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Science Museum reopens with new COVID-19 display and announcement of global exhibition about vaccines

  • The Science Museum reopens to the public on 19 May, showcasing the empty vials used for the first worldwide COVID-19 mass vaccinations and other significant items collected during the pandemic; 
  • NEW exhibition announced today exploring the global effort to develop vaccines at pandemic speed which will open simultaneously in the UK, India and China in 2022; 
  • NEW events announced, featuring Emily Lawson, Sir Patrick Vallance, Prof Chris Whitty and more, complementing the museum’s role throughout the pandemic, including hosting an NHS vaccination centre; 
  • IMAX: The Ronson Theatre reopens again after a ten-month refurbishment with sustainability at its heart, featuring a programme including BBC Earth’s Antarctica 3D
  • Family favourite Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery reopens, whilst popular sleepover Astronights and CoderDojo events return for the summer; 
  • New temporary exhibitions for reopening include Brass, Steel and Fire and Our Future Planet
  • Free family activities across the summer will be climate-themed and complemented by new learning resources available online;
  • Images and further information can be downloaded via this link: https://we.tl/t-lARi6KeHHM
COVID-19 displays in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries © Science Museum Group
Covid-19 displays in the Medicine and Communities gallery at the Science Museum

More than a year on from its initial closure due to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, the Science Museum reopens to the public on Wednesday 19 May with new displays and events highlighting the extraordinary impact that science has had on our lives throughout the last year.  

Museum opening times remain Wednesday–Sunday, 10.00-18.00, outside of school holidays, and visitors will need to book a free, timed ticket online in advance. 

Also announced today is a major global exhibition for 2022 exploring the story of the worldwide effort to find new ways to develop vaccines at pandemic speed.  The Science Museum Group, in collaboration with Wellcome, has partnered with the National Council of Science Museums India, and the Guangdong Science Center and its network in China to highlight this global issue through a series of exhibitions and events, to take place simultaneously in the UK, India and China from November 2022. More information below and HERE

Visitors returning to the museum this spring will be able to get up close to the historic vials used to administer the first mass COVID-19 vaccinations worldwide, donated by the NHS to the Science Museum Group Collection as part of its COVID-19 collecting project. The vials, testing kits and recognisable signage from the Government’s daily briefings will form part of a new COVID-19 display in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, alongside a timeline of key objects from the history of vaccination and displays about other infectious diseases such as Ebola, polio and the Plague. 

Jonathan Newby, Acting Director, Science Museum, said: 'As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, this extraordinary year has shown the relevance of science to all our lives. We can’t wait to inspire our visitors once again with the ideas and innovations that continue to shape our world, and find solutions for a better future.’ 

The vital collecting project undertaken by curators across the Science Museum Group is just one of a number of ways in which the museum has been at the forefront of the latest developments in the pandemic and the worldwide response. This includes hosting an NHS vaccination centre in the museum, publishing a popular blog series charting the pandemic since March 2020, and online public engagement and events, including a popular discussion about vaccine hesitancy featuring Dr Anthony Fauci and the UK’s COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi MP. 

Building on this, new events announced today explore the incredible endeavour undertaken by medical scientists to develop and deploy multiple COVID-19 vaccinations in less than a year. Featuring experts at the frontline of this achievement, including Kate Bingham, Sarah Gilbert, Emily Lawson, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, the events will provide fascinating insight into the process of creating the fastest vaccine in history, and what is still to come. More below. 

A VARIED OFFER FOR VISITORS 

The pioneering interactive gallery Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery will be open to ignite the curiosity of younger visitors, with enhanced cleaning and safety measures whilst the newly-refurbished IMAX: The Ronson Theatre – home to one of only two screens in Europe to feature the very best of digital and analogue cinema on one screen – will reopen with BBC Earth’s inspiring documentary, Antarctica 3D. From Exploring Space to Making the Modern World and Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries – the world’s largest galleries devoted to the history of medicine, which opened in November 2019 – visitors will be able to reconnect with the unparalleled Science Museum Collection in the generous spaces of the permanent galleries. 

