Science Museum objects for comment

Dear Museum curators …

I have prepared this page featuring all the objects we will have in the main section of the new Science Museum souvenir book. The selection is the result of a combination of your suggestions to me and which objects have good pics available – plus some had priority because they were on the Visitor Experience team’s ‘Top Ten’ list. (Those ‘Top Ten’ exhibits, and a few others, have more than one image, so that they will appear as mini ‘features’).

Clicking the name of the object will open up an e-mail to me, with the relevant information in the subject line, so that you can quickly and easily send me any information you think might be interesting about any of the objects – ideally something that I may not know, and which is unlikely to be in the caption information at the Science and Society Picture Library.

You can, of course, choose not to send any thoughts, or not to look down the list at all – I know you are all busy.

Please note that we are on a very tight schedule, so if there are images you would rather see that aren’t here, or that you would rather not see that are here, things can only be changed in extreme circumstances at this stage. Sorry.

Many thanks,


UPDATE, 26th June: Thanks for the comments so far (especially you, John Liffen). I will post the captions for these objects in the coming two weeks. I will let you all know when they are up, and would really appreciate you giving them a read through if you can, and sending any helpful comments (those e-mail links will still work). The schedule is very tight, and I think this will be the most time-effective way to do this.



Stone Age flint blade hand tool 8500 BCE

The objects on these first two pages represent some of the most important early technologies, which radically changed people’s way of life: tools, shelter, metalworking, lighting and glassmaking. These advances were largely the result of people living settled lives, rather than hunting and gathering. Being settled certainly gave Neolithic (‘new stone age’) flint knappers a chance to take more pride in their work than their palaeolithic (‘old stone age’) counterparts: notice the polished surface around the blade (at the top).

Mud brick house 5000 BCE

No, we don’t own a full size mud brick house. This is just a model, of a 7000 year-old house excavated in Jericho – one of the world’s first cities. Rectangular mud brick houses like this were typical in Jericho at that time. The bricks were made of straw with a binder of fine mud, and were left out in hot sun for a few weeks to harden. Still, even once that roof is finished, you wouldn’t want a prolonged spell of heavy rain.

Reversible axe on adze 2000 BCE

This exquisite adze, from Papua New Guinea, was used for working wood. It has the greenstone head embedded in a cross piece; if the head were embedded in the handle, it would be an axe. The handle gives this tool more clout than the hand axe (left/above).

Bronze surgical knives c.400 BCE

These bronze knives were used in ancient Egypt to remove organs during mummification. Metal tools had sharper blades than stone tools, could be worked more easily and were more durable. The Bronze Age began in different parts of the world at different times – among the first to use bronze were the Sumerians in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq); they also invented the wheel.

Small pottery lamp 100 CE

Vegetable or mineral oil soaked into the small textile wick vaporises and ignites, keeping a small flame alight. Lamps like this were the first convenient portable light sources – a crucial technological advance. There is another important innovation here: pottery. Shaping and firing clay became commonplace in different parts of the world at different times. Potters had already been doing their thing in Egypt, where this lamp was made, for around 7000 years.

Roman double unguent bottle 300 CE

The Romans were not the first to make glass, but they took glassmaking and glassware to a whole new level: they were the first to make clear glass, and they perfected glass blowing. This beautiful pair of bottles held unguent (an oily ointment).


Islamic sublimation and alembic apparatus c.1000

The science of chemistry only really began in the 18th century – but people had been using many of the techniques modern chemists use for hundreds of years. These 10th century glass vessels, made in Persia around 1000, were used for separating mixtures, by distillation and sublimation. The vessel with a spout is an alembic, which fitted on top of another vessel called the cucurbit. Liquids heated in the cucurbit would condense in the alembic, run down the sides and down the spout.

Wells Cathedral Clock 1392

The first mechanical clocks were built in the 13th century. This one, from Wells Cathedral, is the third-oldest surviving clock in the world. The clock’s beautifully decorated face is still in situ in the cathedral. The mechanism is driven by a falling weight on a rope that is wound up every morning, so that it can tick away all day in the Measuring Time gallery on the second floor. The small vertical toothed wheel is the escapement; it turns in small jumps, preventing the weight from falling in one go. The escapement has been controlled by a pendulum since the 17th century; the original escapement was controlled by a swinging beam called a foliot.

