Tag Archives: inventions

Chancellor’s ‘Northern powerhouse’ vision unveiled at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced his ambitions to create a northern “supercity” to rival London as a global hub by building HS3, a high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds. He was speaking, appropriately enough, at our sister museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, which tells the story of where science met industry to create the modern world and, as the Chancellor himself highlighted, is the site of the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway station.

The Chancellor, George Osborne at the Museum of Science and Industry, announcing plans for the new HS3, a high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds. Image credit: Roger Highfield

The Chancellor, George Osborne at the Museum of Science and Industry, announcing plans for the new HS3, a high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds. Image credit: Roger Highfield

His speech, to around 50 key individuals from the region, among the beam engines and other great machines of the museum’s Power Hall, was introduced by Science Museum Group Director, Ian Blatchford, who leads the largest group of science museums in the world which, as he pointed out, lie on “both sides of the Pennines”.

The Chancellor described how he wanted to channel long-term investment into links between the traditionally rival cities, which have a combined population of nine million, similar to that of London. “We need a Northern powerhouse,” he said. “Not one city, but a collection of cities – sufficiently close to each other, that combined, they can take on the world.” To offset the huge gravitational pull of London, the Chancellor also wants to take advantage of the world class universities and teaching hospitals in the north, and “iconic museums such as this one” to create a belt of innovation that straddles the Pennines along the M62 corridor.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, speaking to a high profile audience at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. Image credit: Roger Highfield

The Chancellor, George Osborne, speaking to a high profile audience at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. Image credit: Roger Highfield

Among the audience listening to his vision for a “third high speed railway for Britain” along the existing rail route, was Sir David Higgins, Chairman of HS2, who has identified the need for better connections in the north. After the Chancellor’s speech on how to make these northern cities more than the sum of their parts, the Prime Minister, David Cameron visited the museum for a round table with key individuals, including Ian Blatchford, Sir David and Lord Heseltine.

The Chancellor’s ambitions to bootstrap the north’s knowledge-based economy by prioritising science investment – which included a challenge to those in the audience to come up with a “Crick of the north” (a reference to the biomedical research powerhouse under construction in London) – dovetail with those of the Science Museum Group, which wants to make the Museum of Science and Industry a regional hub for the development of world class exhibitions. The £800,000 financial support for the museum announced by the Chancellor in May has kick-started a £3 million plan for a purpose-built exhibition space that will shift the centre of gravity of the Group towards the north and enable the Museum of Science and Industry to develop its own exhibitions that can tour to the rest of the group and beyond.

Plans are already under way to develop an exhibition on graphene, Manchester’s latest global scientific export, in 2015, said Mr Blatchford. The properties of this new form of carbon, found by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester, are extraordinary and graphene has potential in the aerospace, automobile, electronics, and communications industries.

The Museum of Science and Industry has appointed Sally MacDonald as its new Director who will start in September. She is currently the Director of Public and Cultural Engagement at University College London (UCL), and will succeed Jean Franczyk, who is leaving the museum after two years to become Deputy Director of the Science Museum.

The Chancellor’s full speech can be viewed on the Government’s website.

 

 

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.

Waiting for the end of the world with my father, James Lovelock

As a new exhibition on James Lovelock opens, his daughter Christine recalls her science-filled childhood and the night they sat up waiting for a comet to destroy the Earth.

Photo of James Lovelock in his laboratory at Coombe Mill. Image credit: Science Museum

Photo of James Lovelock in his laboratory at Coombe Mill. Image credit: Science Museum

When I was a child my father took us to the Science Museum in London. His favourite exhibit was the Newcomen steam engine, built in the early 18th century to pump water from mines. He told us how much the museum had inspired him when he was a child. Science had become the abiding passion of his life, and as we grew up it was the background to ours as well.

