Science GRRLS

A couple weeks ago, the European Commission launched its ‘Science: it’s a girl thing’ campaign to encourage girls to study science and consider science careers. An important message, of course, but the video which was released to promote it received a huge backlash (justifiably!).  It did absolutely nothing to stir aspirations or promote the potential of exciting science careers  (looks like it’s  just high heels and cosmetics, girls). 

These ladies , on the other hand, are poster girls for women in HOT science careers, genuine role models for girls considering (or not) whether to study science. From NASA astronauts to the Surgeon General, to founding Flickr, these women are out there now, getting on with it! (Whilst being inspiring and amazing).

Peggy Whitson, a heroine of science & technology

Peggy Whitson, a heroine of science & technology

Have a look and remind your girls that studying science does not necessarily mean working in a lab- far from it! There are a multitude of science career paths to travel, and even if they want to work in the Arts, in Finance etc; studying science means they can go on to do just about anything because the skills they will learn apply to many other disciplines, and to life!

yes, passionate science girl here :)

Wonderful Things: Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

Since modern man began to leave the continent of Africa nearly 70,000 years ago, practically every inch of the inhabitable earth has been reached by human settlers. Today, we base so much of our identity on our nationality; where we think we come from, and where our ancestors originated.

The far-flung islands of Polynesia were the last places to be populated and current inhabitants are thought to have come from South East Asia. On their long-stretching trade voyages, Malaysian seafarers judged the distance they had travelled using charts, creating early forms of maps such as this one from the Marshall Islands.

Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

The sticks recorded ocean swells and the sea shells represent islands strung throughout the North Pacific. The skilled seamen used ‘way-finding’ navigation based on their observations of the sea, sky and monsoon winds.

According to the International Organization for Migration, “No universally accepted definition for ‘migrant’ exists.” However, the term is generally applied to groups of people moving from one area to another in order to settle and improve their way of life.

In man’s earlier days this meant conquering unknown lands and seas that had never been seen before, but in present society, asking ‘How did you get here?’ may be ever more relevant as populations become more and more ethnically diverse for so many reasons.

Imagine your local area experiences a natural disaster like a flood.  Where would you go? Nowadays it is easy for some of us to travel around, but for people in developing countries and indeed for many of our predecessors, it wasn’t as simple as getting into a vehicle or following a map.

Ask someone where they’re from and most will answer without hesitation, with the country of their birth, their upbringing or their parents’ home country. Science can now tell us, using techniques such as DNA testing, how our genes decide who we are but also from whom exactly we have come.

Should the National DNA Database be used to help people find out about their personal ancestry?

What does your nationality mean to you?

 The Sailing chart of the Marshall islands is in the Who Am I gallery, on the first floor in the Wellcome Wing

-Ruby O’ Shea

Hashtag madness!

Are you a tweeter, churning out worthwhile (or not) tidbits of 140-character news? Are you a lurker, reading other people’s shouts (and whispers)?

Either way, you’ll probably know Twitter can be a great way to follow breaking news in education, science,  and all manner of things useful to your teaching. But how to sift through all the tweets and find the ones which mean something to you? Well, try out a few hashtags that make it much easier to find and follow said news!

Got any good hashtags we should be keeping an eye on? Let us know!

Tweeting fingers at the ready, scientists

Happy tweeting everyone!




Wow, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind the last few weeks, culminating with the first Talk Science Seminar yesterday. We had a brilliant time, hopefully everyone in attendance did too!

We welcomed about 60 museum professsionals from far and wide,  and it was a real pleasure to see, hear & participate in the discussions around ideas from ‘ghost’ objects and QR codes, to handling collections and extension objects.


Call a taxi! Objects great and small can inspire us...

We tried to give participants a forum to explore why and how we should use our collections to support the teaching of science- and with so much food for thought coming from the day, it looks like we will have plenty more to tackle in future seminars. 

The lovely Rebecca Mileham was our keen reporter during the day, gathering ideas and unpicking trends in the conversations- her findings will be published in the next couple weeks, along with some great cartoons (thanks to the fabulous artists!) that captured the breaking thoughts of the day. We loved seeing those on the wall in the afternoon, eliciting the emotions all over again.

Rebecca Mileham pulled together the findings of the day

Rebecca Mileham pulled together the findings of the seminar

If you were there, thank you for participating. And drop us a line at if you are interested in attending or speaking at future events!

For now, I will leave you with some thoughts that came out of yesterday… Do you agree with them, disagree wholeheartedly, do they intrigue you?

