Science Centres and Museums of ACT and NSW: Mt Stromlo Visitor Centre, CSIRO Discovery Centre, Questacon, Powerhouse, and Scienceworks

When was the last time you went to the Science Centre? Most people appear to have vivid memories of visiting science centres as a child but rarely as an adult. While I was in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney last month, I began following a hunch that Science Centres and Museums would be the best places to see lots of different applications of optical illusions for the masses! After all, as new and novel image display methods are invented, sometimes in the push to have these mediums reach a mass market, these technologies and mediums are often pushed first via these children-oriented Science Centres to reach a ‘national’ audience…

Here is a photo documentation of my visits to a few of the Science centres and science museums of ACT and NSW (not an exhaustive list, of course, but just what could be accomplished in my month in Australia…):

Mt Stromlo Visitor Centre (Tidbinbilla, Canberra)
Questacon (Canberra)
CSIRO Discovery Centre (Canberra)
Powerhouse (Sydney)
Scienceworks (Melbourne)

Mt Stromlo, Tidbinbilla

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I really wanted to visit this although it was quite far out, but then again, Canberra always feels so close to the countryside. For the uninitiated, Mt Stromlo is the physical successor to the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, which was the NASA Earth Station used to support Project Apollo. Honeysuckle Creek would have been the first telemetry station on earth to have actually received the video and audio data for the moon landing. It is also the site of the first optical munitions factories in Australia (allowing Australia to be self-sufficient in developing and producing its own optical munitions instead of relying on imports that were being cut off during WWII), and the observatory.

It is plainly visible that there has definitely been a dialogue going on between the astronomers at Mount Stromlo and Canberra’s municipal authorities in reducing the unnecessary night time lighting in Canberra so that it doesn’t impact upon the research done at the observatory at night. Even in Canberra itself I’ve marvelled at how clear the stars and Canberra is supposed to be one of the best places for astro-photography!

In case you are wondering, the text on the signboards of the walking trail outside is exactly that which you will find on the booklets and the website, so if you don’t make it down to Mt Stromlo, reading the website should pretty much tell you everything factual you need to know about Mt Stromlo.

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The area has been repeatedly ravaged by fires so there are many standing ‘ruins’ of domes, telescopes, and observatory buildings mixed in between the standing buildings – there was a 1952 firestorm and a 2003 firestorm, both caused by lightning strikes. The ruin above is that of the former Yale Columbia Telescope. First built in 1923-24 and located in Johannesburg South Africa, it was brought to Mt Stromlo in 1955 and donated by Yale and Columbia to the observatory in 1963. The dome and telescope were destroyed during the 2003 firestorm.

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Ruins of the Oddie Telescope – the first telescope in the Mt Stromlo area to test out its suitability as a observatory site – donated by amateur astronomer James Oddie which was used to form the first Commonwealth Solar Observatory in 1911. Again, after a long history of being used by amateurs and academics alike to view and study the skies, it was destroyed during the 2003 firestorm.

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It was funny that amidst the ruins someone had scattered all these little glittery stars…

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As predicted I found they had a hologram of the Giant Magellan Telescope being constructed in Chile at the moment – a massive US-led project in partnership with Australia, Brazil, and Korea, with Chile as the host country. Basically in order to work it will have the world’s largest man-made mirrors inside it. I suppose it is only fitting to use a lens (a hologram being a lens in and of itself) as a way to display a picture of the world’s biggest lens into the skies!

Questacon (Canberra)

Bring your own supply of hand sanitizers, for this is the most amazing hands-on (and disturbingly sticky) science museum you’ll ever go to! Is it worth the $23 adult ticket? I think its worthwhile experience, but in some ways it is also a considerable fortune to pay for your delicate senses to be assaulted by the excited screams of small children bouncing off the walls in all directions.

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The Boeing show “Above and Beyond” is a great science and engineering exhibition that is thankfully not merely children-oriented but surprisingly detailed enough to keep grownup geeks occupied with all the interactives and information panels.

