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chemistry

Collecting stuff is generally the bit I like most about my job. That’s probably why I’ve got a bit over excited about the new acquisitions we’ve made related to synthetic biology – from no other than Tom Knight widely described as the “father” of the discipline. Synthetic biology is research that combines biology and engineering. Sounds like genetic engineering by another name? Well yes, but it goes much further. It looks to create new biological functions not found in nature, […]

The third and final installment of Miranda Bud’s blogs…  The Watson and Crick discovery of the DNA double helix is an iconic image of our scientific age. It is considered the milestone of contemporary genetics and is such an integrated part of our society that saying “it’s in my DNA” is a commonly used phrase by many people. Working with Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin they unlocked the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century. It led to countless advances, solved […]

The second installment of Miranda Bud’s blogs…  The majority of people will need to wear some form of glasses at some point of their lives, and I am no exception. I was fascinated therefore to discover the treasure trove of old spectacles frames and lenses hidden away in the basement of Blythe. The most striking thing about the majority of these spectacles was their size. The glasses have tiny lenses which I can imagine were quite difficult to see through. The […]

Happy 2012 to everyone! The New Year Honours List has been announced and some will be starting off 2012 with new titles or new letters after their names. A number of scientists and medical researchers were honoured this year. Unsurprisingly the Science Museum’s medical collection has its fair share of sirs and dames as well as OBEs and Orders of Merit. Arthur Weston made a number of artificial prostheses while imprisoned in Stalag VIIIB/344 (Lamsdorf) during the Second World War. […]

100 years ago today, Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, becoming the first person to win two Nobel Prizes. The citation recognised ‘the discovery of the elements radium and polonium … the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element’. Isolating radium from pitchblende was a laborious process, with a ton of ore yielding only a tenth of a gram of the new substance. In the early 20th century radium […]

Back in January, I posted about some unusual variations of one of our favourite pieces of cutlery – the fork. I guess it was inevitable that I’d be tempted to move on, delving further into obscure corners of our collections.  While trying to avoid ‘me and my spoon’ type territory, let’s take a random peek into… the world of spoons. Made of soapstone, this small spoon is in the form of a diving girl sporting either a typical Ancient Egyptian braided […]

Continuing our Women’s History Month theme, today we’re celebrating International Women’s Day. As the theme for 2011 is ‘equal access to education, training and science and technology’, it seems like a good day to celebrate Kathleen Lonsdale, who in 1945 became the first woman to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, along with microbiologist Marjory Stephenson (only 285 years after the men). Lonsdale was a pioneer in the field of X-ray crystallography, in which scientists fire X-rays at […]

March is National Women’s History Month. To coincide with the centenary of the Nobel Prizes, it seems an ideal time to look at the achievements of Marie Curie (1897-1934). Marie Curie was the first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes – one in 1903 with her husband Pierre and the another in 1911 for Chemistry for her work on radioactivity. Like many of the objects Marie Curie used in her work, this flask has slight traces of radioactivity and needs to be […]

Many objects in our collections weren’t really meant to survive the long-term. Food stuffs are such an example. While food packaging is commonly found in museum collections, food itself is rarer. And if uneaten during their pre-museum life, these objects remain vulnerable. Destructive pests like the Biscuit beetle are so named for a reason. Within our stores are a number of foody objects, collected for a variety of reasons and which have so far eluded the appetites of both the […]

February 4th marks World Cancer Day. Alongside surgery, chemotherapy and hormone treatment, radiotherapy has been a mainstay of cancer treatment for well over 100 years. Just weeks after Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of x-rays in 1895, student doctors began experimenting with the mysterious rays to treat cancer, and other conditions such as ringworm. By the 1920s, x-ray generators weren’t capable of making the intense beams of radiation needed to treat certain tumours. Hospitals turned to experimenting with radioactive materials such as radium. […]

How many uses can you think of for red cabbage? Not as many as James Watt I’ll bet… His friend William Nicholson wrote a Dictionary of Chemistry in 1795. The entry for red cabbage reads: BRASSICA RUBRA – Mr Watt finds that red cabbage affords a very excellent test, both for acids and alkalis; in which it is superior to litmus, being naturally blue, turning green with alkalis, and red with acids. The description of how he prepared the cabbage […]

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