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Science Museum Blog

In my last entry Seaplanes and plump-bottomed angels, I introduced some of the people behind the Supermarine 6SB, a magnificent seaplane that won the Schneider Trophy. One person I didn’t introduce was the plane’s designer, Reginald Joseph Mitchell. Hewn from dark grey slate, his statue cuts an imposing figure in our Flight Gallery as it stares at the two great planes that made Mitchell’s reputation: the 6SB and the Spitfire. Mitchell was born in 1895 and at 16 he became an apprentice at the Kerr […]

The short posts continue, as I’m out and about for a few days. Last week I filmed a short TV piece about our Ford ‘Model T’ car. It’s one of our centenary icons, but I’m gutted to say it didn’t win our public poll on which was the most important. It seems the x-ray machine was more significant, so well done (through gritted teeth) to my colleagues in the medicine department… I dare say I’ll change my tune next time I […]

The Rosetta spacecraft has just swung by Earth, on its way to a 2014 rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (or Chewy-Gooey, as the project scientists like to call it). The ambitious mission aims to attach a lander to the comet with harpoons. On board the lander is an instrument called Ptolemy, which will analyse samples from Chewy-Gooey to help work out what it’s made of. Here’s a model of Ptolemy on display in our Exploring Space gallery: In our collections you’ll find many objects showing how comets […]

Just short posts this week, as I’m mostly out and about. The first proper motorway in Britain opened fifty years ago this month – the M1. It’s hard to imagine life without motorways – those snaking ribbons of tarmac, the service stations, the blue-and-white signs and the seemingly endless congestion. Do we love them today? Probably not, if asked, but back in 1959, the M1 was magical. People queued up to see the modern way to travel… Part of the […]

Following my two recent posts about the merchant navy war memorial in London, my thoughts (like so many people) turned again this week to our war dead. At a moving Armistice Day ceremony this week, the Science Museum’s director laid a poppy wreath at our own modest memorial commemorating Science Museum staff killed in the two world wars: We must keep memories alive by telling stories, so here’s one that follows from my recent post on Rolls-Royce cars.  In 1915, the steamship Persia […]

We curators field lots of questions from the public about the Museum collections. One of the most common ones is when visitors remember seeing something when they came as a child, and now, back with their children, or grandchildren, want to know why they can’t find it again. Sometimes the answer is simple (the dinosaurs are next door!). At other times, galleries have closed, or objects been taken off display – and this is the fate of our shrunken heads, or tsantsas. […]

In a previous couple of posts I introduced Malcolm Campbell, who broke land and water speed records in the 1920s and 30s using vehicles named ‘Blue Bird’. One of his successful record-breaking attempts took place in February 1931 when he topped 245 miles per hour. Here’s our model of his car: Later that year, he decided to go for a ride in a somewhat slower car – a 1905 Rolls-Royce numbered AX148. This venerable old motor, with a top speed […]

Museum objects are not always what they seem, as this intriguing embroidery – currently on display in our Cosmos & Culture exhibition  – shows. The label on the frame says that it shows an astrologer forecasting the birth of a child to King Charles I and his Queen, Henrietta Maria. It’s also been suggested that the face rising from the frames is a tad beardy for a newborn and that the scene may forecast Charles’s execution. The astrologer is surrounded […]

Just a quick one today. Last time, I showed you our lovely Heathrow airline coach from the fifties. By the 1960s, these buses were transporting passengers to the latest airliners in the British European Airways (BEA) fleet – the Hawker Siddeley ‘Trident’. These three-engined jets were built by Hawker Siddeley to BEA’s specifications. We acquired ours in 1987, at the end of its 16-year lifetime. By then, BEA had become British Airways and the new firm was re-equipping with American-built Boeing aircraft (although Tridents […]

Ah, the half-term holidays. It was great to see so many visitors to the Science Museum last week – hope you had a good time! Others may perhaps have jetted away with the kids for a relaxing overseas break. Did you use Heathrow Airport? These days there are several ways to get there: car, taxi, train, Tube or coach. But for many travellers back in the 1950s, coach was the only option: That’s our AEC ‘Regal IV’ airline coach from […]

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 […]

A couple of Sundays ago, I was waiting to cross the road when a pack of bikers rode past on Triumph motorcycles. I assumed they were off to a rally until I saw on the news later that Edward Turner, Triumph designer, was being honoured at a blue plaque unveiling in Peckham, London. That explained it. Turner designed the Ariel ‘Square Four’ motorbike in the late 1920s, released at the 1930 Motorcycle Show. It was a very popular bike and stayed in production […]