A Day Out at London's Science Museum
Back in July I was excited to visit the Science Museum in London for the first time with my six-year-old son. As we live over 200 miles away, this was the first time we were able to take advantage of this fantastic museum which is mostly free to visit. In the past we have been lucky enough to have visited some of the great northern science museums such as the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and also Eureka! which is based in Halifax, as well as the National Railway Museum in York, and the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, however we were still excited to see what this national museum had to offer.
On our visit to the London Science Museum we started out by visiting the Wonderlab interactive gallery which was newly created around 5 years ago. One thing we weren’t expecting was that there would be an almost constant schedule of live demonstrations which we couldn’t resist watching, but meant that we could have done with more time playing with the other exhibits. We found out about fire in a chemistry demo and saw lightning produced by a Tesla coil as well as seeing a giant working model of the solar system called an orrery. Attached to the Wonderlab is also an atmospheric wooden lecture theatre where we watched explosions with the lights dimmed.
The showpiece of the Wonderlab is undoubtedly the friction slides – three giant slides with different textured surfaces which you travel down on fairground style mats. The low friction slide was hair raisingly fast compared to the slide made of artificial grass – a uniquely memorable way to understand friction!
Wonderlab also has a mathematics section containing activities such as a Harmonagraph (drawing beautiful patterns using pendulums) and table top puzzles which we didn’t have time for. Despite there being a dedicated mathematics section, it was hard not to see mathematics in almost all of the experiments and activities. One of the best things about Wonderlab is that in my mind it is genuinely suitable for all ages, and would appeal to an adult or teenager as much as a young child.
After visiting Wonderlab we wandered through many of the other galleries, some of which probably deserved a half day visit all on their own such as the Exploring Space Gallery which contains Tim Peake’s actual spacecraft as well as genuine moon rocks.
We concluded our day’s visit in Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, and I have to confess that I had been looking forward to visiting this gallery ever since it opened a few years ago. It was designed by the famous Zaha Hadid architects and at the centre is a huge vintage plane which mathematicians helped to design. The Mathematics gallery is very much focused on the historical applications, uses and developments of mathematics and is not designed to be a hands-on gallery, as the hands-on mathematical activities are housed elsewhere in Wonderlab. There are some real showstoppers in the Mathematics gallery such as a genuine enigma machine and ginormous wardrobe sized computers which must be particularly mind boggling for young people.
All that was left to do was to exit through the gift shop which was as big as a whole extra gallery – it was certainly the best stocked museum gift shop I have ever seen. In conclusion I would thoroughly recommend the Science Museum – if you can get to London then make sure you schedule a visit – both for yourself and also for your pupils.
Visiting the Science Museum also made me even more excited about the vision of MathsWorld UK, who have been fundraising over a number of years, with the aim of opening the UK’s first National Mathematics Discovery Centre. In the Autumn they are planning to open MathsCity which will be a 300 square metre gallery in a Leeds shopping centre. If you are a teacher in Yorkshire or within striking distance then make sure you take your pupils there!