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The many interactives such as the Mars Passport, Migration Flight Simulator, Space Debris Collector, and Space Elevator are definitely entertaining even for big children/adults. I wonder why it is that science museums tend to be thought of as places for children visitors – I mean, adults visit art museums and history museums even when they aren’t studying or working in art or history, so why not science museums in the same way?

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Down on the ground floors get ready for the carnage of children and child-oriented interactives.

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The children tend to come in “waves” because they come in school groups – so it is possible to have a quiet moment at Questacon if you wish to read the panels without having children screaming in your ear. It just really depends on your luck…

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If you are patient enough, you can play table hockey with a robot who will crush your dreams by beating you flat outright.

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As expected there are also a lot of visual/optical illusions in this museum such as a LED tunnel and this parallax barrier grid of fishes along the stairway…

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“Here’s what you would need to look like to be able to fly. But today, you’re going to fly anyway.”


I actually came here to see if I could find Paula Dawson’s holograms here but it appears I was (gulp) 20 years too late. However this museum is definitely a 10/10 if you like touching and playing with everything, and even adult visitors will come away having learnt loads of new things from this place despite it being thought of as a largely child-oriented museum experience.

CSIRO Discovery Centre (Canberra)

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The CSIRO Discovery Centre is a kind of educational area for children to visit and learn about the activities and research done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia.

(I want to complain about how Canberra is frequently not very friendly to pedestrians – for it took me a long time to find the front entrance of this building! If you’re walking from ANU you should take one of the back doors via the second floor cafe, but problem is that if you’ve never been inside you’ll probably never that you can access it from this door! Argh catch-22!)

Anyway the CSIRO Discovery Centre is a modest sized exhibition space with lots of totally full-on exhibits on everything being researched on in CSIRO – designed in that distinctive, slightly dated early 00s flash graphic style that you see in so many science museums or science communication boards for the public – characterised by a crazy collaged cacophony of colours, tiny text, and futuristic elements.

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MAXIMUM COLOUR

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MAXIMUM WORDS

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MAXIMUM… SCREENS AND STUFF

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MAXIMUM INTERACTIVE

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MAXIMUM… BUCKET?

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There was a memorial next to this particular tank for “Lord Yabbimus”, a yabby (Australian freshwater crustacean that is commonly caught and eaten) who was the only creature to have survived a water/heating disaster that killed all the other creatures within this tank. For some time Lord Yabbimus was the lone inhabitant of the tank and when they introduced new fishes back into the tank they thought he would rule it once again, but he was promptly eaten by a fish when new fishes were introduced. (RIP Lord Yabbimus) (Well, they should have known this would happen, especially since the yabbies were actually put into the tank as fish food…)

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There were also many HOLOGRAMS! Artistic ones! These were the works of artist Eleanor Gates-Stuart – the result of the Canberra Science Art Commission – exploring the story of WHEAT in hologram.

I was very excited to find so many at CSIRO but in terms of display I can see how holograms can be super problematic. Firstly these were on a rather strange purple curved wall that was not very flattering, and they were mounted quite high with a ton of environmental lighting interfering with the image, so I think it would have been hard for shorter adults and children to see the image clearly. I found that if I shone my phone light into them that I could see the holograms better, so perhaps it could have been mounted in a better condition as I suspect that a less curious visitor might have dismissed them because of the physical difficulty of viewing the holographic image.

Powerhouse (Sydney)

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The Powerhouse is part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and is a bit like a mashup between a science museum, design museum, and medical technology collection – covering everything from history of science and tech to industrial relics, decorative arts, transport and space exploration, etc.

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X-ray machines

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Large technology objects

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A whole train schedule board

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Moon landing footage accompanied by the caption “science fiction becomes fact!”

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The highlight here has to be the “ride” you can take in a space ship with all of its panels spinning around you – although you don’t move the movement of the “ship” around you certainly produces a really pronounced disorientating effect.

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But at the same time no science museum seems complete without a collection of gratuitously shiny and colourful things.

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Despite my fondness for science museums, by this point I’d spent so much time in science museums that I was beginning to seriously get museum fatigue – so this visit ended abruptly with a detour to Lunch at the very excellent Dixon House Food Court. We also didn’t get to go to the Museum Discovery Centre which is like the warehouse in which all the large objects are held but apparently that might be worth a trip if one has more time to spare in Sydney.