Genoese medicine chest 1560s


There are 126 bottles and pots for medicines in this grand chest, which was made for Vincenzo Giustiniani, who ruled the island of Chios, in the Aegean Sea. Some of the bottles still appear to have their 16th century contents, and most of the containers still have their original labels. The medicines include samples of the wood of the guaiacum tree, which was mixed with sarsaparilla in a popular treatment for syphilis. The chest is part of the Wellcome Collection (see page XX) – Henry Wellcome bought it from the Giustiniani family in 1924.

John Dee’s crystal

English mathematician and astrologer John Dee claimed he was given this crystal by the angel Uriel, in 1582. He used it in attempts to cure a range of diseases – and also looked inside it for symbols or ghosts to predict the future. After Dee’s death, the celebrated physician and alchemist Nicholas Culpeper acquired it and began using it – but Culpepper stopped using it in 1651, because he believed a demonic ghost had burst forth from it. Now we have it.

Galileo’s telescope and Moon sketches


The telescope was invented by Dutch spectacle makers around 1608. Galileo Galilei first got hold of one in Venice, in 1609. He quickly made his own with increased magnification, and made a number of key astronomical observations – including mountains on the Moon moons orbitting Jupiter – all of which helped confirm the then controversial idea that Earth orbits the Sun. He published drawings and explanations of his observations in Sidereus nuncius (‘Starry Messenger’). This replica of Galileo’s telescope was specially made for the Science Museum in 1923.

Galileo’s pendulum 1642

Galileo was a mathematician and physicist as well as an astronomer. He became interested in pendulums after watching a lamp suspended from a long rope swing back and forth in the cathedral in Pisa in the 1580s. He discovered that the length of a pendulum’s swing depends only upon its length, not on how wide the swing is or the weight of the bob. In 1641, just a year before his death, he realised that this could be used to make mechanical clocks more accurate. He explained his idea to his son Vincenzo. Galileo’s biographer made a drawing of the idea, on which this 19th-century model is based.


Anatomical models 1650s

The study of human anatomy thrived in the 16th and 17th centuries. This was partly as a result of a new scientific spirit that had emerged and was spreading in printed books – a spirit that led many surgeons to challenge accepted wisdom about the internal arrangement and workings of the human body. These beautiful wooden models were probably used as teaching aids. The one on the right is a pregnant female; there is a foetus is visible inside her uterus.

Acupuncture mmodel c.1650

At around the same time, followers of acupuncture made this wooden figure, also a teaching aid, which shows supposed channels through which life force, or ‘qi’ flows around the body. The model stands nearly a metre tall.

Salomon Coster pendulum clock 1657

Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens continued Galileo’s research into the motion of pendulums (see p. 39), and invented a practical pendulum clock mechanism in 1656. He was awarded a patent in 1657, and he licensed Dutch clock maker Salomon Coster to make clocks based on his design. This remarkable example is one of only seven of Coster’s pendulum clocks still in existence; on a silver plaque is written ‘met privilege’ – Dutch for ‘with permission’. Pendulum clocks were revolutionary: they improved timekeeping accuracy from a few minutes to a few seconds per day. Old clocks across Europe – including the Wells Cathedral Clock (p. 38) – were quickly fitted with pendulums.

Astrolabe by Jamal al-Din 1666

In the 17th century, Lahore (now in Pakistan) was the place to be if you were an astrolabe maker. This 25-centimetre diameter astrolabe was made there by Jamal al-Din, a member of a prominent family of astrolabe makers. The astrolabe is an ancient invention that was improved upon by Islamic scholars in the 12th century. People used it for telling the time based on your latitude, for predicting the positions of stars and planets – and, in the Islamic world, for determining the direction for prayer (the Qibla).


Samuel Morland’s calculating machine 1666

– NOTE: need to check the date. SSPL caption says 1670-95, while the object itself has ‘1660’ engraved on it.

Samuel Morland, who invented and made this exquisite calculating machine, was an acquaintance of Samuel Pepys and Oliver Cromwell, and a contemporary of Isaac Newton. French mathematician Blaise Pascal had made the first working mechanical calculator in 1642, and several mathematicians and inventors attempted to emulate or improve on his design. Morland’s device could add, subtract, multiply and divide; the wheels were operated by a steel pin that was stored in the slot in the machine’s lid. Morland also invented a megaphone – or as he called it, the Tuba Stentorophonica – and a pump for extinguishing fires.

Hooke’s microscope 1670 and drawing of flea


In 1665, the Royal Society published Micrographia, a book written and illustrated by its curator of experiments, Robert Hooke. The book presented intriguing views of everyday objects, presenting details too small to be seen with the naked eye. It was very popular, and helped to encourage others to take up microscopy. This 1920s replica of one of the microscopes Hooke used while writing Micrographia  is faithful to Hooke’s description and drawing contained in the book. The drawing of a head louse clinging to a human hair (left/right/below) is reproduced from Hooke’s book.

