Tag Archives: Educators

Pair of wooden roller skates, c. 1880

Wonderful Things: Roller Skates, 1880

Becky Honeycombe from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.

You could be forgiven for thinking the heyday of the roller skate was in the 1980s with leg warmers and neon Lycra being the order of the day.  The truth is that there was a craze just as big a hundred years earlier and we have a pair of Victorian skates in our Making the Modern World Gallery as evidence.

By 1880, roller skates of some kind had already been around for over 150 years.  The first prototypes of the roller skate are said to have been created by an anonymous Dutchman in the early 1700s, who as a fan of winter skiing wanted to extend his hobby into the summer months.  He created his ‘skeelers’ by attaching wooden spools to strips of wood and then nailing them to his shoes. The first recorded use of roller skates in Britain was not until 1743 when they were used as part of a London stage show.

One of the most famous early appearances of roller skates occurred in 1760 when inventor Joseph Merlin rolled into a masquerade party playing a violin.  Although his entrance was undoubtedly dramatic, it wasn’t a complete success as he only managed to stop by crashing into a huge mirror, breaking not only the mirror, but his violin and several of his bones too.

Over the next century, several different designs for roller skates were created and tested.  Many were heavy and difficult to control and it was not until 1863 that the quad skate we know today was designed by James Leonard Plimpton in New York.  The ease with which the new skates allowed users to manoeuvre them made them an instant success and Plimpton opened New York’s first skating rink in his furniture store before expanding to a bigger venue like the one in the picture below.

District of Columbia, glimpses of life at the national capital – a fashionable roller-skating rink
Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, USA

By the end of the 1800s, skates like the ones in our gallery, were being mass produced, which meant they were cheaper and more readily available.  Roller skating became a popular leisure activity and regular skating endurance competitions were held. London businessmen could even be seen skating to work! The sport’s popularity continued to grow into the 20th century where its success as a mainstream pastime is demonstrated in early films such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink.  Today, with new skate designs like the Land Roller and sports such as roller derby gaining large followings, it is clear that the popularity of the roller skate continues.

Do you think your favourite hobbies will stand the test of time?

This object is currently on display in the Making the Modern World gallery.


Building Bridges – ‘Guardians of the Gallery’ VIP event for students

Anna Fisher, Learning Resources Project Coordinator, shares the latest news from the Building Bridges project.

An amazing VIP late-night event occurred at the Science Museum last week for students involved in the Building Bridges project.  The students have been working with us all year and this special celebration was a chance for them to show off the work they have done to their families, and get involved in a variety of exciting activities such as extracting strawberry DNA, eating ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, testing their tolerance of chillies and getting creative with SM:Art Mechanics.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream tasting © Science Museum

For the past three years the Building Bridges project has been working with schools across London and Reading to expose and engage students with science inside and outside the classroom, and at home with their families. All of the students involved have followed a year-long programme made up of Outreach shows, classroom resources, museum activities, workshops with research scientists and family activities.

The project hopes to use the new resources that have been developed to better engage families in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). All of the resources have been researched throughout the project and we hope that they will help support both informal and formal learning.

This year students have all worked really hard and contributed to their own exhibition, ‘Guardians of the Gallery’, which was showcased at the VIP event. This exhibition showcased objects that the students had chosen to represent how science and technology helps us to solve everyday problems. For example, a dress made from LEDs with a solar-powered handbag was chosen as something that you could wear to a VIP event, a self-driving car was the travel option of choice for one student working out how they were going to get to their holiday destination, and a daylight simulating lamp was suggested by one student as something that would help them get up early.

Guardians of the gallery exhibition © Science Museum

With the help of some incredible teachers, wonderful students and the helpful teams within our Learning department, the Building Bridges project has been able to develop and deliver a number of new, successful activities and events for this year’s programme. We are looking forward to meeting the students taking part in the project next year, and using the research findings to increase science engagement and literacy even further.

If you are looking for exciting activities for your family in the Museum head to our events calendar to see what’s on.  The Learning team run fun free science shows in the Museum every day of the week, with extra workshops, storytelling, drama characters and family-friendly tours at weekends and during the school holidays.

Bronze hair curling tongs and trimmer, Egypt, 1575-1194 BCE

Wonderful Things: Ancient Egyptian Curling Tongs

Stella Williams from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.

For pretty much as long as people have had hair they have looked for ways to change it. Inventions such as curling tongs feel relatively modern but they have actually been around for centuries.