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Dixon House Food Court

Scienceworks (Melbourne)

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Located a short drive away in the suburbs of Melbourne is Scienceworks, the Melbourne counterpart of this unholy triumvirate of science museums. Built next to the Pumping Station, it was designed as a children-oriented science museum and amongst all the science museum this was clearly designed to be at the viewing level of a small child. Adults be warned there will be a lot of crouching down in order to see exhibits, some of which are so involved and interesting so as to be almost artworks in their own right, but weirdly I’ve noticed that many times interactive artworks are not labeled as being the work of an artist but just attributed to the museum itself. A strange thing indeed.

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For example, I wonder if anything can tell me who made this animation?

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The building was meant to integrate learning with Melbourne’s industrial history thus Scienceworks was built next to the Pumping Station. Unfortunately at the time we went there, there were construction/renewal works going on at the North Drop Structure (built in the 1960s as part of Melbourne Water’s sewage system) which has resulted in what they tactfully phrased as an “increase in odour levels” in the area. Indeed there is an interesting odour in the area but nothing too exceedingly off-putting.

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In terms of visual tricks they used quite a few technologies such as transparent touch OLED monitors, LEAP motions, Kinects and other interactives.

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This post has to end here now as this is literally as much SCIENCE-MUSEUMING as I can humanly write about in one continuous sitting.


Mount Stromlo Visitor Centre
http://rsaa.anu.edu.au/observatories/mount-stromlo-observatory
Open 9am-4pm on weekdays, 7.30am – 5 pm weekends.
Free admission. Cafe has excellent view.

Questacon
https://www.questacon.edu.au/
Open Daily and Holidays: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm
King Edward Terrace, Canberra ACT 2600
Adult admission is a WHOPPING $23.

CSIRO Discovery Centre
https://www.csiro.au/en/Education/Community-engagement/Discovery-Centre
Open Monday to Friday from 9am – 4:30pm
Closed on weekends and public holidays, except by appointment
North-science Road, Acton ACT 2601, Australia
Free admission. Although the website says there’s a ticket charge, I just walked in and there was no “ticketing desk” really.

Powerhouse Museum
https://maas.museum/powerhouse-museum/
Open daily 10:00am – 5:00pm
500 Harris St, Ultimo NSW 2007
Adult admission $15

Scienceworks
https://museumvictoria.com.au/scienceworks/
Opening Hours. Daily 10am–4.30pm
2 Booker St, Spotswood VIC 3015, Australia
Adult admission $14


Summary of optical illusions:

* Peppers Ghost
* Projection Mapping
* Rear Projections
* Virtual Reality Interactive
* Augmented Reality Interactive
* Parallax Barrier Grid
* Lenticular Prints
* Reflection Holograms

Video documentation here:

A History of Parasitology (Meguro Parasitological Museum, Tokyo)

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Meguro Parasitological Museum is a small, unassuming and very modest museum located in a brown-tiled building which is a 15 minutes walk from Meguro Station. I will admit it was slightly smaller than I expected; my expectations were perhaps high having already visited other great anatomical museums (like the Hunterian Museum in London) which were certainly a lot more intense than this place. What I expected to be an all out gross-out parasite fest turned out to be a rather neat, tiny and tidy little collection of TINY parasites. Most parasites in general are very small or difficult to preserve or display in any form, so it should be no wonder that most of their collection consist of… very small specimens!

Some highlights:

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Wax Models

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Large Intestine of Flying Squirrel filled with pinworms
“These pinworms were named Sypharista Kamegaii, after Satoru Kamegai, the first director of this museum.”
(The Meguro Parasitological Museum was first built with the private funds of Satoru Kamegai)

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Wax casts of parasite eggs (1000 times actual size)
Produced by Jinkichi Numata who acquired ceroplastic skills in Germany and produced these models whilst he was a technician at the Institute for Infectious Disease (now Institute of Medical Science of the University of Tokyo)

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Empirical observation and Scientific illustration go hand in hand…

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If so, then where does scientific illustration end and the artistic rendition start?

