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Science Museum Blog

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 […]

If, like me, you use the railways a lot to get around, you’ll know that the timetables changed last weekend. For those living in the south-east of England, it’s said to be the biggest timetable shake-up in 40 years. With so many services being altered, it’s more important than ever to know the right time. Our newly-refurbished ‘Measuring Time’ gallery is stuffed with clocks and watches from the Middle Ages to the present. It’s a great collection and well worth […]

Some time ago, I told you about Louis Brennan’s remarkable gyroscopic monorail car. His 1907 model is at the National Railway Museum in York. Brennan used it to convey somewhat reluctant family members across his garden on a stretched wire. He went on to make a full-sized version, capable of carrying ten tons… … which was displayed in 1910 at the Japan-British Exhibition at London’s White City. By then, his invention had become well-known. H. G. Wells, in his 1908 book […]

The wonderful caricature of a windswept midwife by Thomas Rowlandson in my last post got me browsing through other prints by this famous artist. They’re a great window into the past. The caption of this one states, ‘Lose their compass, their ship slips between the teeth of a fish unknown in this part of the world’. Not what you want to happen, really, when out for a sail. It was one of Rowlandson’s wonderful images to accompany the tall tales […]

It’s ten years this week since the XMM-Newton space observatory launched. The biggest scientific satellite ever built in Europe, it has studied black holes, tracked how chemical elements are scattered in supernova explosions, and revealed that Mars’s atmosphere is bigger than previously thought. XMM stands for X-ray Multi Mirror (the Newton bit is in honour of a certain Sir Isaac). X-rays can pass right through ordinary mirrors, so each of XMM’s three telescopes contains 58 cylindrical gold-plated mirrors nested together. […]

Perhaps the Skootamota I talked about last time looked a bit rudimentary to your sophisticated, yet jaded, twenty-first-century eyes. Perhaps you’d like more comfort, more protection from the nasty winter weather. If that’s the case, let me present to you the Ner-a-car. It was designed in America after the First World War by Carl Neracher, and was a motorbike built for comfort – just like a car, in fact. The name was a rather forced play on that of its designer, and the fact […]

Think push-along scooters are just for kids? Try mounting a 125cc engine on the back wheel, and think again! A few posts ago, I talked about Brooklands, the world’s first purpose-built motor-racing circuit. In its day, it was a thrill-seeker’s dream, but ordinary folk could go along for a test-drive too. Ninety years ago, you might just have caught a glimpse of one of these little beauties powering up the banking: The ABC ‘Skootamota’ was one of the earliest motor scooters […]

It’s all going on in the world of lorries this week. A haulage firm is trying to introduce a ‘super-lorry’ that’s 30 feet longer than a conventional articulated truck. Latest news is that the police have blocked it, but it’s a fast-changing story which I’ll be watching with interest. You can see footage of the double-articulated device on the BBC website here. I’ll keep my own thoughts on this 83-foot monster to myself. Instead, check out the world of heavy […]

Having written last week about my singular inability to ice-skate, my eye was drawn today to this poster in the National Railway Museum’s collection: The caption reads ‘Watch your step on our platforms this winter… Leave the skating to the profesionals’. Wise words. Having said that, if I saw a briefcase-carrying penguin skating along the platforms at London Bridge station, I think slips and falls would be the last things on my mind…

It’s that time of year again. Temporary ice rinks are springing up all over the country. There’s a popular one at the Natural History Museum, for instance, and there’s a useful ‘top ten’ rundown in The Telegraph. What’s not to love? Well, whenever I’ve been foolish enough to agree to have a go, it seems as if everyone else on the rink is related to Torvill and Dean whilst I resemble a new-born Bambi on a bad day. As I struggle round, […]