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By Will Dave on

Stories from the Stores

A new film series - Stories From The Stores - goes behind the scenes with our curators to uncover fascinating stories from across the Science Museum Group collection.

After months of work, we are inviting you to join us and discover remarkable stories from some of the 7 million items we care for in the Science Museum Group Collection.

For Stories From The Stores we have focused on interesting items which are not usually on display in our five museums, which means you’ll hear and see intriguing stories not told anywhere else.

We’ve teamed up with YouTuber Tom Scott for the first series. Each fortnight we’ll share a new film on YouTube (subscribe here to see it first) and in this blog post.

In our first episode, curator Selina Hurley reveals the surprising story behind this Jedi Helmet and how its use in medicine – and not Star Wars – helped save lives.

The name Jedi Helmet was inspired by the Jedi knights in Return of the Jedi – the Star Wars film released in 1983 – and was used to encourage children (and adults) to wear the helmet and not be frightened during an MRI scan.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) uses high frequency radio waves to build up a picture of the human body and help doctors diagnose illnesses. The copper coils on the helmets are aerials which can pick up the radio waves and improve the quality of the scan.

MRI is often used as it does not expose the body to radiation (unlike when you have an X-ray scan). It’s also better than X-rays for studying the body’s soft tissues (such as internal organs).

These Jedi Helmets were used in an MRI machine at Hammersmith Hospital in the 1980s. That machine was the first of its kind installed in the UK and one of the longest serving MRI machines in the world. The machine was removed in 1992 and is now part of the Science Museum Group collection.

In Episode two, curator Doug Millard explores how an unremarkable chair helped NASA astronauts train for space.

This chair was used by astronauts training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to operate the Space Shuttle’s remote manipulator arm and manoeuvring thrusters.

The chair’s software would be changed according to the training requirement. The remote manipulator arm or ‘Canadarm’ was an articulated grabber used to deploy or retrieve satellites from the Shuttle’s payload bay.

It was famously used on the deployment and servicing missions of the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts, attached to the end of the arm, could also be positioned around the Shuttle to assist or to perform other operations outside the Shuttle.

The chair hand control on the left simulated control of the grabber (or “end effector”) so it could grapple or release items, while the rotational hand control on the right mimicked control of the pitch, roll, and yaw of the “wrist joint” near the end of the arm.

Using different software, this same chair was used to simulate the use of thrusters to manoeuvre the Shuttle for docking. This first occurred during the STS-71 mission in 1995, when the Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir.

In Episode three, curator Ben Russell explores the intricate items created by Victorian amateurs using lathes (complex machine tools which are used for industry and pleasure).

You can read more about tools in this accompanying blog post.

In Episode four, curator Selina Hurley returns to share the story behind a Bed cycle and the Paralympic games.

Designed in 1949 by Dr. Ludwig Guttman, a Jewish neurosurgeon who escaped to England with his family in 1939, the Bed cycle was used as an exercise bike by paraplegic and tetraplegic patients as part of their physical and psychological rehabilitation.

This Bed cycle was first used in 1946 at the Chaseley Trust for Disabled Ex-Servicemen in Eastbourne, Sussex, and was last used by a patient in 1994.

Dr Ludwig Guttmann organised the first ever Stoke Mandeville Games which took place on the first day of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. Competitors from all over Europe became involved in the annual Games, with Guttmann and the Stoke Mandeville team joining four hundred athletes from 23 countries at the 9th Games, when the Paralympics formally launched in Rome in 1960.

Thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Ludwig Guttman and rehabilitation devices like the Bed cycle, athletes were able to compete in the Paralympics.

Further episodes will be added to this blog post as they are published.