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The 3 images above are from the sketches and materials produced by Satyu Yamaguti, a lecturer at Kyoto University who studied parasites of the wild animals of Japan and also the parasites of marine fish in Indonesia and Hawaii. He apparently recorded over 1400 new species of parasites in his lifetime.

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A chart of the History of Japanese parasitology within the context of a greater world history of parasitology…

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Non-japanese speakers should go straight to the second floor where there is a “museum shop” aka a small counter for guidebooks and other museum materials. Pressing the button on the phone will eventually summon someone from the research facility, who can get you an English guide book to the museum for 500 Yen, which makes the entire experience a lot more meaningful since all the material in this museum is purely in Japanese.


As I was walking enroute to Meguro Parasitological Museum, I crossed a bridge lined with cherry blossoms in bloom…

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Windows & taxonomies (National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo)

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There are a number of museums and attractions in the vicinity of Ueno Park, but out of all the things I saw there, the most impressive place that I visited in this area had to be the National Museum of Nature and Science, Japan’s main natural history museum. You will recognise it from the giant whale in front of the building.

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First opened in 1871, the museum has apparently held several other names in the past, including Ministry of Education Museum, Tokyo Museum, Tokyo Science Museum, and the National Science Museum of Japan. Since a spate of renovations and redesigning of its halls in the 2000s, it is now known as the “National Museum of Nature and Science”. I feel that its original pedagogic aspirations are also well evident from its permanent exhibition design.

Out of all the natural history museums I have seen so far in various countries and cities, this is probably one of the best and most uniquely designed. No space is wasted in this place; this is not going to be one of those wide and empty museums; no, every inch of the wall here is covered in tiny descriptions and wall-mounted specimens. I was surprised at first at their choice to make their permanent collection display so dense, but in the end I really liked it because despite the density, a lot of thought (and design) had clearly gone into it – laser cut map outlines, strange box display designs, and a plethora of images.

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The quality of the scientific models was very impressive and the displays were so lush – so rich, detailed and finely textured! No shonky taxidermy (unlike a lot of other natural history museums I’ve seen in other cities) – everything here is highly professional, all thoughtfully and sensitively produced.

What is even more impressive is when one finds out that the forerunner of this museum was completely destroyed by fire during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 – all of its exhibits and specimens were destroyed and extensive attempts had to be made to reconstruct it.

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I particularly liked the “window” design to a lot of the display casings in this museum – they have a very distinctive look and initially I thought of them as lines on a graph or a grid; which would then be perfectly evocative of the history of taxonomy it was trying to illustrate here.

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As I thought more about why they had this appearance, I realised that they were supposed to be like “shoji” screens – those room dividers in which bamboo lattice frames hold translucent papers to divide up a space – a feature commonly seen in Japanese architecture. These however, were made to be more solid and had glass or translucent frosted glass instead of paper. If you look through more images of the museum you will see that a lot of the background panelling of this museum was designed to have a “shoji screen” appearance, including the (ambient) ceiling lights themselves! Display items have their own spotlight, but the overall design of the space is that of a room with many shoji screens and light gently coming to the space.

And a history of life on earth? Not only can they write the literature about it, but they actually have the vast specimen collection to serve as the empirical evidence of this history. The collection includes a general collection and also a more focused collection of specimens from the Japanese archipelago – these collections are part of Japan’s National Collections; the museum is “nationally administered” and there appears to be a lot of emphasis on sharing this information with the public.

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The Museum also takes in postdoc researchers from certain universities and provides professional training for researchers in taxonomy and other branches of natural history. They have departments for Zoology (Vertebrates, Marine Invertebrates, Terrestrial Invertebrates), Botany (Land Plants, Fungi and Algae, Plant Diversity and Conservation), Geology and Paleontology (Mineral Sciences, Biotic Evolution, Paleoenvironment and Paleoecology), Anthropology (Human Evolution), Science and Engineering (History of Science and Technology, Physical Sciences, Artifact Research). They also run the Tsukuba Botanical Garden, Institute for Nature Study (urban ecology research), Center for Molecular Biodiversity Research, Showa Memorial Institute, and Center of the History of Japanese Industrial Technology. Like the Miraikan (another very impressive museum in Tokyo which I will write about later), this is a living museum with an active research centre attached to it.

