Introducing Enterprising Science

Today is a big day for us. It is the official launch of Enterprising Science, a five year partnership between the Science Museum, King’s College London and BP, bringing together expertise and research in informal science learning.

This new project builds on our Talk Science programme. Since 2007 we have worked with over 2,600 secondary school teachers across the UK to support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) teaching and learning.  The main aim of Talk Science was to give young people the confidence to find their own voice and have a say in the way science impacts on and shapes their lives. The core our work was with science teachers, because of their important role and ability to make a difference in young people’s lives. Were you one of those teachers?

So what did we do for Talk Science? We delivered a 1 day teacher CPD course, in over 30 cities across the UK. We developed physical & digital resources to support teachers in the classroom; ran student and teacher events, delivered communication skills training for scientists working with young audiences and held seminars for other museum educators on informal science learning.

Linking up museum educators and teaching professionals at our Talk Science Seminar

Connecting museum educators with teaching professionals at our Talk Science Seminar July 2012

This year we began working with King’s College London to develop, test and share new tools and techniques to engage more secondary schools students with science. The tools and techniques are all grounded in research from Kings College London’s five year ASPIRES study of children’s science and career aspirations, combined with our experience from five years of the Talk Science project. Our partnership with Kings is really exciting: it makes Enterprising Science the largest science learning programme of its kind in the UK.

As part of Enterprising Science, we will be working closely with small groups of partner teachers, to collaboratively develop and trial new tools and techniques for engaging students with science both inside and outside the classroom. These new resources will be shared through our work with schools across the UK and online.

But it is not just about science in the classroom. In fact, research shows that one of the strongest indicators of whether a young person will choose a career in science is the type of support they get outside of school from their families. We will be working with teachers, young people and their families to help create a supportive learning environment for students. By raising the value that young people place on science, we hope to help students develop a genuine interest in science and understand how it is relevant to their lives.

We are excited to see where this project will take all of us. Here’s to the next 5 years!

Wonderful Things: Drug Castle

The fifth floor of the Science Museum is a fascinating area, full of gory and often unusual paraphernalia related to the history of medicine.  One of the more unusual objects lurking in this gallery is the Drug Castle.

The Drug Castle raises questions around the price of health care

Our knowledge of medicine and how civilisations have treated illness and disease stretches all the way back to the earliest writings on the subject from Ancient Egypt.  However, the ways in which people have treated illness have not changed very much over the centuries.  It is only during the last 200 years that scientific developments have gathered pace and enabled doctors to make huge breakthroughs in treatments.  It is often easy for us, living in the 21st Century, to forget that as little as 100 years ago there was no penicillin, nobody knew the cause of rickets and there was no vaccine for tuberculosis. 

Now, we can mass produce a whole range of pills and potions for a variety of different ailments that had previously been untreatable.  All of the syringes, pill bottles and tablets used to create the Drug Castle are real and it is a brilliant visualisation of how central the use of drugs has become to the treatment of illness in the developed world.   However, this shift in how we treat disease does not come without its controversy.

 The Drug Castle itself is a reminder of this as it was created to feature in a poster campaign by the East London Health Project in 1978.  This campaign aimed raise questions around whether pharmaceutical companies were more interested in making money or making their medicines available to all.  Health care is extremely costly and is frequently an issue that is considered and debated by governments worldwide as they try to provide the best health care they can for their citizens with the funds that they have available to them. There are also significant issues with the effectiveness of the drugs that are prescribed by doctors.  One of the primary examples of this is with antibiotics, that when first manufactured, were very effective at treating infections, but now are less so because the bacteria has mutated so that antibiotics, such as penicillin, are not as useful. Therefore, in order to keep treating infection scientists will need to develop new drugs that can combat these more virulent illnesses.

Should we keep creating new drugs for antibiotic resistant bugs – or do we need to change the way we take medicines?

The Drug Castle is in the Science and Art of Medicine, Science Museum 5th floor

-Kate Davis

A Futurecade Review

My name is Essence H. and I am 14 years old. Today I am writing a review on Futurecade digital games as part of my work experience at the Science Museum.

After playing all 4 games, I concluded that the one I enjoyed the most was ‘Robo Lobster’ which is about robots destroying sea mines so humans don’t have to. I enjoyed this game the most because I found it quite easy to get into and a fun game to play. I also find the idea of robots taking over the jobs of humans quite interesting as these games are based on real scientific research happening today. Although I enjoyed ‘Robo lobster’ the most, if you actually link all these games to real life and consider the idea of them being actual scientific research, then they are all interesting in their own way.

