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physics

I’ve been rummaging through the Science Museum’s collections looking for objects related to terrestrial magnetism and scientific expeditions. I smiled when I came across the musical scores for “Northward Ho! or Baffled not Beaten” in a popular song catalogue from 1875 – it really brought home just how much Arctic exploration captured people’s imaginations in the second half of the nineteenth century. Commander John P. Cheyne of the Royal Navy, who penned the words for this dashing tune, was himself an Arctic […]

Are you off to the beach this August? Lucky you – I’m stuck at work (hey, but life’s always a beach here at the Science Museum). If you’re planning a holiday in the UK, you could tread the sands at Cromer, and follow in the footsteps of Albert Einstein. Einstein’s trip to Norfolk in 1933 wasn’t a holiday. As a famous German Jew, he had been subject to Nazi threats. He was invited to stay in Cromer by the MP and antifascist campaigner Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson.   Einstein’s visit has (very […]

In recent days, the aurora borealis, better known as the Northern Lights, have been visible at more southerly latitudes than usual thanks to solar storm activity. If you tried to have a look but were scuppered by the weather, or like us at the Science Museum you’re just too far south, enjoy these images of the aurora from our picture library instead. Of course, if you’re far south enough, you’ll be looking for the Southern Lights instead. The aurora australis […]

The European Space Agency has just released the first all-sky map from the Planck satellite. The centre of the map is dominated by purple swirls from the dust around our Galaxy, but Planck’s main business is to look closely at the blobby structures visible in the map’s outer regions. These ‘blobs’ show temperature fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the remnant radiation from the Big Bang. Irregularities in the CMB became the seeds of today’s galaxies. The fluctuations in the background radiation were first mapped by […]

Recently, I was lucky enough to visit the mighty Victoria Falls. As I stood at the falls’ edge drenched in spray, I spotted double rainbows formed by sunlight being refracted through the water droplets. One of the first people to explain how rainbows form was the Persian mathematician Kamal al-Din al-Farisi, who was born around 1260. Using a glass sphere filled with water to represent a raindrop, he showed that sunlight is bent as it enters the drop, reflects off […]

The Science Museum is formally over 100 years old. Over the century since 1909, it has had to compete with more and more media getting-in on the business of popular science. A hundred years ago, popular science publishing was already a big scene, as Peter Bowler shows in his enlightening new book, Science for All. Radio came along in the 1930s, and soon featured science. But our biggest competitor really got into its stride in the 1950s, when television began to […]

I set out to the National Physical Laboratory the other day and on my way down Exhibition Road passed an elephant. Some 250 of these colourful models are being positioned across London to raise awareness and funds for the plight of their living cousins. A little later something niggled at the back of my mind – as though that elephant was trying to tell me something – but I thought no more of it and caught a train for Teddington and […]

Fifty years ago yesterday, Theodore Maiman demonstrated the first working laser. At the time, there didn’t seem an obvious use for the technology (although several newspapers ran fanciful stories about ‘death rays’) and it was dubbed ‘a solution looking for a problem‘. Five decades on, lasers are so widespread that we barely notice our everyday encounters with them at the office printer, the supermarket barcode scanner, or the DVD player at home. The basic principle of a laser is pumping […]

The Shroud of Turin is on public display for the first time in a decade. The Pope paid a visit  on Sunday and over two million people are expected to queue up to see the shroud during a six-week showing in Turin Cathedral. Some people will be there because they believe the shroud is the burial cloth of Christ, others will be sceptics wanting a closer look at what has widely been dismissed as a medieval forgery. A strong case against the […]

Science Museum curators seem to have a curious affinity for tunnels. Stewart’s been down a sewer, David ventured under the Thames, and I’ve just been to one of the biggest tunnels in the world, a 27km ring under Switzerland and France. Yes, it’s the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Unlike my colleagues I didn’t get to enter this tunnel – that would be a bit inconvenient right now, as on Tuesday the LHC commenced physics operations, colliding beams of protons […]

My favourite part of curatorial work is adding new objects to the collections. Aside from the warm fuzzy glow of knowing that something I’ve acquired will be stumbled upon by future generations of curators, visitors and researchers, it’s always an opportunity to find out something new and meet interesting people.  Recently, I visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for a whistle-stop tour. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a project to bring our physics collections up to date, and RAL is […]

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