Thursday, February 23, 2012

My favorite museum – the London Science Museum

Of all the world’s great museums, my favorite is the Science Museum in London. It’s probably also the museum, which I’ve visited the most times. Just spent three long mornings in a row there with my 17-year-old son, studying the beauty of the inner workings of our world and the elegance of engineering. We have been learning about steam engines and mechanical clocks, how to produce paper clips and tetra pak cartons… All sorts of fascinating and wonderful stuff. When you understand it, it makes you feel like a richer person.

As a visitor to the Science Museum you sense the deep love of the subject that lies behind the exhibitions. I used to do this sort of exhibitions and explaining myself at Danfoss Universe, and I can appreciate the expertise and craftsmanship of the communicators at the Science museum.

Interestingly, I find the older, basic displays of models more interesting than a lot of the recent, more colorful, interactive and playful activities. The dioramas are great – old fashioned, but they do an excellent job.

At this visit we took a particular interest in Charles Babbage’s difference engine – arguably the first serious computer in the world, built in 1832 Babbage had the Royal Navy finance the building of his first, small version. Building such mechanical wonders was exceedingly expensive. Babbage fought for years to build a second, much larger version, but he failed to get the funding.

As the displays at the Science museum tell, lack of adequate technology and Babbage’s own difficult temper were the main hindrances. He never saw it completed, but in 1991 it was finally built – and that is the machine, which is shown at the museum today. If you crank it firmly and carefully, it can calculate a result with 31 digits every 6 seconds. It would have been revolutionary at Babbage’s time.

So amazing, that the computer was invented – in theory – but not built. The solution was lying around for a century and a half.

… And when you are done at the Science Museum, you can go right next door to the (almost) equally impressive Museum of Natural History. British at its best.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

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