Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Science Museum, London

NSB is quite often close to London, and often takes the opportunity to take sons and/or nieces to visit some of the wonderful museums there.

The main museums are free to enter, which means that NSB is able to visit them quite often. Rather than giving a donation at the entrance, as the museums suggest, NSB always pays a visit to the cafe and spends some money there.

Anyway, NSB took a few pictures during a recent visit to the Science Museum (see also here and here) and thought they might be worth sharing to give a feel for the breadth of the topics and types of exhibit at that fine institution. . .

The "Wow" factor begins even before you enter, with a gorgeous sculpture called "Ferryman" by Tony Crag outside the building. It's perforated surface means that "allows one to simultaneously view structure and surface".

Ferryman by Tony Crag

And the Science Museum and its neighbout The Natural History Museum are buildings that are a delight to look at, with their beautiful, detailed brickwork

Beautiful architecture of the Science Museum
(or possible the Natural History Museum next door)

Inside, the first area one comes to is the "Power Gallery", which houses a replica of Stevensons Rocket and a huge (occasionally operating) steam engine and much else.

Operating steam engine

Further in, joy upon joy, is the exploring space section. . .

J2 Engine as used in the second and third stages of the Saturn V

Moving weather patterns are projected onto this globe - its pretty impressive!

Fans of computer history are not left disappointed. One highlight for NSB was seeing an example of "magnetic core" memory, simialar to that used on the Apollo moon landing missions.

Magnetic core memory, about 1k per layer !

Close up of the magnetic core memory, showing the individual iron hoops

It was also great to learn how Napiers Bones worked - NSB had not know that they were based on Arab mathematics and the lattice multiplication used by Matrakci Nasuh as well as later work by Fibonacci.

Have a go at Napiers Bones !

As a child of the 80s, tears were close to welling up at the sight of a ZX spectrum, a ZX81 and a Vic20. Happy days programming BASIC on a machine that had less than a 100k of RAM.

Cassete Tape! Vic 20! ZX81! ZX Spectrum!
Memories of happy, happy days

The Sinclair Executive - the future started here.

Note multifunction keys and how BASIC commands were right there centre stage

A less glamorous area, but one that NSF finds endlessly fascinating is the Agriculture Gallery, where one can trace the development of farming methods from pre-history right up to the modern day.

It was disturbing to read that the German blockade of the UK in WW1 resulted in Britain being reduced to just two weeks of food reserves by 1917. With the cream of Britains manpower either dead or at the front lines across Europe, the only answer was speedy mechanisation. So the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, ordered 5,00 Fordson tractors from the US, to be delivered in three months. These machines powered a transformation in British agriculture.

Fordson F type tractor, of the type supplied to the UK in 1917

The dioramas might seem a little old fashioned to some, but NSB loved them, they really give a feel the time and place they are describing. And they never break down.

Diorama depicting medieval farming
Other items that caught NSB's imagination were a beautiful Damascus Steel sword..

Turkish "Damascus Steel" Sword - A thing of beauty

.. and a model of Vitamin B12, the result of years of study by Dorothy Hodgkin, and which used Alan Turing's PilotACE computer to help unlock the secrets of this complex molecule. Frankly, NSB is gobsmacked that there is any way of figuring out the structure of something so complicated.

A model of Vitamin B12

There is, of course, only a small fraction of what is on show at the Science Museum, and, in particular, has not mentioned the excellent "Launchpad" area for young children that is very, very, hand-on and fun.

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