The Science Museum

A busy programme of cross-cultural appeal sees a record-breaking year for visits to London's Science Museum.

This year the Science Museum welcomed 2.95 million visitors, our highest annual total since free entry was introduced in 2001. A record-breaking 20,000 visitors were counted in a single day. We were the most popular destination for free school trips in the UK, and half of our daytime visitors came in family groups.

The busy programme has certainly been catholic in its cross-cultural appeal: the Chilean miners’ rescue pod, alchemy, electronic music, the dress-up Cockroach Tour as a novel approach to climate change, interactive art in Electroboutique, and opera ‘as live’ in the IMAX cinema.

Though the Museum is free to access, we are acutely aware of the competition from digital media, so strive to create uniquely life-enhancing physical experiences.

"Exhibits are a confection of artefacts, graphics, information, ambience, technology," says Andrew Nahum, Senior Keeper. "Curating a display is a creative art something like journalism, but in another dimension and with more tools. In the Museum we offer many different styles of address ranging from the contemporary science in the Wellcome Wing to hands-on engagement in Launchpad but a crucial magnet is the cultural value and visual allure of the artefact. Whether we’re viewing a traditional canoe or a jet engine, we want to use our scholarship to reveal the social, intellectual, and political milieus from which they derive and to give a glimpse of the ingenuity and creativity that they embody."

The Science Museum's unmatched collection of 800,000 items is not an anonymous assemblage. Every object encapsulates the brilliance, passions and history of talented individuals who deserve to be understood. Our audience wants us to tease out these stories and to convey the science, the imagination, and the choices which have led to the complex web of machines, technologies and scientific knowledge which frames our lives.

Recent acquisitions at the Science Museum

  • Previously unknown contemporary bust of James Watt, probably manufactured in 1807, revealed by laser scanning of plaster mould in 2010. In his later years the steam pioneer developed a strong interest in making sculpture and also collected many pieces.
  • Clover chloroform inhaler with case, by Coxeter, London, and George Barth and Co., England, 1862-1900 - a safer way to administer anaesthetics
  • Early-20th-century sundial, after the original by Habermel, bearing false inscription 'Clarmc Artini et Emd. Doct. D Francisco de Padoani Erasmus Habermel Grati Ergo'
  • Evaluator’s handbook for Valpar occupational aptitude tests (work samples nos. 1-17), made by Valpar International Corporation, Tucson, Arizona, c. 1976
  • Collection of 188 objects made by Alexander Parkes, inventor of Parkesine, c. 1862 - Parkesine (also known as celluloid) was the first man-made plastic
  • Prototype Synthi-E briefcase synthesiser for schools, designed by Tim Orr and made by Electronic Music Studios (London) Ltd, c. 1974 - among the first affordable analogue synthesisers
  • Wang PC personal computer manufactured by Wang Laboratories, including monitor, keyboard and printer, c. 1984 - a direct competitor to IBM’s home computer
  • Hagelin B-21, first Boris Hagelin pinwheel cipher machine, superficially resembling the Enigma and used at Bletchley Park during the Second World War
  • Prototype of the Universal Patient Gown designed by Ben de Lisi and made by Silvereed, UK, c. 2009 for the Design Council's project Design for Patient Dignity
  • Mathematical puzzles including 'dickory dock', solitaire variant, 1920s - representative of the past 150 years, they provide rich material for a future exhibition