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Science Museum Blog

It was on this day in 1904 that two men met at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, sparking a revolution in motoring. Charles Rolls met Henry Royce. Rolls and Royce agreed to form a partnership, and by the end of the year they had made the first Rolls-Royce car. Rolls kept photographs of his products in a pair of albums, now in our Library and Archives at Wroughton. You should go and see them in the flesh if you can, but to whet your appetite, […]

Walk into any museum curator’s office and you’ll encounter a mass of books and papers. It’s not that we’re messy – well okay, I am – but a lot of the material we use can’t always be found on the web. Even on Stories from the Stores. One of my favourite books on my shelves is Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles by James Ferguson, who was born 300 years ago last Sunday. Published in 1785 (the first edition […]

Last time, I talked about early cycling, and today’s attempts to recreate the glamour of the past. Most of the time, though, cycling is just a practical, cheap and straightforward way to get around. What makes it more flexible is the ability to mix modes – to combine cycling with rail travel, car or boat. Jimmy Savile made the point usefully in this 1982 BR poster: That family looks like it’s off on holiday, but commuters can benefit from mixed-mode […]

As I’ve mentioned before, back in the Victorian age, the ‘ordinary’ bicycle, or penny-farthing, was the state of the art in cycle technology – and the height of fashion for brave men and women: As with most fashions, this one seems to have come around again. Earlier this month, 400 cyclists dressed in Edwardian and Victorian garb converged on London to take part in the twelve-mile 2010 Tweed Run. I couldn’t make it myself, but judging by the many pictures […]

On Saturday I went to a conference commemorating the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the British Rainfall Organisation (BRO), organised by the history group of the Royal Meteorological Society. Here’s what I discovered… The British Rainfall Organisation demonstrates the importance of networks in meteorology. It was founded in 1860 by George James Symons to coordinate rainfall observations by volunteers “of both sexes, all ages, and all classes”.  Every morning at 9am hundreds of observers across the country (by 1900 there were 3,408 stations […]

On Tuesday I attended our annual ‘Fellows of the Science Museum’ reception, in which we recognise the contributions of leading scientists and educators. This year we were particularly celebrating female scientists, with a speech from new Fellow Jocelyn Bell Burnell.  In 1967, Jocelyn was a PhD student at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge. Her job was to analyse data from one of the telescopes for the characteristic twinkling of quasars. One day she noticed a ‘bit of scruff’ on the telescope’s […]

Well, it’s Wednesday morning and it looks like we might soon be able to stop sheltering from the sky. With air travel still a problem as airlines attempt to return to schedule, fresh attention has been turning to the sea. The Royal Navy brought home some travellers on a warship, and demand for ferries has been high. For passengers between the UK and France or Belgium, the Eurostar rail service has been a possibility (if you can get a ticket). Back in 1936, […]

What’s in a name? I ask with the new ‘United Kingdom Space Agency’ in mind. The ‘muscular’ new space agency was launched with a new punchy logo but, I fear, a rather weak name. We might shorten it to something pronounced UK-SAR or perhaps to a simple abbreviation reading YOO-KAY-ESS-AY. Back in the 60s a fair chunk of UK space research was carried out at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE – pronounced AR-AY-EE) in Farnborough, Hampshire. The Science Museum has […]

What a spectacularly unexpected week it’s been for transport. I don’t suppose many of us imagined seeing this kind of warning notice on the Underground… As I write this at the weekend, the volcano is still erupting, and pretty much all UK flights have been grounded since Thursday afternoon. It’s dangerous to attempt to fly through the ash cloud, as news reports have explained. The ash contains glass which can melt and then harden inside jet engines, causing them to shut down. […]

If you’re stuck for something to do this weekend, don’t miss the rare chance to ride a steam train in Hyde Park. A fully-working reproduction of our 1829 Stephenson’s Rocket is steaming up and down a specially-laid track in Kensington Gardens, just by the Albert Memorial, offering passengers the chance to experience the earliest days of railways. The reproduction was built in 1979 and, like today, ran up and down a track in Kensington Gardens. Lots of people I’ve spoken to […]

My colleague Vicky is right. Spring is finally here. And yet… winter drags on, as the lingering winter vomiting disease continues to make its presence felt. A family of viruses – known as the noroviruses – thrive in crowded conditions and are especially fond of schools, where pupils then take bugs home. An unpleasant scenario my young daughter and I played out a few days ago. Avoiding it is partly down to luck. But one major defence is the good old public health […]

I talked last time about my recent trip to Southampton. While in town, I popped into the wonderful Solent Sky aviation museum. Whilst much of our aircraft collection is on show in London, and our Wroughton site houses some of the bigger craft, we also have a number of aeroplanes (and other transport artefacts) on loan to other museums. Solent Sky is home to our Short flying boat. Built in 1943 as a military-specification ‘Sunderland’, it was later converted to the civilian ‘Sandringham’ […]

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