Home at Last – The Science Museum

Well it’s been coming.

I’ve been holding off on visiting the Science Museum for some reason. After visiting it earlier this week, and having had a look back over the few pictures I took, I think I spent more time judging the museums exhibits than actually enjoying them. I couldn’t help it – I’ve taught A level Physics and Maths where the syllabus’ are very strict and have little wiggle room to explore all the interesting things you’d like to show students. The museum, however, has none of these restrictions – they can just do all the fun stuff and have all the best kit to do it with!

As with most of my visits to that area of London though, my visit to the Science Museum started with the Natural History Museum.

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Baleen whale skeleton, Natural History Museum, 22/01/2018

For a change I wandered around to the Queen’s Gate entrance and headed in from that side. Immediately I found myself confronted by the enormous blue whale model in the large mammal exhibit. I’ve forgotten when the model was built (it said on a panel in the exhibit and I can’t find any decent information on the web) but apparently it’s a little tubbier than an actual blue whale however the model itself is now so iconic that it will likely be on display for years to come.

Above is a baleen whale – so named for the baleen plates that they have instead of teeth. It’s not understood how the baleen plates filter the plankton and small fish that the whale eats (again, from a panel) which is pretty interesting in itself!

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Double tusked Narwhal skull, Natural History Museum, 22/01/2018

Not much to say about narwhals other than wow! The tusks can grow to between 2 and 3 metres long and they’re actually an overgrown tooth – the narwhal only has two teeth and one grows up through the skull and forms the tusk. Now you may have spotted that in the photo above the narwhal has two tusks. This is fairly uncommon and occurs in about 1 in 500 narwhals – it also looks really cool.

The panels by the display say how we don’t know what use the narwhal has for it’s tusk (no it’s not for spearing fish – how would it eat it afterwards?!) but footage of narwhal behavior was caught on a drone last year that shows the narwhal ‘stunning’ fish with its tusk – basically it swims up behind them and whacks ’em. Here’s a link to the video on the National Geographic website.

Feeling that I really ought to get around to visiting the Science museum at some point in the day I headed off through the Natural History museum in that general direction.

Unfortunately also in that general direction awaited the ‘Whales Beneath the Surface’ in one temporary exhibition and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition winners were on display in another.

Seeing as I’d spent some of the day learning about whales already it seemed sensible to have a look in there – also I’m a member at the museum so it’s free for me!

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The most sinister member of the whale family, Natural History Museum, 22/01/2018

This handsome chappy is (possibly anyway, wish I’d photographed the info plates) an ambulocetus. However unlikely it may seem, whales evolved from land mammals. Not even big ones, pakicetus was more dog-like than you’d expect for the progenitor of dolphins and whales and Amublocetus was the next step (splash, whatever) towards pakicetus returning to the oceans. Pretty interesting stuff and there’s lots about it here on the Berkeley website and, of course, in the exhibit itself which is on until the end of Feb.

As a quick aside (from the science museum that I haven’t quite gotten to yet) the other temporary exhibit is the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition winners as I mentioned earlier. I may be biased as an amateur photographer (and as a member of the NHM), but this exhibit was absolutely stunning – here’s a link to the website and I really recommend having a look through the images on there and popping in for a visit.

Ok, Science Museum.

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The Burnley Mill Engine, Energy Hall, Science Museum, 22/01/2018

On entering the Science Museum I found myself in the Energy Hall which is chock full of fantastic old steam engines and information describing their development by Thomas Newcomen and James Watt – there’s also a recreation of James Watt’s work room piled high with his tools, inventions and sculptures.

The Burnley Mill Engine above looks in working order and rumour has it that it has been used for demonstrations which is actually the one thing I felt was missing from the exhibit – you can’t have a steam power exhibit without one of these massive machines running! Part of the allure of these machines is the noise, smell and heat they produce that give them their sense of power and without it the exhibit felt a little sterile so I’ll have to keep an eye open for days the engine is running – plus nothing is going to make a kid go wow like going into a ‘museum’ only to find a massive steam engine at work so I’m all for having demo’s on!

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The structure of Myoglobin constructed on a ‘forest of rods, Journey through Medicine, Science Museum, 22/01/2018

This crazy looking thing is a mechano and steel rod (that look more like bamboo) model of the structure of Myoglobin made by Max Perutz and John Kendrew in Cambridge 1960 – if you’re going to make an arty science display I want more things like this!

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‘An anamorphosis painting of the stern of a ship model’, The Winton Gallery, Science Museum, 22/01/2018

Heading on up to the Winton Gallery of Mathematics (and past a construction of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine) I found this ludicrous perspective oil painting – made by Willem van de Velde between 1744 and 1774.

From above it looks like this.

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Ok, but how is that a ship?

If you look at the photo I took above and peer at the cylindrical mirror in the centre you may be able to spot the stern of a ship standing upon a white rectangle – just how you go about painting that I have no idea.

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A crop in of the reflection

This wasn’t the first thing I noticed in the Winton Gallery however – that would be this.

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Air flow about the Handley Page aircraft suspended in the centre of the gallery, The Winton Gallery, Science Museum, 22/01/2018

This sort of thing I feel works really well as it highlights the complexity of flight in a very visual manner. The only thing I felt was missing here were the equations they solved to produce this surface – in fact I didn’t see any mathematical equations at all in the mathematics gallery! I assume this was a decision taken at some point in the design of the gallery but, to me, this is a real shame as despite popular opinion some people are quite fond of equations. I almost feel it’s a little patronising to have the big, nasty, complicated equations kept out of the way whereas, with a huge representation of the solutions hanging from the ceiling, surely you would inspire young minds to want to learn how to solve the impossible looking equations if they were plastered across the wall.

Anyway, enough ranting.

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A part of the ‘Great Scott’ moon rock, Exploring Space, Science Museum, 22/01/2018

That’s a piece of the moon.

It’s part of the ‘Great Scott’ rock that was brought back to Earth by the Apollo 15 mission in 1971 and is housed in an airtight container filled with nitrogen to protect it from our atmosphere – now that’s what I want to see displayed in the Science Museum!

By then it was almost closing time and so my visit to the Science Museum came to an end – I may need to spend less time in the Natural History Museum next time.

It’s a little early to judge the museum as, as normal, I didn’t make it around all of it and so more visits are in order! There are a lot of really interesting items in the museum but I’m going to hold the Science Museum to higher standards hence, personally, I feel some of the exhibits could be made even better.

Doug

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