Robo-Lobster is about using robots to destroy sea mines

Robo-Lobster is about using robots to destroy sea mines

In my opinion, starting a lesson off by playing Futurecade could be a good idea because it can act as an icebreaker or introduction into the topic, as it would be something new. Or it would be a good idea to have Futurecade at the end to conclude the lesson- because students would already have prior knowledge of the topic which they would have learnt that lesson, to link in with the games so the understanding and interest level may be higher.

Another point is, especially reaching KS4 like I have in year 10, learning can become slightly stagnant and it’s quite easy to lose interest and focus in a lesson. The idea of learning through games is something different and more fun than a whole lesson of your teacher explaining something verbally.

To any teachers interested in using Futurecade to help teach a topic, I would definitely say go with it! I think it’s a good idea particularly with KS3 students to help them examine the ethical and moral implications of using and applying science.  I would say a reasonable timescale to let the children spend on Futurecade would be about 10-15 minutes and include it in maybe 2 lessons (not more than that because once you’ve played them a few times the interest level of the games drops slightly). If they wish to play the games for longer, they can always access it for themselves at home which can lead to further independent study.

In conclusion I approve of Futurecade and definitely think we should include lots more games to help link in across the school’s curriculum!

Thanks for your time Essence – hopefully you’ll fly the Futurecade banner back in school! Futurecade has been shortlisted for a BETT award in the ‘secondary digital content’ category, which we’re thrilled about. If you’re using Futurecade in the classroom make sure you check out our support notes which are packed with background science, lesson ideas and facilitation questions for discussion.

Let us know how you use them!

Molecular… storage?

Once upon a time we stored books, papers, vinyl records, and photograph albums. We put them on shelves, in boxes, in cramped attics. Now we store all of that treasured information as digital files on hard drives, or online somewhere far far away… But if this news is anything to go by, we could soon be storing our life’s most precious memories in flasks of DNA!

Yes, scientists have managed to create strands of DNA that encode Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a photo, and even a snippet of audio from Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. The info was then translated back out with perfect accuracy.

What’s so great about DNA storage? How about the fact that DNA lasts for thousands and thousands of years? And takes up just the teeniest amount of space? Both rather important when it comes to storing loads and loads of information!

Of course, DNA-based storage isn’t about to happen tomorrow- it’s still incredibly expensive, and it would take a long time to retrieve data from its molecular encoding.

I asked a couple of tech-savvy friends for their opinion:

“Test-tube computing, once they sort out the speed (2 weeks to read an MP3!) and cost (their method costs about $12,400 per megabyte stored). Love the idea of being able to store all the world’s information in a unit the size of a shipping container.”


Well, this is just saying that DNA can be decoded and understood. Therefore electronic information can be encoded in a similar way DNA is encoded, and then decoded and read. Doesn’t mean it’s the best encoding/compression method. There are probably more optimized compression algorithms. Also the more technology advances, the less you want to use archiving/compression/encoding. It’s just an excuse to write an article!”

What do you and your students think about molecular storage? Would you trust your most precious memories to DNA?



Have any of you been following this hashtag lately? It’s absolutely brilliant!

What started with one neuroscientist, dr_Leigh, venting her frustration (and sense of humour!) with her student by tweeting that ’ incubation lasted three days because this is how long the undergrad forgot the experiment in the fridge #overlyhonestmethods’, has snowballed into loads of other scientists around the world revealing the often-hilarious realities of life in the lab.

For any of us who have been there, rigging up experiments with make-do-and-mend equipment (I used to call it the ‘scotch tape and toothpicks method’) the tweets ring true and will make you laugh (with agreement and relief). For those who haven’t been there, reading these tweets brings a refreshing blast of honesty to sweep away some of the misconceptions that laypeople have about scientists.

#overlyhonestmethods continues revealing the world of science

Guess what- they are just like everyone else!

Their work is often confusing and messy. They are overworked, underpaid and fuelled by caffeine, sometimes they cut corners, like anyone who gets tired of repeating the same lengthy process a dozen times over. Occasionally that corner-cutting leads to a new method, and better results. Sometimes they spend far too long thinking of witty titles for their papers, because it might mean getting published in a higher-impact journal- just like the newspapers favour attention grabbing headlines. Sometimes they set off explosions just to see what happens!

The real nature of science is not perfect experiments designed to demonstrate an unequivocal point, carried out by stern geniuses who never crack a smile- scientists are not just their job- they are people like any of us, who mess up all the time, but try again and learn something from it- even if its just to set a timer on their experiments!

 Your students might be amused, and pleasantly surprised to see some of the tweets… Hooray for #overlyhonestmethods- keep it rolling!

Droppin’ science

Happy New Year to one and all- hope your holidays were relaxing, or if they weren’t, then at least still food-and-fun-filled.