We lived for a while at the Common Cold Research Unit, where my father worked, at Harvard Hospital near Salisbury in Wiltshire, and even became part of the research. Whenever we caught a cold the scientists put on parties for us where we would pass on our germs, as well as parcels, to the volunteers who lived in the isolation huts.

My strongest memories of my father during this period are the conversations we had about scientific ideas, whether on country walks or at the dining table. We often had fun working out plots for stories, including one he helped me to write about some fossil hunters on a Dorset beach who stumbled on a fossilised radio set – with shocking implications for the established science of geology.

When we moved back to Wiltshire, he turned Clovers Cottage into the world’s only thatched space laboratory. It was full of interesting equipment, much of it home-made, including an electric Bunsen burner. The cottage used to have a skull and crossbones in the window, with the warning “Danger Radioactivity!” My father always said this was a good way to deter burglars.

Clovers Cottage in Wiltshire, 'the world's only thatched space laboratory', where Lovelock worked for Nasa in the 1960s investigating the possibility of life on Mars. Image credits: Christine Lovelock

Clovers Cottage in Wiltshire, ‘the world’s only thatched space laboratory’, where Lovelock worked for Nasa in the 1960s investigating the possibility of life on Mars. Image credits: Christine Lovelock

One evening in the 1960s, my father arrived home from a trip to Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California with some frightening news. A comet had been spotted that was expected to hit Earth that night. The Nasa astronomers back then didn’t have today’s computer technology and said there had been no time to go public with the news.

My father wasn’t worried about the potential disaster. His reaction was a mixture of apprehension, curiosity and excitement. As he said, “If it hits us and it’s the end of the world, we won’t know anything about it, but if there is a near miss, then we might see some amazing fireworks.” While the rest of Britain slept a peaceful sleep, we packed up the car and drove to the highest hill nearby.

I’ll always remember that night, when we snuggled under blankets in the darkness, waiting and watching for what might have been the end of the world. It didn’t happen, of course. The astronomers got it wrong, as my father expected they would, but in an odd – and unscientific – way we felt we had done our bit to keep the Earth safe.

James Lovelock and his daughter Christine collecting air samples in Adrigole, South-West Ireland, 1970. Image credits: Irish Examiner

James Lovelock and his daughter Christine collecting air samples in Adrigole, South-West Ireland, 1970. Image credits: Irish Examiner

As I grew older I began to help my father more with his work. One day I will never forget is when we went up Hungry Hill on the Beara Peninsula in Ireland in 1969. Our mission was to collect samples of the cleanest air in Europe, blowing straight off the Atlantic. My father then drove straight on to Shannon Airport, and flew with the samples to the United States.

On arrival, a customs officer thought my father was being facetious when he said the flasks contained “fresh Irish air”. An argument ensued in which the official demanded that the flasks be opened, which would have made the whole journey pointless. Fortunately, sense prevailed and the samples reached their destination safely.

Christine Lovelock is an artist who campaigns to preserve the countryside.

You can watch our Youtube video of James Lovelock talking about the inspiration behind his inventions and what the Science Museum means to him.

‘Tis the season to 3D print your Christmas

Press Officer Laura Singleton explores some festive 3D printing.

Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year – with presents to wrap, trees to be put up and cards to be written. Finding the perfect gift or decoration can be expensive, time-consuming and exhausting. Could the rise of 3D printing provide the answer to our seasonal woes and even tap into our hidden creativity?

Earlier this month we were pleased to unveil a dramatic 3D printed titanium star, which sits on top of the Director’s Christmas tree. The star, which measures 44cm wide, is an awe-inspiring example of what can be achieved on a 3D printer. The star’s design is based on fractals, the self-repeating patterns found within a Mandelbrot set.

Close up of Jessica Noble's 3D printed titanium star. Image credits: Science Museum

Close up of Jessica Noble’s 3D printed titanium star. Image credits: Science Museum

The star was the result of a challenge set by the Science Museum’s Director Ian Blatchford at last year’s Christmas party. Attendees to the event were challenged to come up with an innovative design for a star – to be created and displayed on our Christmas tree.