We only have to look at paintings and carvings from the ancient world to see that having curls was a fashion that crossed many cultures. Babylonian and Assyrian men dyed their hair and square beards black, then crimped and curled them with basic curling irons. Persian and Greek nobles also used rods of iron or bronze heated over a fire to produce impressive hairstyles which would highlight their wealth and beauty. Egyptian nobles often cropped their hair close or shaved their heads but on ceremonial occasions, for protection from the sun, they wore wigs. The wigs would be long and full of curls or braids, which were styled with tools like this one.

Bronze hair curling tongs and trimmer, Egypt, 1575-1194 BCE

Bronze hair curling tongs and trimmer, Egypt, 1575-1194 BCE
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

These bronze curling tongs are combined with a hair trimmer and would have been heated up on a fire before pieces of hair were curled around them.

In the 1890s tonging became very popular as hair was elaborately styled on top of the head often with loose curls or ringlets around the face. Books and articles with instructions were written about the arrangement of hair to emphasise a woman’s beauty, and upper class women were expected to follow these guidelines.

The fashion wasn’t just for the very wealthy anymore though as the emerging middle classes tried to emulate the style. Curling tongs still resembled those from Ancient Egypt, and many accidents resulting in burnt or damaged hair occurred as the heat of the metal tongs was difficult to control.

Illustrations from 'Fashionable Hair Dressing' an article in The Delineator, 1894

Illustrations from ‘Fashionable Hair Dressing’ an article in The Delineator, 1894.

With the advent of electricity curling tongs started to resemble those we use today. Curling tongs were invented which could be plugged into a light socket which meant more temperature control and less scorched hair! By the mid-twentieth century there were many varying designs, so much so that the definitive inventor of the modern curling iron is much disputed. They now come in many sizes and styles depending on the type of curls you desire from tight ringlets to loose waves or even crimped styles. Everyone now has the freedom to express themselves by styling their hair in an infinite variety of ways and as technology develops who knows what new tools may be invented.

What hairstyles do you think will be in fashion in 50 years time?

This object is currently on display in the Science and Art of Medicine gallery. There are also other examples of some 19th Century curling tongs in the Secret Life of the Home gallery.

Access All Areas: Family Events for Visually Impaired Visitors

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

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.

With the research done, the activities developed, and miniature tactile versions of Mars built we were finally ready and the date, 15 March was set, Mother’s day, a perfect day for family activities. The day included four events: a touch tour and audio described ‘Rocket Show’, a hands-on workshop called ‘Backpacking to Mars’, a touch table of Information Age gallery objects, and a tour of the Information Age gallery.

Visitors enjoying our newly developed workshops

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 familyprogrammes@sciencemuseum.ac.uk 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. 

Wonderful Things: Penicillin Powder

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

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

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.

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.

Roaming Far and Wide – the Science Museum in China

Outreach Officers Ronan Bullock, Aasiya Hassan and Susie Glover report back after their outreach trip to Hong Kong and China.

In March 2014, the Science Museum’s Outreach team was invited for the second time by The British Council in Hong Kong to deliver a series of shows and workshops as part of their Science Alive Festival. The theme of this year’s festival was ‘The Code of Life’ and we disgusted audiences with blood, guts and snot, exploring the science behind the human digestive system, blood and materials. We spent three days with our hosts at the Hong Kong Science Museum and a further nine days visiting twenty two schools across Hong Kong and New Territories. We experienced many different educational settings from government funded local schools to private international schools reached a combined audience of over 7,000!

Proving that no distance is too great for the Outreach team, we then caught a train to Dongguan City in mainland China to deliver events hosted by The Dongguan Science & Technology Museum. Over the course of four days we engaged with audiences at the museum and two local schools, reaching over 3,000 people. This visit continued our relationship with the museum, having hosted a number of free science shows performed by their staff right here in London, in the Science Museum, back in September 2013.

During our busy schedule we found time to sample some of the interesting local cuisines, tour both museums and see some local sites, the highlight of which was taking a cable car to see Hong Kong’s famous giant Tian Tian Buddha.

Building Bridges

Richard Pering, Learning Resources Project Coordinator, shares the latest news from the Building Bridges project.

What has a foam-filled Mr Potato Head got to do with a scarily thin cross-section of a Boeing 747? 11-12 year old students in London and Reading have been exploring this and other unusual questions as part of the Science Museum’s Building Bridges project. The project aims to help students make sense of the science that shapes their lives, by getting them to take part in activities which will develop useful skills for a career in science or any other field.