A family in Wonderlab engaging with the lightbox exhibit © Science Museum Group
A family engages with the lightbox exhibit in Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery

Alongside its popular permanent offer, the Science Museum hosts temporary exhibitions including the critically-acclaimed Brass, Steel and Fire, exploring a century of model-making, and the latest contemporary science exhibition Our Future Planet, the UK’s first significant exhibition about carbon capture and storage including objects on display in the UK for the first time. Complementing the exhibition, there will be activities, shows and demonstrations to engage all ages with climate science and sustainability, including a free family offer at weekends and school holidays, beginning in July. 

EVENTS 

The museum reopening sees the return of beloved events for all the family. For younger visitors, Astronights, our sleepover for children, and CoderDojo workshops are now available to book for the summer. The Science Museum continues to host its series of online events that have proved so popular throughout the pandemic.  

Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries opened to critical acclaim in November 2019 and have completely transformed the first floor of the Science Museum, creating a magnificent new home for the most significant medical collections in the world, which now includes objects from our COVID-19 collecting project. A series of fascinating public events will be streamed online to explore the topics raised by the galleries. Events announced today explore the incredible endeavour undertaken by medical scientists to develop and deploy multiple COVID-19 vaccinations in less than a year, featuring speakers including Kate Bingham, Prof Sarah Gilbert, Emily Lawson, Sir Patrick Vallance, Prof Chris Whitty, and more. 

Since January 2021, event series Climate Talks has led public engagement around climate science within the cultural sector. Streamed online, the series brings together a diverse, distinguished line up of international speakers. Climate Talks will continue to run in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021. 

GLOBAL EXHIBITION: THE HUNT FOR THE VACCINE 

Announced today are plans for a major new project for 2022 exploring the history and science behind the massive COVID-19 vaccination programme which, in a first for the Science Museum Group, will open in three international venues simultaneously. Hunt for the Vaccine (working title) is an innovative, collaborative international project that will tell the story of the global effort to find new ways to develop vaccines at pandemic speed.   

The Science Museum Group has partnered with the National Council of Science Museums India, and the Guangdong Science Center and its network in China to highlight this global issue through a series of exhibitions and events, to take place simultaneously in the UK, India and China. The exhibitions, funded by Wellcome, are due to open in all regions in November 2022, followed by a national tour to multiple venues until late 2025. 

Building on the recent success of international tours such as Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives, the content of the exhibition will be developed collaboratively with all regions, with engaging and informative content relevant to local audiences which will explore the current work being undertaken to hunt for a vaccine for COVID-19 and other diseases. 

As well as unpacking the background medical science and how innovative research has adapted to this new challenge, the exhibition will explore the sheer logistical challenges behind this massive programme. 

The Science Museum will be the first UK venue to host the free exhibition, followed by the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester in 2023. The exhibition will then tour to a final UK venue in 2024. 

In China, the Guangdong Science Center will be the first venue to host the exhibition, and in India, the first venue will be in the capital Delhi. Both China and India are anticipating a tour to four further venues nationally. 

ENDS 

NOTES TO EDITORS 

Museum opening times remain Wednesday–Sunday, 10.00-18.00, outside of school holidays, and visitors will need to book a free, timed ticket online in advance. 

Free, timed tickets are available to book at sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/welcome-back.  

For further information or to arrange interviews the Science Museum Press Office on 020 7942 4886 or via pressoffice@sciencemuseum.ac.uk.  

Images and further information can be downloaded via this link: https://we.tl/t-lARi6KeHHM

About the Science Museum  

Tracing its origins from the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Science Museum has pioneered interactive science interpretation for more than eight decades and is the most visited museum in the UK by school groups. Part of the Science Museum Group, we share the stories of innovations and people that shaped our world and are transforming the future, constantly reinterpreting our astonishingly diverse collection of 7.3 million items spanning science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Our mission is to inspire futures - igniting curiosity among people of all ages and backgrounds.  

