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By Will Dave on

Britain’s Greatest Invention

On 15 June 2017 we’re inviting BBC Two’s cameras inside the Science Museum Group’s vast stores to celebrate our amazing objects and incredible stories of invention in a 90-minute live broadcast.

Britain’s Greatest Invention, presented by Dr Hannah Fry and automotive engineer Ant Anstead, will celebrate Britain’s impact on seven remarkable inventions (concrete, the steam engine, jet engine, fridge, mobile phone, television and antibiotics) and explore behind the scenes with our curators.

Presenter Hannah Fry in the Science Museum Group's stores
Presenter Dr Hannah Fry in the Science Museum Group’s stores © BBC/Thoroughly Modern Media/Simon Robinson

Battling it out in front of a live studio audience and surrounded by our incredible collections, seven celebrities will each champion an invention:

Giles Coren will champion the humble fridge, an invention that plays a crucial role in our health.

Len Goodman is an ambassador for the steam engine, exploring how steam turbines generate 80% of the world’s power.

For Angela Scanlon, the power in our pocket of the mobile phone has made it the winning invention.

Watching television growing up in Trinidad inspired Trevor McDonald to pursue a career in broadcasting.

Having had TB when she was a child, Angela Rippon will celebrate the invention of antibiotics.

For David Harewood, the jet engine that keeps almost one million people in the air at any one time is the most significant invention.

Nick Knowles is championing an unsung hero and the most used artificial substance on the planet: concrete.

BBC Two viewers can vote (either by phone or via for the invention that has the biggest impact on their lives today during the live show. The winning invention will be revealed at the end of Britain’s Greatest Invention.

David Harewood pictured in front of a jet engine
Actor David Harewood in front of a jet engine © BBC/Thoroughly Modern Media/Simon Robinson

The objects in our collection can help tell unique stories, from the extraordinary to the everyday. But there are some objects whose stories remain a mystery. As part of Britain’s Greatest Invention, we’re asking for your help to uncover the stories behind two incredible objects.

Jedi helmet

These ‘Jedi’ helmets were worn by children and adults in the 1980s to aid MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans of their brains. The coils act as aerials, and the helmets were named after the Jedi knights in Star Wars to encourage children not to be frightened.

We want to know what it was like to wear and use one of these helmets, so get in touch if you have used one or know someone who did.

‘Jedi’ helmet, used with Cryogenic Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine

Prosthetic arm

We acquired this prosthetic arm in the late 1990s, but know tantalisingly little about it. It was designed so the pianist who used it could span an octave on a piano, with padded thumb and little finger tips to ensure the wooden fingers could not be heard on the piano keys. The hand is detachable, so the woman who owned this limb may have used other prosthetic hands too.

We know the pianist performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1906, but after lots of research we’ve not been able to find out any information about her life.

The prosthetic limb was made by Mr Rowden of 13 Abingdon Street, Northampton, and we are interested in his story too. If you know anything about this mysterious pianist or Mr Royden, do get in touch.

Right below elbow prosthesis, made for a pianist.
Right below elbow prosthesis, made for a pianist.

Festival of Britain

In 1951 the Festival of Britain was held, celebrating the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition and promoting British science, technology, design architecture and the arts. This national exhibition was seen by millions of people across the UK. The Science Museum even built a new part of the museum to house the Festival of Britain Exhibition of Science.

We have a small number of objects from the Festival of Britain in our collections, but our curators are looking to acquire more objects which complement our existing collections. If you have science-themed items from the Festival’s Exhibition of Science – such as plates, cutlery, glassware, menus, posters or even objects from the exhibition itself – we want to hear from you. We would also love to hear from people who remember visiting the Festival of Britain Exhibition of Science, so we can capture these stories too.

Tin lid decorated with Festival of Britain logo.
Tin lid decorated with Festival of Britain logo.

Britain’s Greatest Invention will broadcast live from the Science Museum Group’s stores on 15 June from 20.30-22.00 on BBC Two. The programme has been produced in partnership with The Open University and is part of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World partnership. Viewers can vote during the show via for the invention that has the biggest impact on their lives.

Update: Shortly before the live broadcast, we went behind the scenes with our staff to explore hangar D4.

And the winner is…

After the public vote, antibiotics was crowned Britain’s Greatest Invention shortly before the end of the live programme on 15 June.

All seven inventions will be celebrated at the Tomorrow’s World Lates on 30 August. Thousands of people are expected at this special Lates, part of our free monthly Lates for adults, including Britain’s Greatest Invention presenter Dr Hannah Fry. The Museum open from 18.45 – 22.00 for the event and we’ll share more details in the coming months.

Later this year the museum will open an exhibition exploring antibiotic resistance – more news on this soon – but in the meantime you can explore the museum’s penicillin and antibiotic collections online.

2 comments on “Britain’s Greatest Invention

  1. And all of the inventions are trivial, compared to Edward Jenner and his smallpox vaccine…

  2. I can’t wait to see this programme, even if I’m not there I’ll be watching!!!! So exciting I wonder which will win….. I have my own idea….. Whats yours

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