Jessica Noble's 3D printed titanium star. Image credits: Science Museum

Jessica Noble’s 3D printed titanium star. Image credits: Science Museum

Conceived and designed by London based designer Jessica Noble, with help from Nottingham University, the star features a central nylon core and 97 3D printed individual titanium stars printed by Renishaw that were then connected to the core using carbon fibre rods. The individual parts make the star easy to assemble, dissemble and rearrange – a clear advantage over other types of decoration. The Mandelbrot reference gives a nod to the Science Museum’s mathematical collections.

Designer Jessica Noble with her 3D printed star on top of the Director's Christmas tree. Image credits: Science Museum

Designer Jessica Noble with her 3D printed star on top of the Director’s Christmas tree. Image credits: Science Museum

However, you don’t need to be an artist or designer to take advantage of the benefits of 3D printing. Many printers are now available on the high street and can produce smaller scale designs of your choice. Our Inventor in Residence, Mark Champkins, has taken advantage of the technology by creating a range of decorations and gift tags for the Science Museum’s shop that can be 3D printed in under 15 minutes.

A selection of 3D printed snowflakes created in the Science Museum's store. Image credits: Science Museum

A selection of 3D printed snowflakes created in the Science Museum’s store. Image credits: Science Museum

As the museum’s store now sells 3D printers, we’ve set one up to demonstrate how the technology works. Should you wish to buy a decoration such as a snowflake or star, you can choose a design and watch it being printed – ready for you to take home. Why not pay a visit to the museum and try it out?

A 3D printed snowflake designed by Inventor in Residence, Mark Champkins. Image credits: Science Museum

A 3D printed snowflake designed by Inventor in Residence, Mark Champkins. Image credits: Science Museum

The link between science and design was the topic of a recent debate held jointly at the Science Museum and Design Museum and attended by Universities and Science Minister, David Willets MP. Organised with the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the debate focused on breaking down language barriers and encouraging interaction between scientists, engineers and designers explained David Bott, Director of Innovation Programmes at the TSB.

3D printing is rapidly changing society – whether at home, work or our leisure activities. You can find more examples of how the technology is growing in our free exhibition, 3D: Printing The Future, which showcases over 600 3D printed objects including prototypes for replacement body organs, bike gadgets and aeroplane parts.

Wonderful Things: Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven

Rosanna Denyer, from our Learning Support Team, writes about an often overlooked object from the museum collection. 

The food we eat has changed over time, and with the development of new technologies so has the way we cook and prepare our meals. Microwave ovens, like this Amana Radarange Touchmatic from 1978, have contributed to changes in both our diet and lifestyle.

Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven

Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven, 1978

The microwave oven was invented in 1945 by an engineer called Percy Spencer. He was researching military uses for radar technology and an accidental side effect of this was the invention of the microwave oven. After standing in front of a magnetron, Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. To test this further he then held a bag of corn kernels near the magnetron and watched as they exploded into popcorn.

Spencer found that microwaves, such as those emitted from his radar equipment, caused the water molecules in food to vibrate and heat up, which caused the food to cook. Recognising the potential of this, Spencer used the magnetron to create the first microwave ovens, which arrived in Britain in 1959.

After many years of using traditional ovens, the microwave oven was a startling change. Previously cooking had been a slow process, but now whole meals could be prepared in just a few minutes.

Some argue that the invention of the microwave brought about ‘the rise of the ready meal’. The first ‘TV Dinner’ was produced in 1954 and 10 million were sold in the first year alone. Since then, the popularity of ‘convenience food’ has grown and grown and the chilled ready meal market in the UK is now worth over £2.6 billion each year. Busy lifestyles, long working hours and an increased number of women in work are all seen as factors contributing to the popularity of microwaveable food.

But what does this mean for our health? Studies in 2012 suggested that less than 1% of supermarket ready meals complied with the World Health Organisation’s nutritional guidelines and some studies have shown that microwaving food can significantly reduce the nutrients contained within.

