Tag Archives: Launchpad

Mischievous Mirrors – From the 18th century to the modern day

Explainer Affelia in our Learning team looks at some mischievous mirrors in the Science Museum. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? We all know this famous saying from Snow White, but mirrors are incredibly useful in our day to day lives. We use them in the morning to check our hair, in cars to avoid crashes and some buildings have them in corridors for safety. But there are some other, more mischievous, ways to use them. For example, our Grab the Bling exhibit in Launchpad uses a huge spherical concave mirror (one that bulges inwards) to trick people into thinking they can touch a desirable watch.

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This watch is impossible to grab

In fact, the concave mirror produces something called an inverted real image of the watch. This means that the image of the watch is upside down compared to the real watch and is made by beams of light meeting at a single point in front of the mirror. People would then think that the image is the actual watch and try to snatch it, when in fact our watch is perfectly safe underneath.

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How Grab the Bling works: the spherical concave mirror reflects the light so that the actual watch (in black) looks like it’s easy to steal but in fact the viewer only sees its image (in grey)!

Mirrors are also used in our Seeing Through Walls exhibit which I like to use to pretend that I’m Superman.

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Seeing through walls exhibit inside Launchpad

Looking at the shape of the tubes, it’s clear that light can’t go up or through the wall and so it must go down. The two tubes are connected by a pipe in the raised area of the floor

Four mirrors are carefully placed where the tubes change direction so that the light can be directed around the tube and you and your buddy can see each other!

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How Seeing Through Walls Work. Why do they look farther away than they expected…? (Clue: Think about how long the tube would be if it went through the wall…)

The Science in the 18th Century gallery next door to Launchpad has many interesting devices that use mirrors to work. This gallery is pretty awesome because it’s filled with equipment used by King George III and his science tutor, Stephen Demainbray, to learn about science. Basically, it’s a 250 year old version of Launchpad! One of the equipments in this gallery that uses mirrors to trick people is a polemoscope, or “jealousy glass”.

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Jealous of my polemoscope? Displayed in the Science in the 18th Century gallery

They were used by opera goers to look at other people in the audience in private. They look very similar to opera glasses which were used to see the actors on stage more clearly, but instead a mirror inside is slanted at 45° so that the user can see what’s going on to one side of them. This makes the polemoscope ideal to secretly spy on people!

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How a polemoscope works

So there you have it, it seems that mirrors aren’t only used to see who’s fairest of them all, but also who’s the cheekiest!

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 a few Early Birds sessions (one family has written about their experience here) and the team are busy organising our next session on 30th November and more dates in 2014. If you would like to take part in Early Birds, there are more details here.

Visitor Drawings – What’s your favourite science joke?

What’s your favourite science joke? Does it involve chemical symbols or scientific equipment? These are just some ‘Funnies’ that of our comedic visitors have come up with whilst in the Launchpad gallery. Click on any image for larger pictures.

T. Alva Edison and his Amazing Phonograph!

Jared Keller, a researcher and former Science Museum Explainer, discusses some of our hidden objects and the science behind them. 

Today we’re looking at the Sound Section of Launchpad and one of my favourite exhibits, “Sound Bite”. If you’re a bit rusty on your Sound Bite science, HERE is an old BBC refresher course on the principles of sound travelling through a medium/solid.

Launchpad’s World Famous ‘Sound Bite’ – Credit: Man Chiwing

The important thing to remember is that sound waves can travel through a solid material like a metal rod the same as they can through the air. Proof of this lies in the fact that you can feel the rod vibrating if you pinch it with your fingers. When you bite down, those vibrations are passed up through your teeth, through your jaw, and up into your ear where they vibrate the same bones in the inner-ear that normally vibrate from sound waves in the air.

Edison stares intently at his new invention - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Edison stares intently at his new invention – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

In 1877 a very ‘bright’ man named Thomas Alva Edison put this principle to use in what he called a phonograph. Whereas the more familiar gramaphone ‘records’ are flat two-sided discs of vinyl, Edison’s original phonographs used 10 cm cylinders made of soft tin-foil (and later wax).

Edison's original phonograph cylinders - on display in the Secret Life of the Home gallery

Edison’s original phonograph cylinders – on display in the Secret Life of the Home gallery – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Whatever you call them, the science is simple: he knew, just like you, that sound travelling through a metal causes it to vibrate. His great insight, was in realising that vibrations in a metal could then be turned back into vibrations in the air – what we normally hear as sounds!

The first words spoken into Edison's new phonograph recorder? ... "Mary had a little lamb" - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

The first words spoken into Edison’s new phonograph recorder? … “Mary had a little lamb” – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

In the drawing above you can see Edison speaking into one of his phonographs. As he spoke into the cone and tube, it captured his voice and funneled it down until it was intense enough to vibrate a small, incredibly sharp piece of metal. As the metal vibrated with the sound of his voice, the soft tin cylinder was rotated underneath the vibrating tip which caused the tip to cut into the tin. If you want to see a real phonograph player and its cylindrical record, simply head to the ‘Secret Life of the Home’ gallery in the basement.

Closeup of the grooves on a phonograph cylinder - Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Closeup of the grooves on a phonograph cylinder – Credit: Science and Society Picture Library

Edison knew that once the vibration of his voice had been carved into the soft tin, passing another tip through those grooves in the now hardened tin would make the needle vibrate in exactly the same way! All he had to do then was take those vibrations and amplify them so they were loud enough to be heard by the human ear. But being the veteran Sound Biters that we are, we know that if Edison had simply attached small metal rods to that vibrating tip we could bite down on them and let the vibrations pass up our teeth, through our jaws, and up to our ears, just like with Sound Bite!

A dapper Edison pumps music directly into our skulls! – Credit: Matteo Farinella

Though maybe Edison was right: listening to a song through the air is much more satisfying than biting down on a metal rod!

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

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Visitor Letters – Flash! Bang! Wallop!

We love receiving letters from our visitors and we always try our best to write back as soon as possible.

In fact, most of the letters we receive are from primary schools that have just visited the Museum.

Kids being kids, they can be brutally honest in telling us their likes (e.g. big bangs!) and dislikes (also big bangs).

The pupils from South Park School recently saw the Flash! Bang! Wallop! Launchpad show on their outing to the Museum.  From the letters that we received, they appeared to have a blast!  They particularly enjoyed the fact that their show presenter claims to be “Barbie’s boyfriend”.

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This is what Explainer Sam has to say about his special relationship:

Barbie and I are still going strong and love working together on the Flash! Bang! Wallop! show.  She knows she is in safe hands and what could be a better way to spend your time with your partner than to be shot out of a cannon!  I am really glad that our natural chemistry comes across in the show.  Many people have likened us to Jason and Kylie, Richard and Judy – not to mention Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh.  I hope that as well as learning science, the people who enjoyed our show have learnt another lesson.  Love comes in many sizes.

Explainer Fact: If you would like to send us a letter, please send it to: Launchpad Letters, Science Museum, London, SW7 2DD