Students explored friction by looking at our giant tyre from an open cast mining truck

Students explored friction by looking at our giant tyre from an open cast mining truck

We spent the beginning of the year visiting all 21 schools taking part, and have met some incredibly talented future scientists. We’ve worked with their teachers to help the students recognise their own potential, and look at science in a different way.

By using a hair dryer to make a ping pong ball float in the air, students brought the Museum’s Lockheed Electra to life. Some trickery with super-absorbent hydrogel got everyone considering the uncomfortable reality of an astronaut’s underwear, while whipping a tablecloth out from under a load of crockery brought home just how useful friction (or a lack of it) can be – not least for giant monster trucks.

Students Exploring hydrogel

Students Exploring hydrogel

It was amazing to see students grabbing the opportunity to demonstrate the science behind some of our favourite objects to their classmates, building their confidence and starting some really interesting conversations about the science hidden in everyday life.

Students presenting to their classmates

Students presenting to their classmates

As for Mr Potato Head, suffice to say he didn’t enjoy finding out what it’d feel like if the Boeing’s cabin wasn’t pressurised. His foam insides became his outsides.

To have a go at similar experiments yourself, or with budding scientists you know, take a look at our Kitchen Science activities.

Wonderful Things: VCS3 Synthesiser

Stella Williams from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects

The VCS3 was more or less the first portable commercially available synthesizer, unlike previous machines which were housed in large cabinets and were known to take up entire rooms. It was created in 1969 by EMS (Electronic Music Studios), a company founded by Peter Zinovieff. The team at EMS used a combination of computer programming knowledge, advanced engineering and musical ambition to create a brand new instrument for all to use. The electronics were largely designed by David Cockrell and the machine’s distinctive visual appearance was the work of electronic composer Tristram Cary.

VCS3 synthesiser by EMS

VCS3 synthesiser by EMS
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

The VCS3 was notoriously difficult to program but, a year before the appearance of the Minimoog and ARP2600, it brought synthesis within the reach of the public. It sold for £330 and became very popular in a short space of time. By the mid ’70s, the VCS3 (and its little brother, the suitcase-bound model AKS) had become something of a classic and was used by many famous bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, The Who and Roxy Music.

This unique instrument allowed musicians to experiment with a range of new sounds never before available to them. Along with other early synthesisers it came to shape ‘the sound of the future’ in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and with further developments came the drum machines of the ‘80s setting the foundation for electronic dance music. Much of the music we take for granted today would not be possible without the pioneering work of groups like EMS and as long as there are developments in technology, there will always be people applying these innovations to music. Inventor Steve Mann has developed many interesting instruments such as the hydraulophone which uses pressurised water to make sounds, while artist and scientist Ariel Garten uses an electroencephalophone to turn brainwaves into music.

What sort of instrument do you think will make the sound of our future?

The VCS3 Synthesiser can be found in the Oramics to Electronica exhibition, on the second floor of the Science Museum.

Opening the doors for Early Birds

Kate Mulcahy in the Learning team blogs on our Early Bird sessions in the Museum.

Museums are my favourite place to visit. I love to see interesting objects from history and to learn new facts, and I love the buzz of other people enjoying the Museum too. But for some of our visitors this isn’t so easy, and it was for this reason the Science Museum launched Early Birds.

A few times a year we open the museum from 08.30 in the morning for Early Birds, a free event for children who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) and their families. This gives families a chance to look around our galleries and take part in fun activities before the Museum opens at 10am. We even keep some galleries closed a little longer, just for our Early Birds visitors.

Visitors at Early Birds

Visitors at Early Birds

For people with an autistic spectrum condition, it can be difficult to be in a busy environment or even waiting in a queue. They can be particularly sensitive to light or sound which can make being near some of our interactive exhibits unpleasant. All of these factors can make it difficult for children who are on the autistic spectrum to visit the museum during our usual opening hours.

For Early Birds, we wanted to create an environment where families would feel safe, happy and could still enjoy visiting the museum. This might mean turning off the sound on some of our louder exhibits or simply creating a nice sensory space where families can go and chill out if they want a break. We also created a Visual Story for families to help prepare for what they might see in the museum.

We have already run many Early Birds sessions (one family has written about their experience here) and the team are busy organising our upcoming sessions for this year. If you would like to take part in Early Birds, there are more details here.