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Science Museum Blog

I saw a splendid programme on BBC2 the other day. In his series, ‘Toy Stories’, James May is playing with old toys like Airfix and Meccano in an epic way. Last week, he revived the famous Brooklands motor racing circuit, opened in 1907 and closed in 1939. Malcolm Campbell (see my previous posts) was a regular racer at Brooklands: It wasn’t just cars. Britain’s aviation industry arguably started here with the pioneering work of A. V. Roe and others. Roe’s company went […]

After over a year of delays, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has smashed its first particles together. The accelerator is due to commence full operation in the next few weeks (assuming it doesn’t get sabotaged from the future … or baffled by a baguette). Particles in the LHC travel at almost light speed, guided by superconducting magnets. They travel inside a beam screen, kept at a temperature of 5 degrees Kelvin (-268 Celsius), which shield the magnets from the intense particle […]

Did any of you catch the BBC2 programme last week on the recent steam car speed record? I only managed to see a bit of it, but it looked great. You can watch it on BBC iPlayer for a couple more days here. These guys have built a car powered by a steam turbine and, at 140mph, it’s broken the world speed record for steam cars originally set in 1906 at an impressive 128mph. I blogged about it a while ago here, […]

Earlier this week I was at our site at Wroughton, Wiltshire, where I met a very special visitor. Joe Wright, together with his family, came to see one of our aircraft, a De Havilland Comet 4B jet. But it wasn’t the first time Joe saw our Comet at Wroughton – he was the very pilot who flew it in, thirty years ago! I was thrilled to meet him and talk about his experience. The final flight of the Dan-Air-owned Comet 4B […]

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 […]

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