“barriers faced by teachers in museums: too many objects,  poor interpretation, and students’ expectations”

“learning is tied to curriculum stipulations. But what about curiosity?”

“museum objects are inherently interesting. Do we  really need complex technology to interpret them?”

“museum learning is about enquiry skills more than about the content”

 Open for discussion :)




Talk Science Seminar

The Talk Science Seminar is something we are all excited about, have been busily preparing for, and happens on Wednesday!  It’s the first in a series of seminars exploring the potential of museum collections to support the teaching of science. 

As we who work in museums know, collections and the stories they tell are wonderful sources of inspiration, stimulating awe (‘that’s REALLY been to the Moon!’) and creativity; objects can open up discussion around science today and in the context of history, making links between technology and its implications on society. 

Would you have bought a ticket to fly on the first passenger plane?

How can we use our collections to support science teaching at all levels? Can we bring the museum learning philosophy to the classroom? What can we gain by doing so, and what are the challenges?

We’d like the seminars to be an opportunity to address these questions from different angles, as well as a forum for ideas- so they are open to anyone who has an interest in this.

So whether you are a museum or a science centre professional, a teacher or educator, a scientist, or undertaking a museum studies degree- we welcome you to come explore and discuss how we can use our collections to engage young people (and others) with science.

 We are excited to see where this takes us- the findings from this Wednesday will be disseminated online (watch this space), and if you would like to register your interest for future seminars, drop us an email at

Hope to see you here soon!

All over the place and upside down!

Hello all, apologies for the lack of posting lately- we have been all over the place in the last few weeks, with Talk Science courses in Edinburgh, Portsmouth, and Belfast; several courses and teacher events in London; MuseumNext conference in Barcelona (an awful place to have to visit, as you can well imagine) - and tomorrow we leave for ECSITE science communication conference in France, to deliver a workshop about How Science Works and the changing nature of scientific knowledge through time

Bear with us whilst we get our heads on straight… In the meantime, here’s a few interesting and useful links to get stuck into!




  • Subscribe to the Wellcome Trust’s free Big Picture magazine- a fantastic resource for biologists (and a great read for all).


  •  Explore the Science News Review, aka ‘science news for the average citizen’ blog for oddball research and fascinating factoids. Did you know that a pigeon has better self-recognition than a 3-year old human child?

a vain pigeon?


Wonderful Things: Phrenology head

Psychics, psychologists and even friends attempt to read our minds; navigating what we do and how we say it to predict our actions. German-born Franz Joseph Gall took this one step further by suggesting an individual’s actions and disposition could be seen by literally examining the physical construction of their head. Sound like a wild idea?

How bumpy is your brain? Phrenological head, 1825.

Phrenology, from the Greek phren: ‘mind’ and logos: study/discourse’ (a fact for you all), was a complex method which examined the bumps of the skull to attempt to determine an individuals psychological attributes. Practitioners ran their fingertips and palms over the patient’s skull noting any enlargements or indentation, and used callipers to measure the overall size of the head.

So, the theory: Gall believed that the mind possessed a number of different faculties, discrete departments, each specialized and corresponding to a particular task or tendency, and that the cranium responded accordingly to accommodate these differences in size and shape within the brain. Gall had previously examined skulls of pickpockets noting many exhibited bumps slightly above the ear and suggested that these characteristics of stealing or deceiving could be linked to a formation in the brain.

Logically for Gall, these differences across the cranium could be linked to areas of the brain (or mind) which corresponded to particular characteristics and therefore could be used to predict the temperament of the patient. This was similar to Hippocrates’ ideas in Ancient Greece that excessive amounts of blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm caused certain moods, behaviours and emotions.  

Whilst some of Gall’s ideas regarding the brain have been influential in 19th century psychiatry and modern neuroscience, the practice of Phrenology is considered a pseudoscience by many. Gall was unwilling to respect or acknowledge data suggesting the inaccuracy of his technique whilst any anecdote or evidence seeming to confirm his ideas was met with enthusiasm.

Gall’s method of analysis show how new scientific developments require rigorous questioning and interrogation through peer reviews and honest data. However, it also demonstrates that whilst an idea may not be sound overall it can help in new developments.

The Phrenology head can be found in Who Am I? on the first floor of the Wellcome Wing.

-Christopher Whitby

Meet Pregnant Man

Meet Pregnant Man.

We recently made a film that we hope will get people thinking (and that you might consider using in the classroom!).

Watch our Pregnant Man tell his story

First off, let me start by saying that this is not currently possible, and a genetic male of the human species has not yet managed to become pregnant!