Despite this, the popularity of the microwave oven does not seem to be decreasing, and until a faster and more convenient way of cooking is invented, the microwave is likely to remain an essential piece of equipment in many kitchens. 

What labour-saving device would you invent? 

The Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven can be found in The Secret Life of the Home gallery in the Basement of the museum.

Wonderful Things: Frost Ornithopter

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

Have you ever dreamed of being able to fly like a bird?  Well if you have, you’re certainly not alone.  The ability to fly has been a human obsession for thousands of years.  One of the earliest references to bird-like flight is found in the Ancient Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus who attached feathers to their arms to escape captivity.  However, the story ends in tragedy for Icarus as after a brief flight he crashes to the ground.  Sadly, this has been the fate for many humans who have tried to imitate the story and reach the skies, either by attaching wings to their bodies or by making flying machines that mimic a bird’s flight.

Frost's experimental ornithopter, c 1900. Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

Frost’s experimental ornithopter, c 1900.
Credit: Science Museum/SSPL

These machines are known as ornithopters and they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some of the earliest designs were drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th Century, but perhaps one of the strangest can be seen in our Flight gallery. The Frost ornithopter, created in 1904 by Edward Purkis Frost, was designed to replicate the wings of a crow. He used both real and imitated feathers combined with an internal combustion engine in an attempt to get his machine off the ground. Frost avidly studied flight and designed a number of contraptions between 1868 and his death in 1922. Despite his best flight being only a ‘jump’ off the ground and his witnessing the development of the conventional aeroplane, Frost remained convinced he had pursued a worthy cause. When asked about his studies towards the end of his life he stated ‘I do not begrudge the time and trouble I expended upon the attempt. The investigations opened my eyes to the wonders of nature. It is a beautiful study’.

University of Toronto's human-powered plane

University of Toronto’s human-powered plane. Photo courtesy of Todd Reichert, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies

Incredibly, despite the prominence and success of conventional fixed wing aircraft, contemporary scientists continue to be as fascinated as Frost with constructing the perfect ornithopter. In 2010 the University of Toronto successfully achieved the first level sustained flight by a human-powered ornithopter flying 475 ft over 19.3 seconds.

However, despite this success it may not be propelling man into the sky which eventually proves to be the best use for the ornithopter. Recent research has tended to focus on other uses of the technology such as conservation and surveillance. Researchers at the University of Illinois recently developed an ornithopter perfect for urban surveillance. Its ability to mimic the way a bird hovers and lands in confined spaces could make it ideally suited to cramped city conditions.

The history of ornithopters is long and varied, and research into their development and uses looks set to continue for a long time to come.

What other benefits might there be to using ornithopters?

Summer Invention Challenge

By Mark Champkins, Science Museum Inventor in Residence is challenging young visitors to design an invention to help solve a common summer problem. The winner will receive a Makerbot 3D printer worth over £2,000 and get their idea 3D printed and displayed in a new exhibition

When we’re basking in a heat wave, spending a summer holiday in Britain can be the perfect way to unwind. But as we all know, a British summer can present it’s own problems – from annoying wasps, to superheated car journeys, and from rain-soaked barbecues to sand in your sandwiches.

Picture credit: iStock / Science Museum

Picture credit: iStock / Science Museum

This summer we are challenging young visitors to get their thinking caps on and come up with an invention to help solve a common problem that most of us experience at this time of year. The winner will receive a prize of a Makerbot 3D printer worth over £2,000 and get their idea 3D printed and displayed in a new exhibition opening this Autumn.

MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer

MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer

Could it be an anti-wasp drink shield, or a sunshade for your ice-cream? Or perhaps a fan that can be clipped to your sunglasses, or a sunhat with a deployable umbrella?