Kicking off the new year in style, we will be at the ASE conference in Reading from tomorrow- stop by the Science Museum stand and say hello!

And how about this Hip-Hop Experiment for getting students to talk science: GZA, of Wu-Tang Clan fame, has teamed up with Columbia Uni Professor Chris Emdin to teach young people science through rap, in a project launched in 10 New York City schools. They believe that the challenge of coming up with rhymes about science, and standing up to deliver them to their peers, can help engage hard-to-reach students in a way they can feel proud of.

Droppin science: students in Harlem take turns delivering raps in class. Dr Emdin,left, joins in.

‘We should find new ways to capture the interest of a new generation’ says Dr Emdin. And how right he is! We agree wholeheartedly, and have been living by this philosophy for a long time- which is why we promote the use of powerful questions in discussions (e.g. how could Justin Bieber reduce his world tour’s carbon footprint?) and more recently, digital games in the classroom, to give students a way into talking science by showing them that it’s absolutely relevant to their lives and interests.

Emdin says the skills required for success in science are much like those of a good rapper: ‘curiosity, keen observation, an ability to use metaphor and draw connections.’  Might I add, science and music are both creative fields, and without imagination, there isn’t much moving beyond what ideas already exist!

Feel like giving the science rap a shot? Why not, why not. After teaching a lesson, set your students the task of coming up with some rhymes for homework, instead of a report or essay. If you do try it, we’d love to hear how it went!

A fantastic challenge

Hi all, I’m sure you’re more than ready for the holidays, but before we go, I wanted to share an opportunity for you Biology teachers and your students… Amanda Hardy, Schools and Colleges Officer at the Society of Biology and a former science teacher, wrote to me: 

As a teacher I was very aware that pupils were in danger of seeing science as something to be learnt, rather than a subject to experience, question and look for answers to those questions. The idea of scientific discovery sometimes seems remote from the classroom experience and pupils may not realise that one day they could be running experiments which nobody has tried before. Practical lessons allow some exploration and the chance to test ideas, but it is impossible to dedicate enough time to them and they still normally involve following an instruction sheet.

Despite the inevitable constraints, many teachers are able to inspire students beyond learning facts, and in my role at the Society of Biology I hope to give teachers this opportunity via a number of our activities and resources for students individually and in the classroom.

The British Biology Olympiad is designed to allow sixth formers to expand their knowledge and talents, and to be rewarded and publicly recognised by the award of medals, certificates and prizes. The first round is multiple choice and winners from this are invited to an Award Ceremony at the Royal Society in London. Medals are awarded based on Round One, and students winning a gold medal are invited to take part in Round Two, from which finalists are selected to compete at the British Biology Olympiad final. The British final  at the University of Reading includes  practical assessments and an additional written paper.  Four of the UK finalists will go forward to the International Biology Olympiad final in Switzerland. The competition is growing each year, and attracts thousands of entries. I attended the 2012 UK finals at the University of Birmingham, at which it was inspiring to see the way the young people applied themselves to the challenges. Their attitudes were exactly what the competition was designed to foster.

For younger pupils (Year 9/Year 10 in England and Wales, Year 10/Year 11 in Northern Ireland and S2/S3 in Scotland), Biology Challenge is taken online in schools. It is designed to be challenging and interesting, stimulating curiosity beyond the biology curriculum. Although most people will never work as a scientist, my aim is to increase the number of young people who leave school feeling some ‘ownership’ of science, knowing that they are qualified to think critically about the scientific evidence they encounter during their everyday lives. I hope the competitions will reveal just how interesting, varied and exciting biology can be.

I would be really interested to hear from teachers who feel they have achieved these aims in different ways, and from any teachers who are keen to get involved in our competitions.  You can find out more at our updated competition’s website:

So there you have it. A chance to develop your students’ skills, passion for science, and a potential trip to Switzerland! Something to consider over the holidays perhaps…

I will leave you with this picture: super cute cell ornaments! Maybe a creative way to help your students engage with cell biology? You could try making some in class – use felt sheets and hot glue guns if you dont fancy sewing.

Celling fast: tree ornaments!

Celling fast: tree ornaments!

Have a brilliant time everyone, and maybe see some of you at the ASE conference in January -come say hello to us on the Science Museum stand.

Take care


Heart and Seoul…

 Hello all, we are back, after a bit of an absence…

Where have we been? We were just in Korea, delivering training to a large group of teachers as part of the KOFAC-led Asia Science & Creativity Conference 2012. KOFAC works to promote the public understanding of science, and the development of the creative talent pool inKorea, so an important element of their work includes the push for science to be taught in a more engaging, creative way in schools. We are delighted and excited to be a part of this initiative.