Thomas Beatie, the ‘pregnant man’ that you probably heard about a few years ago, is a transgender man (ie a woman undergoing gender reassignment), and actually had female reproductive organs when he became pregnant.

What we ARE saying is, ‘what if…’

  • A little bit about the science behind male pregnancy as depicted in our film. It’s based on ectopic pregnancies in women where a fertilized egg implants outside the womb; the idea is that IVF would be used to fertilize an egg, and the resulting zygote implanted into the man’s abdominal cavity.
  • The placenta would develop and attach to an organ in the abdomen, such as a kidney, to provide it with a good blood supply. The man would need to take loads of oestrogen and progesterone, female hormones that regulate pregnancy. Side effects of the hormones would be growing breasts, shrinking testicles and smoother skin.
  • The baby would have to be delivered by caesarean, and part of the organ supporting the placenta would have to be removed during birth as well. The entire process would be really risky for both the man and the baby- but as with any medical procedure, further research could increase safety and success rates.

So, whilst it’s not a reality now, it could feasibly happen- with enough research into it. Should we do it, just because we can? 

And sure, it sounds really ‘out there’ but then again, so was IVF when it first came out. Now IVF is very much accepted and even paid for on the NHS. In what circumstances would it be acceptable to have children this way?

Would the world be turned on its head if the traditional reproductive role of women were suddenly shared by men? And what would it be like for the child?

So much to consider, so much that could change! Would any of your students be willing to try it?


Wonderful Things: EEG cap

Imagine if your best friend -or even worse, your boss- could read your thoughts!  It sounds like the stuff from Star Trek but scientists are now experimenting with technology that could do just that.

The technology they are using is the electroencephalogram, or EEG.  This is a machine that detects the brain’s electrical activity and records it onto paper or a computer as wavy lines.    

The first human EEG recording, 1924

The first human EEG recording, 1924

This image is the first human EEG, which was recorded in 1924.  The recordings are taken using electrodes, which are flat metal discs that are placed at specific points on your scalp or are fitted into a special cap that you can wear.  The electrodes pick up the electrical signals in your brain as they jump across your synapses and transfer the signals to the EEG machine.  This records the activity as lines like this one.  

EEG tests are usually used by doctors to help them diagnose conditions that affect the brain, such as epilepsy or for detecting head injuries.  Scientists are now experimenting with them to see if it is possible to read people’s thoughts through them. 

EEG cap. What could this tell us about our minds?

EEG cap. What could this reveal about our minds?

Similar experiments have already occurred in the computer games industry.  Emotiv Systems have created a game which uses an EEG to record a players’ brain activity for six seconds.  The player then has to repeat the exact same brain signals and, if successful, they will be able to manipulate an image on the computer screen.  Of course, this isn’t actually reading your thoughts as you could have been thinking about anything during the game.  As long as you can replicate the brain activity it recorded you will win.      

At the moment it isn’t possible to decipher exact thoughts through an EEG but they can be used to successfully detect people’s emotions and when they are lying!  This is done by combining the EEG recording with image scans of the brain to see in which area the electrical activity originated. 

This has real potential to help those suffering from Locked-In Syndrome (who are only able to communicate using very basic means such as blinking) and even those with Total Locked-In Syndrome, where they are totally paralysed and cannot communicate at all. 

At present then, it isn’t possible for your boss to read your mind… but they might be able to work out how you really feel about them!

Can your students think of any pros or cons to this technology?

How would you feel if the police started using EEG’s and brain scans in their investigations? Would you happily take the test?

The mind-reading EEG cap is on display in the Who Am I? gallery on the 1st floor of the Wellcome Wing.

 -Kate Davis

make time for LATES

Guess what’s going on tomorrow in the Museum?  Science Museum Lates! A chance to visit the Museum and have a go (and a drink!) without your students having all the fun. Ahem. It’s free to get in and kicks off at 18:45 (kicks out at 22:00).

We hold  Lates regularly, on the last Wednesday of the month. Each Lates has a specific theme, and this month our theme is the Science of Mental Health. From the silent disco to the pub quiz, to talks and tours, there’s enough going on to keep your whole crew delighted for the evening.

Even better, this time we have an exclusive Teacher Zone! This means that if you are a teacher (and we know there are some of you out there, trying to live semi-normal lives…) you can rock up to the Flight Gallery on the 3rd floor, and find loads of fun classroom activities to try out with a complimentary drink in hand. You can also enter to win one of our Launchboxes, watch a show, or just take in the atmosphere over a few nibbles.

What more could you possibly want on a Wednesday evening?

See you there!