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A number of displays were replete with the images of the individuals who had recovered and handled the specimens. Unable to read the japanese labels, I still had the impression that the image it wanted to portrayed of the field of archaeology in Japan was that it was an area of study that was very much alive, with individuals today still actively contribute to it greatly through their hard work and discoveries.

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Scientific Models of Fungi

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Can you believe this is just a scientific model? First class modeling work.
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Laser cut labels and map

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Wall of Scientific Illustrations and Specimens
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Language-wise: this museum was clearly mainly aimed at Japanese visitors (and children in particular) and has very few english descriptions or translations, but their vast collection is likely to blow most visitors away despite the language barrier. Japanese is a language I would love to learn – I can see there would be so much exciting and interesting material to read in Japanese!

Printed at the back of the English guidebook:

MESSAGE

Blessed with a bountiful natural environment, the people of Japan have lived in step with nature and passage of the seasons, developing a rich culture, beliefs, and world view rooted in the nature that has sustained them. They have also applied their wisdom and ingenuity from time immemorial to improving their lives through exploiting nature, and we the people of present-day Japan, owe our high standard of living to these constant efforts. We would do well to remind ourselves that we are just one point in the history of the Japanese people. We of the present generation should make it our mission to cherish the nature and culture of Japan that has been shaped over so many centuries, and to hand them on in good shape to the next generation.

Although I did not understand Japanese, while walking through this I was struck by a perceived feeling of a stream of passive imbibing of information going on, evidenced by the quiet titterings by young Japanese visitors passing through its halls, like the sounds made by the tiniest little cogs, delicately enmeshed and working together to slowly turn the wheels of a larger and much more complex machine at large.


I spent too long looking at everything else so I didn’t have time to go see the Theater 360 until it was all over. Apparently the Theater 360 is a theatre in which visitors stand on a bridge in the middle of a 360 degree screen all around, to give the illusion of “floating”. I could be biased (or suffering from some form of art/history museum burnout!), but even for general visitors I would recommend this place over the (considerably drier) Tokyo National Museum which is located across the road – which I also visited.

For a decent trip to this museum, you should give yourself 2 hours or more. Last entry is at 4.30pm. General entry/university students ticket costs ¥620 and it is worth every penny. It is in walking distance from the JR Ueno Station and the cherry blossoms were blooming in Ueno Park when I was there; utterly gorgeous.

Scientific and Mathematical Teaching Models at the Whipple Museum (Cambridge, Feb 2014)

Whilst trudging through Cambridge the other day, we stumbled across the small but very entertaining Whipple Museum in Cambridge University, which starts with a very interesting glass sculpture cabinet near the front entrance. We had made a few abortive attempts into some museums in Cambridge, but the highlight for me was most certainly the Whipple, where I was attracted by the botanical models, and then the intricate glass sculptures of fungi (some quite recognizable for any wannabe-mycologists), which for me takes it to a whole new level.

Botanical Teaching Models


Since coming to the Royal College of Art I’ve had the fortune to attend anatomy and facial reconstruction classes, which to be honest, previously seemed to me to be a kind of moot cause, since I was not inherently interested in being able to accurately replicate the shape, color or form of something from nature (unless it was just for FUN).

I don’t consider myself that sort of artist and I certainly have approached traditional forms like drawing, painting and sculpture as nothing more than a dilettante or hobbyist. (Granted, it doesn’t mean I don’t have the ability to apply myself properly with a little effort, but it is not something I would imagine myself devoting my life like the obsessive artist in Balzac’s Unknown Masterpiece. I am not so much concerned with colour, shadow, accuracy of hand, and things like that.

In fact, I have always thought it might be better bypassing this entire step of studying natural forms (biology, botany) and going straight to the point where one tries to make up something entirely new. But in the end, in trying to do my recent Kensington Gall project, it was obvious that in order to get to that point where I can make up something completely new, then I’ll still need to study all the other steps along the way in detail. Perhaps to be able to learn it all so that I can unlearn it and rebuild it anew?