We had an amazing time in Seoulworking with teachers dedicated to enhancing their classroom practice. We delivered hands-on activities from our STEM club kits, online resources, and Talk Science tools and techniques such as Mystery Boxes and Powerful Questions- all aimed at developing students’ skills, curiosity and ability to apply creative thinking to a problem.

Meeting and working with such a genuinely keen bunch of teachers was really inspiring, they had loads of thoughtful questions for us, and made us realise how much of what we do and promote (and sometimes almost take for granted!) can actually take teachers outside their comfort zone. We think that giving teachers the motivation and resources to push the envelope a bit will make science teaching that much better for both them and their students-  but we would say that wouldn’t we!

Along with the wonderful people we met (and the snowstorms we braved) we also loved the food, and miss our breakfast kimchi very much… Luckily it’s fairly easy to get ahold of Korean foodstuffs inLondon-we are all glugging brown rice tea and scoffing honey-walnut court cakes in the office these days. Tough life!

We left our hearts in Seoul...

We left our hearts in Seoul…

 In February, we are actually going to be hosting some of those same teachers at the Science Museum. Coming here will give them the chance to experience live programming and see more our resources in action. Hopefully some of them will bring some goodies over too! Maybe we should start preparing a shopping list?

Pain is (not) a game

Just launched: Pain Less, the museum’s newest contemporary science exhibition! Check out the team’s blog to read all about the development of the exhibition and the incredible stories  featured.

What’s interesting about this exhibition is how the current state and future of pain relief is explored through the stories of  remarkable people. Pain is a really personal thing, and the sensation of it can be subjective, so there really isnt a one-size-fits-all approach, and telling personal stories makes it really revealing.

Extracting snake venom at the opening of Pain Less

Extracting snake venom at the opening of Pain Less

One of the elements of the exhibition, a digital game called Ouch, was actually co-created for the gallery by a group of year 9 students. If you can’t get to the museum, you & your students can now play online. Aside from being a lot of  fun, the game highlights the role of the brain in sensing pain, and outlines a few of the different options for pain relief  today (did you know that spider venom might be the next big thing?)

Try getting your students to play the game as a stimulus activity for a discussion around drug trials, or the future of medicine. Or let us know how you would use it in the classroom!

Wonderful Things: Chimpanzee brain

Meet the brain of your closest living relative in the Animal Kingdom…

Look human?

Look human? This brain belonged to a close relative…

It is easy to make the assumption that this is a human brain… the visual similarities are plain to see! But this is in fact the brain of a pan troglodytes, or as we know them, the chimpanzee.

We share a stunning 94% of our DNA with chimpanzees, and we can see the incredible closeness we have with them by looking at this brain. To the untrained eye the only difference we can see is in size – the human brain is a whopping three times larger than that of our hairy little cousin!

The similarities are not just on the surface but in the development of the brain itself. Humans and chimpanzees are perhaps the only species in which the brain continues developing after birth. When we are born, the part of our brain that controls our most complex cognitive functions, such as self-awareness and creativity, is not fully formed yet. It then starts developing very quickly…and much the same happens with chimpanzees.

So why do both humans and chimps share this commonality? The answer, it seems, is that this delay allows human and chimp brains to learn things they otherwise would not be able to. The delay gives their brains far greater plasticity, which, as Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University explains, leaves “their neural network and brain function more susceptible to the influence of postnatal experience.” Basically, the time spent waiting for the forebrain to grow is spent learning complex social interactions and establishing basic skills that will serve humans and chimpanzees well over the course of their lives.

 Of course, there comes a point where the human brain develops and moves far beyond that of the chimpanzee, but by that stage the chimp has gained the ability to do many things that continue to astound scientists. They have their own complex method of communication, but research has shown they can also understand basic human language and comprehend numbers and counting. They also use tools to help themselves on a day-to-day basis and have good memory skills. Incredible!

Chimpanzees are so smart that in 1961 the American Space Program sent a young chimp called Ham into space! He operated levers in a basic space capsule which paved the way for a human manned capsule several months later. Ham returned safely to Earth and lived the rest of his life as a national hero.

Brainy chimp Ham made it into space and back in 1961

Brainy chimp Ham made it into space and back in 1961

  • What does it take to man a solo mission into space like Ham? Do you think you could do it?
  • After seeing how similar our brains are, do you think Chimpanzees can ‘think’ like humans?
  • How would you feel about donating your brain to science?

For more about animals in space, check out the Laika the Spacedog Opera for KS2…

The Chimpanzee brain can be found in Who Am I?, on the first floor of the Wellcome Wing

-Shaun Aitcheson