child, while she reflects on her life and what it was like to grow up with HIV.


The group created the animation in just four workshops. First they visited the Who Am I? gallery, where they learned about our visitors and science communication. We then discussed what HIV means to them and interviewed an expert about what it does. Over the following sessions we narrowed down what were the most important messages and how to help visitors relate to them.

A key idea was to challenge some of the commonly held misconceptions by explaining what HIV does and the success of current treatment. They decided to tell a personal story about the struggles we can all face growing up.

Struggle and progress turned out to be a strong theme for the animation – referring both to science (trying to improve treatment for HIV) and people (trying to live full, healthy and happy lives).

The rest of the display was built up around the conversations we had during the workshops and from talking with experts. A key message is the importance of testing. In the UK 20% of the estimated 100,000 people who live with HIV are not aware of their infection. In the display we included a postal sampling kit from the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is available for free to high-risk groups.

You can also find a concert programme from the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, held in 1992. It was at this event that 100,000 red ribbons were first distributed in the UK. The ribbon is now the iconic symbol of public awareness and support for people living with HIV and AIDS.

From our stores we brought out a collection of drug packaging which represents all the drugs an HIV patient may have taken in one month in 1999. Today some patients can take just one pill a day and trials have begun for a monthly injection. The last section of the display looks at the latest research and includes the story of Timothy Ray Brown – the only person to have been cured of HIV.

I hope you will be able to visit the display and find it as enlightening and inspiring as I have working on it. I’d like to end this post with a few words from our group:

‘We are all going through our own struggles, but we can achieve anything we want’.

The end of AIDS? opened on 28 November and will be on display in the Science Museum’s Who Am I? gallery until late February 2015.

Wonderful Things: Memory box

Rosanna Denyer from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.

By 2015, 850,000 people in the UK will have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a term used to describe the symptoms of diseases that cause memory loss, confusion and problems with communication. Dementia is progressive,so the symptoms become worse as time goes on.

Until 1906 it was thought that dementia was an inevitable part of growing old. This changed when Dr Alois Alzheimer,a leading neurologist who researched the brain and the nervous system, gave a lecture about a disease which caused memory loss, hallucinations and problems with communicating and understanding. He was describing what we now know as Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Doctors now know that the death of neuron cells in the brain is the main cause of dementia. Neurons need nutrients, oxygen and close contact with other cells in order to survive. Scientists are always looking for possible cures for dementia, a great deal of the research is aimed at treating the symptoms, for example trying to delay memory loss.

However, treatment for memory loss does not lie solely in the hands of scientists. Memory boxes, such as the one on display in the Who Am I? gallery, are used by people with dementia, with their friends and families, to help them retain memories.

Memory Box

Memory Box in the Who Am I? gallery at the Science Museum

Photographs and objects that have special memories connected to them can be kept inside the boxes. The person with dementia can look through the box and be reminded of people, places and events from their lives. They can be used to trigger memories of a past career or love.

In the next 10 years a further one million people in the UK will develop dementia. Whilst scientists research and test treatments, families and communities will continue to develop ways to manage the symptoms. A memory box may seem simple, but it is a method which is accessible, affordable and effective.

The issue of how to treat and manage dementia is experienced by communities all over the world. By 2030, the number of people with dementia worldwide is estimated to reach 65 million.

Some countries are finding unique ways to help people live with the symptoms of dementia. One care home in Amsterdam has created an entire village which is ‘dementia friendly.’ The 152 residents live in the small village of Hogewey which has a restaurant, theatre, beauty salon and village shop.  The village is staffed by healthcare workers and volunteers and gives elderly people with dementia a safe environment in which to enjoy everyday life.

What memories would you want to keep in your memory box?

The memory box can be found in the Who Am I? gallery, on the first floor of the Wellcome Wing in the Science Museum.

3D Gun goes on display

For the past two months the Contemporary Science team has been working hard to obtain a 3D printed gun. This week it arrived, explains Assistant Content Developer Pippa Hough.

The 3D printed gun now on display has a short, but complex history. The design was created by Defence Distributed – a non-profit digital organisation and placed, open source, on their website so anyone could freely download and share it.

The 3D printed gun, now on display in the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

The 3D printed gun, now on display in the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum

Ville Vaarnes, a journalist in Finland, did just that and had the design printed in a university lab using a high quality 3D printer. He then put it together with the help of a gun maker and fired it. The gun broke into several pieces, shattering the gun barrel.

The 3D printed gun in pieces.

The 3D printed gun in pieces. Credit: Science Museum

It is completely illegal to own even a single component of a hand gun in the UK, including a 3D printed gun unless, like the Science Museum, you have a special licence. Manufacturing our own wasn’t an option as we only have a licence to display hand guns. Having seen a video of the gun being fired, we decided this was the only feasible opportunity we would have of acquiring a 3D printed gun.

From an engineering point of view, the gun isn’t particularly special, but displaying it allows us to start a conversation around how the limitless possibilities free access to information, combined with new manufacturing techniques, like 3D printing, will impact on our lives.

On the face it having a printer that could sit on your desk and print any object you have the design for seems like a wonderful prospect. The gun represents the limitless, freely available objects you could print, but also the possible desire or need for regulations to limit our access to this information or the tools to produce them.

The inside of the 3D printed gun. Image: Science Museum

The inside of the 3D printed gun. Image: Science Museum

Creating physically dangerous items like the gun isn’t the only potential threat from 3D printing in the future. You could produce counterfeit designs of a copyrighted item, damaging the business that spent time and money producing the original. What incentive does a business have to produce innovative, exciting products if their designs can be so easily pirated? The music and film industries have struggled with these problems for years. How will other industries cope?

On the other hand what about our freedom to design and print whatever we want? The internet is not restricted by borders. You can download files from all over the world. If the information can’t be controlled can the means of manufacture? Should 3D printers require a licence to own?

When the initial story broke we wrote a news story, including a poll question ‘Should we have access to 3D-print plans for guns?’ 780 people voted, 42% said ‘no’ way 43% voted ‘yes’. The rest voted maybe or I’m not sure. Our visitors are clearly split on the issue; law makers have quite a challenge on their hands trying to maintain the maximum freedom while ensuring public safety.