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Science Museum Blog

Stories From The Stores is six months old this week. Woo-hoo! I’ve been looking over some of my posts. What strikes me most (apart from the appalling puns and gratuitous puppies) is that I’ve failed to say anything about transport beneath the sea. This is all the more remiss given that one of my best friends is a retired nuclear submariner. Let me make amends. Fifty years ago, on 23 January 1960, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh dived to the bottom of the […]

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 […]

Just a quick one adding to my last post on human-powered transport. I found this great pic in our image archive of a sail-assisted wheelbarrow from China. It makes perfect sense, so long as the wind tends to blow in one direction most of the time. Until the nineteenth century, all freight not transported by muscle was sent on its way by wind, but since the development of steam power, we’ve tended to turn our back on this free resource. Now, in […]

This is a sedan chair. Cute, no? These human-powered contraptions were all the rage in eighteenth-century Britain, part of a class of vehicle used worldwide. A pair of porters carried the chair by the poles, as the passenger inside looked on, wishing, I suspect, that she could have afforded a carriage. It can’t have been a comfortable ride, surely. I suppose it was the polite version of a piggyback. But I’ve never travelled by sedan chair. Perhaps somebody can put […]

It’s 125 years since bicycles took the form that we know today. Then, cycling meant mobility in a world before mass motoring. Now, eyes are turning to cycling as part of a solution to urban congestion. Transport for London is planning a turn-up-and-ride cycle hire scheme for the capital, going live this summer. One problem might be theft of the bikes. TfL’s response? “The bicycles will stand out as Cycle Hire bicycles. That way we hope people will think twice about stealing […]

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 has now been officially ‘closed’ at a ceremony in Padova (timed to celebrate Galileo’s observations of Jupiter’s moons, which you can read about in a previous blog). It’s been a really successful global project, with 148 countries signing up and thousands of people around the world taking part in events ranging from backyard observing to major international collaborations. The participants of IYA2009 produced a huge amount of promotional and outreach material – posters, stamps, coins, calendars, T-shirts, badges, books, […]

I heard a really interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 on Monday evening that lifted the lid on the murky and frustrating world of British transport politics. You can listen again here for a few days. It looked at the work of John Prescott‘s transport ministry in the late 1990s, which developed a ten-year transport plan for Britain called, inventively, ‘Transport 2010’. Those ten years have come and gone and 2010 has arrived, so how far did we come? Not far […]

The British inventor of the magnetic drum store, Andrew D. Booth, recently passed away so its a good time to remember the significance of his work for computing today. Andrew Booth was a physicist and computer scientist who became interested in the structure of explosives when he was working in Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. After WW2 he moved to Birkbeck College, University of London, where he met the physicist J.D. Bernal and began to use X-ray crystallography to look […]

As I mentioned last week, I went to the London Boat Show at the weekend. The venue sits right beside the Royal Victoria Dock in east London, one of three built in the second half of the nineteenth century to keep pace with the capital’s expanding maritime trade. They’re quite majestic. It was my first visit to the Boat Show. Essentially, it’s one vast exhibition centre stuffed to the gunwales with pretty much everything you’ll ever need to enjoy a life of leisure on […]

I’m off to the London boat show tomorrow. It’s being held at an exhibition centre beside an old dock in east London, so there’s plenty of water to show off  the yachts. I truly love that part of London. Not so long ago, the docklands area was teeming with maritime activity, but now it’s mostly pleasure craft occupying the spaces left behind when the working docks moved down-river to places like Tilbury. But just fifty years ago, Londoners were much closer to their ships, as […]

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 […]

As the snow continues to fall, some are delighted by the wintry weather, while others just want to get away to some sunshine… Most of us will have to wait until summer before getting away, and even then, as the recession bites, the ‘stay-cation’ may well be the only option. Back in the second world war, ‘staying put’ was in vogue for another reason – to keep the railways clear for military traffic, as this stern holiday poster reminded everyone… Once the war […]

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