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Follow this tour to discover the objects telling some of the greatest stories in chemistry.

Galleries you will visit: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Making the Modern World, Atmosphere, Mathematics: The Winton Gallery

Stop 1: Louis Pasteur’s compound microscope

Make your way to Level 1 where you will find Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries. Here, you will find Louis Pasteur’s compound microscope.

Compound monocular microscope. Image Credit: Science Museum Group Collection

Chemist and microbiologist, Louis Pasteur, used microscopes like this during his experiments on spontaneous generation – the theory that living creatures could arise from nonliving matter and that such processes were commonplace and regular.

By 1864, Pasteur disproved this theory by experimenting with fermentation. He placed yeast water in a swan-necked flask that only allowed air to enter. The water remained clear. Only when the flask was open to dust and micro-organisms did fermentation occur.

Stop 2: Crystal model of magnesium ammonium phosphate

Also found in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries is this crystal model of magnesium ammonium phosphate (Mg NH4 PO4 6H2O).

Crystal model of magnesium ammonium phosphate (Mg NH4 PO4 6H2O). Image credit: Science Museum Group Collection

This model is from a collection relating to the X-ray crystallography research associated with Dame Kathleen Lonsdale’s work in investigating the cause of kidney stones.

Stop 2: Density map of a myoglobin molecule

Make you way up to Level 2 and enter the Mathematics: The Winton Gallery. Here, you’ll find the electron density map of a myoglobin molecule.

Perspex electron density map of a myoglobin molecule
Perspex electron density map of a myoglobin molecule c. 1957. Image credit: Science Museum Group Collection

Myoglobin (symbol Mb or MB) is an iron- and oxygen-binding protein found in muscle tissue of vertebrates (animals with a spinal cord) in general and in almost all mammals. It was the first protein to have its three-dimensional structure revealed by X-ray crystallography.

Stop 3: Dorothy Hodgkin’s model showing the structure of insulin

Using Lift D, head back down to Level 0. Once you are out of the lift, turn right and enter Making the Modern World.

Model, one of two, made by Dorothy M. Crowfoot Hodgkin c.1967, to show the structure of 2 zinc pig insulin crystals at a resolution of 2.8A. Photographed as on display in gallery. Grey background.

In this gallery, you will find British chemist and crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin’s model showing the structure of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas to break down sugars in the body.

In 1935, Dorothy M Crowfoot Hodgkin published the first X-ray photograph of insulin. However, Hodgkin and her team were unable to determine the 3-D structure of insulin until 1969, when this model was made. The larger metal balls in the model represent zinc, which was introduced chemically into the protein to decode the rest.

Stop 4: Oscillation-rotation x-ray diffraction camera

While you’re in Making the Modern World, look out for the Oscillation-rotation x-ray diffraction camera used by physicist Professor John Desmond Bernal.

Oscillation-rotation x-ray diffraction camera. Image credit: Science Museum Group Collection

Bernal used this X-ray diffraction camera at the Royal Institution in London.

When X-rays are passed through crystals they scatter to create a pattern that can be used to determine the structures of molecules.

Known today as X-ray crystallography, it was a crucial technique used to understand the structure of penicillin, DNA and insulin. Bernal was also interested in the social function of science and wrote widely on the history of science.

Stop 5: Antarctic ice core

Use Lift F to head up to the Atmosphere, where you can go back in time to discover key moments in the Earth’s climate history.

Samples of Antarctic ice core segments, collected by the British Antarctic Survey.

Here you can find a sample of an Antarctic ice core – one of the oldest ice cores to date. Ice cores can tell us about the climate and atmosphere of the Earth’s past. Air bubbles trapped in the ice are used to measure the volume of carbon, methane and other gases present in the atmosphere when the ice froze.

As of April 2019 an area of Antarctica, known as Little Dome C, has been spotted where the ice is thick enough to reveal 1.5 million years of climatic history—almost twice as much information we currently have.

Extra stops: 

Extend your tour by visiting Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery.

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:

On Level 0 you will find the Energy Cafe if you fancy treating yourself to lunch, or with one of our homemade cakes and an award-winning coffee.

The Science Museum will be closed from Thursday 5 November until Thursday 3 December. Booking is now open for admission from 3 – 16 December 2020. Head to our website to read the latest information and to pre-book your free tickets.

Want more? Delve into our online stories of how experimentation and innovation in chemistry affects the world around us.