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The Big Tour

Follow this route to discover some of the biggest objects, ideas and stories in the Science Museum.

Galleries you will visit: Energy Hall, Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Flight, Information Age and Mathematics: The Winton Gallery

Stop 1: The Mill Engine – Energy Hall, Level 0

Horizontal cross compound mill engine,1903. Image Credit: Science Museum Group

This big mill steam engine comes from Burnley in Lancashire where it was used to power 1,700 looms in a cotton mill. Weavers in Lancashire’s factories made textiles that were sold around the world. The steam engine was used in the mill right up until 1970. 

Stop 2: The Self-Conscious Gene – Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Level 1

‘Self-Conscious Gene’ (2019) by Marc Quinn. Image credit: Science Museum Group

Take either Staircase C or Lift C up to Level 1 and enter the Medicine and Bodies gallery where you will be greeted by Self-Conscious Gene by Marc Quinn.

Look up at this sculpture of artist, actor, and model Rick Genest, known as Zombie Boy. The artist, Marc Quinn, made the head of this monumental sculpture bigger so that it appears in proportion with the rest of the body when viewed from below. Following treatment for a brain tumour in his youth, Genest worked with tattoo artists to transform his body into an anatomical work of art. What tattoos of body parts can you recognise? 

Stop 3: World’s first MRI scanner – Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Level 1

Prototype Nuclear Magnetic Resonance machine. Image credit: Science Museum Group

Look around Medicine and Bodies, and spot the world’s first MRI scanner, along with ‘Jedi’ helmets.

Until the development of MRI, we could not see inside our brains without surgery. MRI is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.

To the right of this machine are scanner helmets made with copper worn to help pick up MRI signals. Named after the Jedi knights in the Star Wars films, they encouraged children to be brave when having a scan.  

Stop 4: Hospital bed cycle: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Level 1

Hospital bed cycle, England, 1949. Image credit: Science Museum Group

‘Continue to move through the gallery, through Exploring Medicine, and into Medicine and Treatments whereyou will find this hospital bed cycle.

Used as an exercise bike by people with paralysis, the bed cycle was designed by Ludwig Guttmann, one of the founders of the Paralympic Games. The metal bar would be placed over your bed and you would push the pedals with your hands, building muscle in your arms and upper body.

Discover more of the story behind the bed cycle and the Paralympic games here.

Stop 5: Genoese medicine chest – Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Level 1

Genoese medicine chest, 16th century. Image credit: Science Museum Group

Further down the Medicine and Treatments gallery, you will find the the Giustiniani family medicine chest. 

Most of us have a cupboard in our home filled with items like plasters and painkillers for when we have a headache or scrape our knees. The Giustiniani family from Genoa, Italy, had the same idea but on a much bigger scale.

They traveled with this medicine chest containing 126 small bottles and boxes, with a wide variety of ingredients to make medicine sourced from all over the world including cinnamon and ‘unicorn horn’. Which medicines do you take with you when you travel? 

Stop 6:  Engine from Concorde – Flight, Level 3

Rolls-Royce Olympus 593 engine. Image credit: Amy Davy

When you’ve finished in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, take the lift up to Level 3 to the Flight gallery, where you can find the large Rolls-Royce engine from Concorde. 

Creating a new technology, like this big supersonic engine, relies on the expertise, dedication, and hard work of thousands of people.

Using four of these engines the Concorde planes could reach a whopping speed of 1300 mph – twice the speed of sound. This one was tested on both the French and British prototypes of the supersonic airliner.  

Stop 7: Rugby radio coil – Information Age, Level 2

Aerial tuning inductor from the Rugby Radio Station. Image credit: Science Museum Group

Head down to Level 2 and enter the Information Age gallery. This gallery tells the story of how our lives have been transformed by information and communication technologies.

In the centre of the gallery, you’ll find the enormous Rugby Radio coil.

At a radio station near Rugby, Warwickshire this huge, intricate tuning coil was installed as part of a larger set-up for transmitting information worldwide. At its peak in the 1950s Rugby Radio was the biggest radio transmitting station in the world. During the Cold War it was used to transmit secret information to ships and submarines 

Stop 8: Mobile phone base station – Information Age, Level 2

Mobile phone base station disguised as a cactus. Image credit: Science Museum Group

Continue through the gallery until you seee the Mobile phone network antenna disguised as a cactus to your left. 

To blend into the Arizona desert this unusual antenna has been disguised as the native Saguaro cactus. Antennas like this one are part of a big global network which lets us communicate with people all around the world. Today, mobile phones have become essential in how we socialise with our friends and family.  

Stop 9: Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, Level 2

Mathematics: The Winton Gallery. image credit: Nick Guttridge

Once you’ve finished looking around Information Age, move across Level 2 to Mathematics: The Winton Gallery.

The beautiful shapes that form this gallery were designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. 

Dame Zaha Hadid trained first in mathematics before studying architecture, and the work of her practice is strongly informed by ideas about geometry.

It is the only museum gallery in the world to be designed by Hadid. The curved overhead structure and layout of the gallery represents airflow around the Handley Page aircraft suspended at its centre. The design was driven by equations of airflow used in the aviation industry, which are still an important area of mathematical research.

What other patterns can you spot in this gallery? 

Stop 10: Astrolabe – Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, Level 2

Islamic planispheric astrolabe made by Jamal al-Din at Lahore in 1077 AH (= 1666 AD). Image credit: Science Museum Group

Under the Maps and Models section of this gallery, you can find the Astrolabe by Jamal al-Din ibn Muqim. 

Although small enough to be held in one hand, astrolabes depict the large sky above us. These amazing devices can be used for a variety of tasks including timekeeping and navigation. Jamal al-Din relied on his extensive knowledge of geometry and other mathematical techniques to make this intricate device.  

Extra stops: 

Extend your tour and explore the big ideas in Wonderlab. Revealing the beauty of the science and maths that shape our everyday lives, this unmissable experience will ignite your curiosity, fuel your imagination and inspire you to see the world around you in new and exciting ways.

Where to eat:

Head back down to Level 0 where you will find the Energy Cafe next to the Mill Engine. This is perfect for lunch—or to treat yourself to one of our homemade cakes and an award-winning coffee. Enjoy hot and cold dishes, including made-to-order pizza, salads, wraps and sandwiches.

At home:

You can make your journey even bigger by continuing it at home. Check out our Great object Hunt: Out and About to explore the fascinating world around you.

The Science Museum is open every day, 10.00–18.00 (last entry 17.15).  Head to our website to pre-book your free tickets.