Picture credit: iStock / Science Museum

Picture credit: iStock / Science Museum

To get everyone started we are asking people to think of the places they normally visit when they’re holidaying in Britain and the problems people might face in situations such as the seaside, in the countryside, on a long car journey or at home in the garden. Then think about the pet hates that you normally experience and devise a clever (or funny) solution that could help overcome the problem.

To join the summer invention challenge click here.

Generating Ideas: drawing inspiration from the Science Museum

Inventor in Residence Mark Champkins writes about drawing inspiration from the Science Museum. A selection of Mark’s products can be bought from the Science Museum. 

Coming up with ideas and inventions “on demand” is tricky. I work as the Science Museum’s Inventor in Residence, and it is my job to generate a stream of products that are interesting to the science-savvy, whilst engaging to those new to the Museum. If possible the products should also be wildly popular and generate lots of income. No pressure then.

Fortunately, the Museum provides an incredibly fertile space for generating ideas. Though my ideas tend toward the quirky, rather than world-changing, there are so many examples of ingenuity, insight and inventiveness, it’s hard not to be inspired. But where to start?

It’s not widely known that the Science Museum is home to just 5% of the Museum’s collection. The majority is tucked away in Blythe House in London, and at Wroughton, a former RAF airbase in Wiltshire. However, as the Science Museum is a showcase for the most iconic items in the collection, for me, it is the richest source of ideas.

The Wroughton site houses large objects in aircraft hangars. Image credit: Science Museum

Our Wroughton site houses large objects in aircraft hangars. Image credit: Science Museum

I’m particularly drawn to the Making the Modern World gallery. In many ways it is the centerpiece of the Science Museum. Located on the ground floor, it exhibits objects chronologically, on a timeline starting in the 1770′s in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, and ending with the Clock of the Long Now, a clock mechanism intended to keep time for 10,000 years. Walking through the gallery, is walking through the recent history of human development.

Visitors in the Making the Modern World gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

Visitors in the Making the Modern World gallery. Image credit: Science Museum

There are a couple of items in Making the Modern World that have directly inspired new products. One of the first glass cases that you encounter in the gallery contains what looks like a whisk with an accompanying pot. In fact it is the apparatus, made by James Prescott Joule, that defines the standard unit of energy, or “Joule”. Filling the pot with water, a “Joule” of energy is defined as the energy required to whisk the water until it has raised the temperature of the water by one degree.

Beauty in the Making

Beauty in the Making: Telling the story of how materials are manufactured, including an aluminium water bottle

This device got me thinking about how SI units are defined, and of measurement in general, and led to the creation of the Word Count Pencil, a pencil that has a scale printed along it’s length, to estimate the number of words you have written as the pencil wears out. A Gramophone in one of the cases along the side of the gallery inspired the iGramo, non-electrical method to amplify iPhones. Electro-magnets in the central glass cases, inspired my Levitating Cutlery idea. A sample of the first pure aluminium inspired me to design an aluminium water bottle that is decorated with an explanation of how the material is extracted, refined, and formed into the bottle.

Often, as I sit amongst the items in the gallery, trying to think up new product ideas, is gratifying to imagine all the inventors and scientists whose work surrounds me, doing likewise. Conjuring up new inventions and ideas using the power of their imagination. It makes me want to think harder and try to achieve more, and I find that profoundly inspiring.

I would urge anyone tasked with generating ideas, or impressed by ingenuity to treat themselves to a trip to the Science Museum. You never know what you might come up with!

Enjoy Christmas all year round with a Christmas tent

Visitor Inventions – What they really wanted for Christmas

“Wow! It’s what I always wanted….” is the standard response when you receive presents from your friends and family.  But was it really?  Whether you received the latest gadget, perfume or socks – some of our visitors dream of receiving jetpack boots, a time machine and a walking toilet.

Below is a selection of inventions that our visitors came up with when in the Launchpad gallery.  Click on any image for larger pictures.

Explainer Fact:  The Museum is only closed 3 days a year – 24th-26th December