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Science Museum Blog

You may have been following my recent posts on Britain’s submarine history. One thing that’s emerged has been the important role of Barrow-in-Furness in transport history. The Vickers company, now part of BAE Systems, made most of Britain’s submarine fleet at their Barrow yard, and BAE are manufacturing our latest subs there now. But Barrow was a transport town long before the submarines. In the mid-nineteenth century, Barrow became a centre for steel-making, as iron ore mined in the nearby Lake District […]

Last time, I related the sad story of the demise of HMS Trafalgar, who had her nuclear reactor shut down a few weeks ago prior to retirement. In 1993, Trafalgar was affiliated with the north-west town of Lancaster, just across Morecambe Bay from Barrow-in-Furness where many naval submarines are built. Now the boat has been decommissioned, the affiliation has come to an end, and the tip of Morecambe’s Stone Jetty is to be renamed ‘Trafalgar Point’ in the boat’s honour. Apparently, […]

Earlier, I told you about HMS Astute, the Royal Navy’s latest nuclear-powered submarine, due to be handed over by the builders later this year. She’s the second naval submarine with that name, the first being launched in 1944 as part of the Amphion-class of boats. We’ve this model of HMS Amphion herself on show in our Shipping gallery: Another boat in the series was HMS Alliance. To experience life on board a submarine, head for the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, […]

While growing up, when I wasn’t busy playing with hammers, I was intrigued by the Moon and I would act out Lego explorations of the Lunarscape. Two interests that that I have in common with engineer James Hall Nasmyth – whose invention of the steam hammer I explored in an earlier post. Astronomy was one of Nasmyth’s passions and when he retired in 1856, he had more time to devote to scientific investigation. He used this 20-inch reflecting telescope for […]

Imagine the following pub conversation: ‘What are you driving these days?’ ‘Actually, I’ve just taken delivery of my Jaguar Jet-Car. Just doing my bit for the environment…’ It’s not as outlandish as it seems. Jet cars have been around for a while and we’ve got the terrific Rover ‘Jet 1’ from 1948 on show at the Science Museum: The problem back then was that the jet engine (or gas turbine) was used to spin a shaft coupled directly to the car’s […]

I love hammers, or to be more precise, I like hitting things with hammers. Be it nails, walnuts or – at some point in the long-distant past – brothers. So when I saw this giant steam powered hammer looming over me in Making the Modern World I had to learn more. It was invented by James Hall Nasmyth. He was born in 1808, and drawn to mechanics from a young age, making his first steam engine at the age of 17. […]

This BBC News story landed in my inbox the other day, thanks to Peter at our Wiltshire site, near Swindon. It’s about government plans to designate the M4 motorway, between Wales and London via Swindon, as a ‘hydrogen highway’. Putting aside my mental image of an explosive Dick Turpin, I find it’s all about refuelling. Alternatives to petrol and diesel vehicles are being developed, but each needs a different type of energy source, and the infrastructure isn’t there to provide […]

Eighty years ago today, a young American astronomer discovered tiny Pluto. Clyde Tombaugh was searching for a predicted ‘Planet X’ that might explain oddities in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. Tombaugh spent months painstakingly photographing the same sections of sky and studying the images with a blink comparator. On 18 Feburary 1930, he noticed that on photographs taken a few nights apart that January, one ‘star’ had moved, indicating that it was actually a nearby object moving against the fixed […]

A few months ago, I showed you two ship models on show in our maritime galleries, both called Savannah. The 1818 version was the first steamship to cross an ocean (even though she did so mostly under sail power)… …while her 1959 namesake was the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship. The first nuclear ship was a naval submarine, USS Nautilus, launched in 1954, with British equivalents following a few years later, such as HMS Resolution. The latest British nuclear boat, HMS Astute, […]

It’s a real privilege to get right up close to an object; being able to read an inscription; noticing the wear and tear; discovering an unexpected little detail. A few years ago I examined the Museum’s Beta 1 – a late 1940s rocket engine – and spotted the letters ‘T STOFF INLET’ inlet stamped on one of the valves. This British engine was a precursor to those used on the Black Arrow space rocket and I knew of its German ancestry […]

Last week, I showed you our 1930s mobile library from Erith. This got me thinking about libraries and the wonders they contain. Our own library has the most extraordinary collection of literature. If you like anything at all, you’ll find riches beyond compare at the Science Museum Library – and it’s all free to see. Our Ingenious website is great for finding highlights. For instance, here’s Agostino Ramelli, a sixteenth-century Italian engineer: Ramelli wrote a highly influential book called (in translation) […]

This is Rory Cook. He’s the Science Museum’s Corporate Information and Enquiries Officer: If you contact the Science Museum looking for information about our business or collections, it’s quite likely Rory will deal with your request. He’s also the chap who keeps grateful staff like me me provided with historic files when we’re doing our research. Rory was delighted to discover this lovely old vehicle in our transport collections: Nice old van, but not just any old van. It’s the […]

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