Italian enema jar 1700s

This tin-glazed jug is an albarello – an earthenware vessel used by apothecaries to store medicines. It was made in the Italian town of Deruta, renowned for its maiolica pottery. Tin glazing produces bright white backgrounds that make for bright, hardwearing decoration; the rather unsubtle decoration on this albarello shows a nurse administering an enema.

Silver microscope by George Adams

Arkwright’s spinning machine 1769


William Herschel’s 7ft telescope 1780



George Margett’s astronomical watch 1790

Francis Thompson’s atmospheric engine 1791

Edward Jenner’s vaccination instruments 1796


Voltaic pile sent to Michael Faraday 1800

Wooden figure of Saint Apollonia 1800s

Laennec’s stethoscope 1820

Robert Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive 1829


Set of miniature heads used in phrenology 1831

Tonsil guillotine 1830s

Cooke and Wheatstone double-needle telegraph 1838



James Nasmyth’s steam hammer 1845


Sewing machine by Elias Howe 1846


Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 (Big selection of images)

James Joule’s paddle wheel 1849


Cooke and Wheatstone five-needle telegraph 1849

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s attaché case mid 1800s



Bottles containing mauveine salts 1863

Louis Pasteur’s silk worms 1865

Frederick Holmes’ lighthouse generator 1867

Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and terminal panel 1877

Swan and Edison electric lamps


Sunshine recorder 1880

Parson’s original steam turbine 1884

Rudge ordinary bicycle 1884

Rover safety bicycle 1885

Sir Oliver Lodge’s coherer 1894


Turbinia engine 1894


John Joseph Thomson’s cathode ray tube 1897

HMV gramophone 1897

Mill engine 1903 and black and white in situ images via Ben Russell (thanks)


Wright Flyer 1903



Krieger electric car – IMAGE NEEDED

Fleming’s original thermionic valve 1904

Mr Gibson’s pharmacy 1905

and others (SSPL 10287950, 10446214, 10446213, 10446216, 10446207)


Almon B. Strowger’s automatic telephone 1905

Booth vacuum cleaner and poster


Hiram Maxim’s Pipe of Peace inhaler 1909

Mechanical cash register 1910


Louis Bleriot’s monoplane 1910


Ford Model T 1916


Vickers Vimy Rolls Royce Biplane 1919

and/or SSPL 10306304, 10216131, 10311318


Haber-Bosch process pressure reactor mantle (at Wroughton?) – IMAGE NEEDED

BBC headphones 1923

Pohl Omniscop X-ray apparatus 1925

and two other images

Jason, de Havilland Gipsy Moth biplane 1929


R101 Airship – we only have a photo of it in context, not of the pieces held by the Museum

Radium teletherapy apparatus 1930

Ferranti television receiver 1930s

Early Geiger counter 1932

Philips broadcast receiver – IMAGE NEEDED

Shelvador domestic refrigerator 1934


Alexander Fleming’s penicillin mould 1935

Cockroft and Walton voltage multiplier 1937

Whittle W1 jet propulsion engine 1938


Gyrocompass 1942

and SSPL 10410157 (10306629)

Hiroshima rice bowl 1945



Model of penicillin, Dorothy Hodgkin 1945

Prillect electric travelling iron 1948

Rover gas turbine car 1948


X-ray bus 1948

plus one or two others.


Williamson home-constructed amplifier 1949

Pedoscope X-ray apparatus 1940s

Iron lung 1950

Pilot ACE 1950



Crick and Watson DNA model 1953


Black Arrow R4 1956

Ferranti Pegasus computer 1956

Savannah nuclear powered ship 1959


Morris Mini Minor 1959

Oramics machine 1959


Forest of Rods 1960


Blue Steel missile 1960

Artificial limbs for a Thalidomide child 1961

Pair of CO2 powered upper limb prostheses 1964

Mould for Tupperware container 1965


Greenwich Mean Time equipment 1965

Apollo 10 Command Module 1969



Boeing 747 (1970)


VCS3 music synthesiser 1970

Mitral and aortic heart valves 1970s

Philips compact disc player 1984


Apple Macintosh computer 1984

Jedi helmlet 1984

Vodaphone transportable mobile phone 1985

Spacelab 2 X-ray telescope


Oncomouse 1988

Friendly floatee duck 1992

Tracey the Sheep 1999

Prototype gyrscope from Gravity Probe B 2005