In 2019, the museum opened the largest medicine galleries in the world: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, home to 3,000 historic objects displayed across five vast galleries.  

Throughout the pandemic, the Science Museum has supported home schooling through its popular learning resources, and been at the forefront of public engagement with the science of coronavirus through a hugely popular coronavirus blog series written by the Science Museum Group’s Science Director Roger Highfield and through its public programme, adapted to offer online events covering topics from climate change to vaccine hesitancy: on 24 February, the museum hosted a popular online event featuring UK’s COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi MP and Dr Anthony Fauci.  

About the COVID-19 Collecting Project 

Since the pandemic began, curators across the Science Museum Group have sensitively identified and begun  acquiring important items for the Science Museum Group Collection as part of our significant COVID-19 Collecting Project. These items provide a permanent record for future generations of medical, scientific, cultural and personal responses to the outbreak and chronicle its impact on society.  

Items joining the Science Museum Group Collection include historic empty vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines which were used to administer the first worldwide mass vaccinations (kindly donated by the NHS), signage from the Government’s daily briefings, prototype ventilators and other medical devices, COVID-19 testing kits, coronavirus-themed greetings cards, homemade masks, hand sanitiser dispensers from the transport network, supermarket signage, a wooden spoon broken banging a saucepan during the weekly clap for carers, ephemera such as newspaper front pages and now-postponed wedding invitations and a range of national and international artworks. 

About Wellcome 

Wellcome supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone. We support discovery research into life, health and wellbeing, and we’re taking on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, global heating and infectious diseases. 

COVID-19 display in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries  

The vials used in the first mass COVID-19 vaccinations, COVID-19 testing kits and now recognisable signage from the Government’s daily briefings all form part of a new COVID-19 display in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, alongside a timeline of key objects from the history of vaccination and displays about other infectious diseases such as Ebola, polio and the Plague. 

On Tuesday 8 December 2020, history was made at Coventry University Hospital as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was used for the first time worldwide as part of a mass immunisation programme. Although small and unassuming, the empty vaccine vial donated by the NHS to the Science Museum Group Collection represents the boundless creativity, ingenuity and sheer hard work of scientists, medical practitioners, technicians and volunteers across the world who have researched, developed, tested and deployed a vaccine in record time.  

The public information lectern signs seen by millions during the Government’s daily briefings are one of the most visual items of the pandemic and illustrate how the Government’s plans were communicated to the nation. Several signs – Stay Home > Protect the NHS > Save Lives, Stay Home This Easter, Stay Alert > Control the Virus > Save Lives and Hands Face Space – have joined the Science Museum Group Collection and are included in the new display.  

BRASS, STEEL AND FIRE 19 May 2021 – 30 August 2021, Free exhibition 

Following a critically-acclaimed run at the National Railway Museum, Brass, Steel and Fire explores a century of model making, and tells the story of the lacemakers, locomotive drivers and engineers who built the modern world from their kitchen tables. The exhibition features several of the oldest model locomotives in the world and provides visitors with a glimpse of the skill, passion and joy found in making the world in miniature. Brass, Steel and Fire is kindly supported by Hornbeam Park Developments and players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. 

OUR FUTURE PLANET 19 May 2021 – 4 September 2022, Free exhibition 

The first significant UK exhibition to be presented on the subject of carbon capture and storage, Our Future Planet will explore the latest techniques being developed for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – a small but significant part in the fight against climate change. Visitors will discover a range of approaches to removing carbon: from nature-based solutions such as the protection of ancient forests and preserving our peat bogs or planting native trees, to chemical and mechanical processes – many of which are not yet proven at scale – that might help to further reduce carbon in the atmosphere. The exhibition is supported by UKRI (Major Sponsor), Shell (Major Sponsor), the AKO Foundation (Associate Funder) and the Huo Family Foundation (Associate Funder). 

