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Exhibitions and Galleries

From iconic galleries like Exploring Space to award-winning newer additions to the museum like Mathematics: The Winton Gallery our galleries make the museum an inspiring place to explore. We also open temporary exhibitions throughout the year covering a range of topics from science and technology to history and photography.

I wonder if the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) had a little-known sub-section devoted to pigeon fanciers.  A branch, perhaps (or a wing)? How else to explain the preponderance of interesting  features high up on old buildings that are indistinct at street level but – presumably – clear as bread crumbs to passing pigeons? I was mulling this over yesterday as I squinted at the figures and details of The Treasury’s Whitehall pediment, and then again while attempting to make out the features […]

My attention was drawn last week to an incredible set of photographs taken recently in Notting Hill Gate underground station, during refurbishment. They show a deserted passageway sealed up in 1959, with advertising posters surviving untouched to this day: The full set, by London Underground’s Head of Design and Heritage, Mike Ashworth, are on Flickr. One of them advertises the Science Museum’s then-new Iron and Steel gallery, depicting a Bessemer steel converter in mid-pour: I’ve spoken before (in posts about Barrow-in-Furness and Bessemer) about our […]

Recently, I was lucky enough to visit the mighty Victoria Falls. As I stood at the falls’ edge drenched in spray, I spotted double rainbows formed by sunlight being refracted through the water droplets. One of the first people to explain how rainbows form was the Persian mathematician Kamal al-Din al-Farisi, who was born around 1260. Using a glass sphere filled with water to represent a raindrop, he showed that sunlight is bent as it enters the drop, reflects off […]

You might wonder what this watercolour is doing in our Making the Modern World gallery. The chalky cliffs, thatched cottage and country children make a pleasant enough pastoral scene, but what does it have to do with science? The clue is in the sky, which represents ‘Cumulus breaking up; cirrus and cirrocumulus above’. These were the new names for the clouds, created by the meteorologist Luke Howard. Howard was a commercial chemist who rose to fame after lecturing “On the Modification […]

The Science Museum is formally over 100 years old. Over the century since 1909, it has had to compete with more and more media getting-in on the business of popular science. A hundred years ago, popular science publishing was already a big scene, as Peter Bowler shows in his enlightening new book, Science for All. Radio came along in the 1930s, and soon featured science. But our biggest competitor really got into its stride in the 1950s, when television began to […]

Science Museum curators seem to have a curious affinity for tunnels. Stewart’s been down a sewer, David ventured under the Thames, and I’ve just been to one of the biggest tunnels in the world, a 27km ring under Switzerland and France. Yes, it’s the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Unlike my colleagues I didn’t get to enter this tunnel – that would be a bit inconvenient right now, as on Tuesday the LHC commenced physics operations, colliding beams of protons […]

With last week’s opening of 1001 Inventions, we’ve been celebrating cross-cultural collaboration, and astronomy has plenty of examples. At the entrance to the exhibition you can see a display of objects from our collections, including this astrolabe made by Jamal al-Din in Lahore in 1666. The astrolabe is a two-dimensional model of the universe that can be held in your hand. It is also a beautiful demonstration of the way knowledge is shared between cultures. The first astrolabes were probably developed by […]

If you’re planning to attend Monday’s Centenary talk on the Large Hadron Collider, you can spot a few of its distant ancestors as you pass through the Making the Modern World gallery en route to hear Brian Cox speak. Looming large on the left of the central walkway is the cascade generator from John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton’s million-volt accelerator. This generated 1.25 million volts to accelerate protons and smash them into atomic nuclei, breaking the nuclei apart. During the Second World War this apparatus was […]

Picture the scene. Two men are lurking at a London station, waiting for the Glasgow train. The train arrives and a third man disembarks, wheeling a suitcase. The three exchange some quick words of identification, the Londoners give the man from Glasgow an envelope of papers and he hands over the suitcase. The Londoners jump into a taxi with the suitcase … which contains a 23kg sapphire. No, it’s not a scene from the latest Bond movie. The man on […]

At first glance, a replica of Isaac Newton’s telescope might not have much in common with a dark matter detector. And what could the first astronomical instrument with built-in photography possibly have to do with a tea towel? Following the threads on the activity wall at the launch event for our Cosmic Collections competition, it all became clear. For the competition, we’re releasing data about more than 100 objects from our astronomy collection for people to incorporate into their own websites. We asked […]

The National Railway Museum has a very odd-looking device buried in its collections: a working model of a gyrostatic monorail car invented by Louis Brennan in 1907. I don’t feel able or qualified to explain the physics of gyrostats here. Suffice to say, Brennan’s vehicle ran on a single rail, stabilized by ingeniously-designed spinning fly-wheels so that it stayed upright even when fully loaded. Ingenious inventions like the gyrocar were all the rage in Edwardian Britain. On my shelves at home is a copy […]

Ali Boyle is the Curator of Astronomy at the Science Museum. She oversaw Cosmos & Culture, one of our newest exhibitions so I asked her a few questions about putting the exhibition together and the Cosmic Collections website competition that we’re just about to launch… What’s the Cosmos & Culture exhibition about, and how did you select and organise the objects? Cosmos & Culture looks at how people all around the world have interacted with the skies throughout history. It uses the […]

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