Fungi Models


And one very funny thing is that if there is one thing I have learnt from attending a few talks at Imperial, it is that when it comes down to it, even the most complicated science can be explained in simple words. I suppose a lot of complicated subjects are very comprehensible when presented in the right way. Like if it is presented through the right image. At a talk I attended given by a Neuropsychopharmacologist, the ability to map the brain was critical to his job as it was from visualizing the brain that one was able to tell which drugs affected which portion of the brain, and also enabling one to test which portions of the brain are active when one is doing a particular activity. However, at the crux of it, it was still a matter of scanning, making an image of the brain, and testing out drugs by monitoring what effects the drugs had on the resultant images that were produced.

Whilst the technical portion of medical imaging is certainly very impressive, when I think about it, a fair bit of “art-science” collaborations currently out there don’t really seem to go beyond that level of representation or realism. I was not aware of this until this year, but there are even specialised areas such as scientific illustration and science communication – a whole area and perhaps even a profession for people completely dedicated to deciding on each and every delicate nuance to how science is represented or communicated to others!

An artistically rendered book consisting of cross-sections of a human heart might be the epitome the meeting of art and science to some, but for me that is at best mundane, or even boring, largely because it does not challenge the boundaries of perception or accepted notions, which I imagine to be the point of making art. If art does not pierce, does not challenge, does not say things, then why make art? For ornamental purposes? It is much less interesting than someone modeling a heart and launching off into an almost ridiculous premise like, “what if humans lived in zero gravity for a long time – what would the shape of human hearts evolve over time?” Now that would have been much more interesting.

A whole section about Microscopes!

Microscope

Beautiful wax models of starfish embryos


I do delight in going back to school and spending the time going to these museums and lectures (especially in London and the vicinity) and feeling like there is still a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from the simplest, old model used from decades ago. An instructive model says so much not only about the actual topic but also the approaches to teaching and how they intended to present things to students. I was so delighted to see all these botanical models. It reminded me of a book I had read from the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens – the first gallery dedicated solely to botanical art – and staggering to think of the labour and the attempts to accumulate and represent the knowledge that today we take for granted. So much of this is so amazing already, and so beautiful that I can scarcely see myself being able to reproduce such sculptures and images with such finesse. So in a way I think a better contribution I could make to the area would be to extend the understanding of it through some intelligent speculation.

Strange lego model section for english astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon who were apparently surveying the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland and at the time undertaking gravitational experiments with a pendulum from London. Note inexplicable hordes of lego indians loitering in the background.


(I actually grew up with a very similar set of Lego characters! I had the schoolroom lego, the country western lego, the firetruck lego, and the ambulance/civil defence disaster lego set. Best part was when you combined all of the sets and mashed up all the school children and indians on horseback together with the scene of a disaster with all the emergency services and hazmat crew…)

This is one of my personal favourites.

Mathematical amusements

Crafty knitted Interpentrating Surfaces from the 19th century. Knitted by Alexander Crum Brown, Professor of Chemistry in the University of Edinburgh!

Model of a cell

Horses’ teeth

Anatomical Model of a Human

Anatomical Model of a Silkworm

This was a review in their guestbook from a satisfied visitor. (I would have said the same)

Science Museums and Science Centres

London’s Science Museum
Recently I had a few hours to kill so I went for a quick desultory spin around the Science Museum. I would have to say that my short experience at London’s Science Museum was akin to the experience I had at the Musee du Louvre: it was actually that sort of thing that seems so impressive that one is convinced that had one encountered these ideas as a young child it might have changed the course of one’s life greatly. Instead of a 5 metre tall tapestry or a 26m long dinosaur skeleton its…. A DOZEN PLANES AND HUNDRED GIANT JET ENGINES COLLECTED IN ONE BIG ROOM? How’s that for impressing your socks off? (Or am I just easily amused?…)

What other large institutional Science “Museums” or “Centres” had I visited in my life up to this point? I think the only other “Science” exhibition I had been to was the Science Centre in Singapore. And this is sad, because for me, there was always something alarmingly irrelevant about certain sections of the Science Centre in Singapore.