IMAX: THE RONSON THEATRE Reopening 19 May 2021, Ticketed cinema 

The Science Museum’s newly revamped IMAX cinema is now one of only two screens in Europe to feature the very best of digital and analogue cinema on one screen, allowing visitors to enjoy newly-released blockbusters, 3D educational films and cinema classics as well as an array of live events, all at the home of science and technology. Families can enjoy BBC Earth’s Antarctica 3D narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch; A Beautiful Planet 3D, narrated by Jennifer Lawrence; and Hubble 3D, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, all in immersive IMAX with Laser in 3D. 

CLIMATE TALKS Ongoing / Free, online events, booking essential  

Since January 2021, a new event series, Climate Talks, has been leading public engagement around climate science within the cultural sector in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021. Streamed online to connect with an expanding global audience, the event series brings together a diverse, distinguished line up of international speakers including climate scientists, astronauts, engineers, industry leaders, activists, journalists, politicians and high-profile cultural figures. Climate Talks confronts the most pressing issues around climate science and explore which innovations can really make a difference in tackling the most urgent threat to planet Earth and humanity: 

  • The Future of Fuel (5 June, 19.30-20.45) will explore the technology that could help reduce UK emissions and tackle the climate crisis. This is also part of the Manchester Science Festival and will be chaired by broadcaster Samira Ahmed, with panellists to be announced soon.
  • How Are Our Oceans Responding to Climate Change? (10 June, 19.30-20.45) will explore the impacts of climate change upon oceans, the biodiversity that they support and the communities that depend on them for food security, economic prosperity and survival. The panel will include, Head of International Affairs at PML, Dr Carol Turley OBE; Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Professor Margaret Leinen; Director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC, Professor Rashid Sumaila; and will be chaired by Professor Chris Jackson, Chair in Sustainable Geoscience at University of Manchester. 

MEDICINE: THE WELLCOME GALLERIES EVENTS SERIES Ongoing / Free, online events, booking essential 

Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries opened to critical acclaim in 2019 and have completely transformed the first floor of the Science Museum, creating a magnificent new home for the most significant medical collections in the world, which now includes objects from our COVID-19 collecting project. A series of fascinating public events are running at the Science Museum exploring the topics raised by the galleries: 

  • Rapid Response: How Science Created the Fastest Vaccine in History (27 May, 18.00-19.30): In 2020 medical science came to the rescue in response to the pandemic and developed, manufactured and rolled out multiple vaccines to combat coronavirus in less than a year. Join a panel of experts, including individuals closest to the race to develop and deploy a COVID-19 vaccine, to discover the process that enabled us to begin bringing about the end of the pandemic by creating the fastest vaccine in history. The panel will include: Chair of Infectious Diseases and Founding Director of the Tuberculosis Research Centre at Imperial College London, Professor Ajit Lalvani; Chief Commercial Officer of NHS England, Emily Lawson; Chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, Kate Bingham; UK Government Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance; Professor of Vaccinology, Oxford University, Professor Sarah Gilbert; chaired by Ayshah Tull, broadcaster for Channel 4 News. 
  • COVID-19 and the Hunt for the Vaccine: A Frontline Account (15 July, 18.00-20.45): Join our panel of experts to discover what it’s been like to work on the front line of the UK’s response to COVID-19 since the disease first emerged in early 2020 and explore why vaccination is key to protecting us all and the role that GPs, nurses and educators have in improving understanding of vaccinations. The panel will include, CMO for England and UK Government Chief Medical Advisor, Professor Chris Witty; Public Health Regional Director for London, Professor Kevin Fenton; broadcaster and anaesthetist Dr Kevin Fong; Trustee of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Margaret McCartney; chaired by Razia Iqbal, presenter of Newshour and BBC World Tonight. 

Part of the Science Museum Group