In a way, I’ve always found that the Singapore Science Centre was a strange place because it seems full of scripted, simplified second-hand stories of Science and hollow plastic models and replicas. Perhaps I was a bit strange, but even when I was in primary or secondary school, I was always intensely aware that each school trip or excursion must serve some underlying educational goal. And most of the time, my grim assessment would be that our excursion was nothing more as a jaunty bus ride, staring at some printed words on some mount board of which the students would not remember the day after), and then a trip to a fast food outlet before we headed back. Whilst I wouldn’t say I was particularly studious, still, privately I lamented that we usually did not learn as much from the experience as one would have expected and had mostly goofed off on the way there and back (I was excellent at doing that as well, I recall making a cup of soda pop explode all over the floor by squeezing it with my hands and then being in some sort of disgrace on the way back).

Later in life I was told that it is actually expected that most students will only retain a small amount of information taught in a class or lecture, so it is not to be expected that students will absorb all that much from an educational trip to a museum or science centre. So my worries were unfounded. Fair enough. So what is it then, that the Science Museum is for? Is it then for the physical experience of the science experiment or the scientific instrument, or object? Isn’t that we go to museums for, because that physical experience is still important?

And I suppose that is why it isn’t a “Singapore Science Museum”; because there is absolutely no attempt to trace a history of scientific discovery at at the Science Centre. What authenticity is there to speak of, when there is no context of the history of scientific findings, and when exhibits remain as a seemingingly random collection of scientific facts and amusements with all the prerequisite sideshow items – the plasma ball, the lightning generator, the whirlpools of water, the scattering of sand with sound waves. There are even exhibits that do not seem to have been updated by over fifteen years, such as their “internet chat room” exhibit (which also did not work).

Additionally, recent acquisitions at the Singapore Science Centre were not clearly contextualised or explained. I was in the “sound” gallery earlier in the year and was shocked to see a reactable in the exhibition space. It looked quite weatherbeaten and frazzled and I could only surmise that it had been there for some time and must have been acquired for a princely sum, only for it to languish in a dark corner of the Sound Gallery.

Poor reactable at the Singapore Science Centre
Having spent considerable time and resources in the past trying to build a reactable-type setup of my own, I was horrified to find a bunch of young children unwittingly beating on it like a drum! I immediately stopped the little children from abusing the reachable, rearranged the pieces, and in great exasperation spent the next fifteen minutes explaining to them and a few other nearby polytechnic students how the damn thing worked. Sadly, I could already see that the reactable was not properly calibrated from all the senseless kicking and shaking and banging it had endured in the exhibition room, so how would the exhibit ever make the point that this was actually a really really awesome thing?

Also, now this reminds me of this depressing exhibit:

The saddest gecko ever…
Looks like the gecko is so sad that he won’t even sit on his artificial rock or tree or gravel anymore. I am not sure whether exhibiting confiscated animals sends the right message – why were they not returned to the wild or sent to a wildlife facility/zoo instead of the Science Centre?

Alright enough griping of a sad situation. I suppose I do feel fortunate to be studying in an institution so close to all these museums in central london now. I suppose many notable inventions originate from Britain since it was leading the Industrial Revolution at one point, so naturally it had better have a really good Science Museum…

Science Museum London

Watt Engine
There were many magnificent engines in the main room, and in the next room, a sort of historical rundown of various innovations, right down to the small domestic devices and influence it had on popular culture.

2000 AD! LOOK INTO THE FUTURE!

Following which I took a detour and ended up in the ROCKETS section.

And a few wrong turns later, in the JET PLANE section.

British Airlines Plane

Cross section of a BA plane, which given my unfortunate predilection for flying BA over the last few years, was quite interesting to observe…

Model of Stansted Airport
Have you ever spent hours queuing in immigration and waiting to reenter the UK, staring at the that huge plastic membrane roof? This is the overview of the different sections divided up by walls, with one huge continuous roof supported by structural trees.

Supersonic Airliners
Domestic planes only formed a small portion as the better part of the collection was about commercial or military planes.

And then I was abruptly kicked out of the museum at 6pm when it closed. So this post ends abruptly here too.