Science Museum, London

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Science Museum
Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 - - 1125595.jpg
The Science Museum
Open street map central london.svg
Red pog.svg
Location within central London
Established1857;162 years ago (1857)
(separate status formalised 1909)
Location Exhibition Road,
Kensington & Chelsea London, SW7
United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°29′51″N0°10′29″W / 51.4975°N 0.174722°W / 51.4975; -0.174722
Visitors3,174,963 (2018) [1]
Director Ian Blatchford
Public transit access Underground no-text.svg South Kensington
Science Museum Group

The Science Museum is a major museum on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, London. It was founded in 1857 and today is one of the city's major tourist attractions, attracting 3.3 million visitors annually. [2]

Exhibition Road street in South Kensington, London, England

Exhibition Road is a street in South Kensington, London which is home to several major museums and academic establishments, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

South Kensington area in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and partly in the City of Westminster, London, England

South Kensington is an affluent district of West London in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. With some of its easterly areas shared with the City of Westminster, the district is known as a popular tourist destination due to its density of museums and cultural landmarks.


Like other publicly funded national museums in the United Kingdom, the Science Museum does not charge visitors for admission. Temporary exhibitions, however, may incur an admission fee. It is part of the Science Museum Group, having merged with the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester in 2012.

Science Museum Group collection of British museums

The Science Museum Group (SMG) is a collection of British museums, comprising:

Origin and history

A museum was founded in 1857 under Bennet Woodcroft from the collection of the Royal Society of Arts and surplus items from the Great Exhibition as part of the South Kensington Museum, together with what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum. It included a collection of machinery which became the Museum of Patents in 1858, and the Patent Office Museum in 1863. This collection contained many of the most famous exhibits of what is now the Science Museum.

Bennet Woodcroft English textile manufacturer

Bennet Woodcroft FRS was an English textile manufacturer, industrial archaeologist, pioneer of marine propulsion, a leading figure in patent reform and the first clerk to the commissioners of patents.

Royal Society of Arts British organisation

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) is a London-based, British organisation committed to finding practical solutions to social challenges. Founded in 1754 by William Shipley as the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, it was granted a Royal Charter in 1847, and the right to use the term Royal in its name by King Edward VII in 1908. The shorter version, The Royal Society of Arts and the related RSA acronym, are used more frequently than the full name.

Great Exhibition Worlds Fair exhibition (London, United Kingdom; 1851)

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations or The Great Exhibition, an international exhibition, took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. It was the first in a series of World's Fairs, exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century, and it was a much anticipated event. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and by Prince Albert, husband of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria. Famous people of the time attended, including Charles Darwin, Samuel Colt, members of the Orléanist Royal Family and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Alfred Tennyson and William Makepeace Thackeray.

In 1883, the contents of the Patent Office Museum were transferred to the South Kensington Museum. In 1885, the Science Collections were renamed the Science Museum and in 1893 a separate director was appointed. [3] The Art Collections were renamed the Art Museum, which eventually became the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Victoria and Albert Museum Art museum in London

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the world's largest museum of applied and decorative arts and design, as well as sculpture, housing a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

When Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the new building for the Art Museum, she stipulated that the museum be renamed after herself and her late husband. This was initially applied to the whole museum, but when that new building finally opened ten years later, the title was confined to the Art Collections and the Science Collections had to be divorced from it. [4] On 26 June 1909 the Science Museum, as an independent entity, came into existence. [4]

Queen Victoria British monarch who reigned 1837–1901

Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. On 1 May 1876, she adopted the additional title of Empress of India.

Albert, Prince Consort Husband of Queen Victoria

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was the husband of Queen Victoria.

The Science Museum's present quarters, designed by Sir Richard Allison, were opened to the public in stages over the period 1919–28. [5] This building was known as the East Block, construction of which began in 1913 and temporarily halted by World War I. As the name suggests it was intended to be the first building of a much larger project, which was never realized. [6] However, the Museum buildings were expanded over the following years; a pioneering Children's Gallery with interactive exhibits opened in 1931, [4] the Centre Block was completed in 1961-3, the infill of the East Block and the construction of the Lower & Upper Wellcome Galleries in 1980, and the construction of the Wellcome Wing in 2000 result in the Museum now extending to Queen's Gate.

Richard Allison (architect) Scottish architect

Sir Richard John Allison (1869–1958) was a Scottish architect. From 1889 he was associated with the government Office of Works in London, and from 1914 was its Chief Architect.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Queens Gate street in South Kensington, London, England

Queen's Gate is a street in South Kensington, London, England. It runs south from the Kensington Gardens Queen's Gate in Kensington Road, intersects with Cromwell Road, and then on to Old Brompton Road.


Stephenson's Rocket. Stephenson's Rocket.jpg
Stephenson's Rocket.

The Science Museum now holds a collection of over 300,000 items, including such famous items as Stephenson's Rocket, Puffing Billy (the oldest surviving steam locomotive), the first jet engine, a reconstruction of Francis Crick and James Watson's model of DNA, some of the earliest remaining steam engines (Including an example of a Newcomen steam engine, the world’s first steam engine), a working example of Charles Babbage's Difference engine, the first prototype of the 10,000-year Clock of the Long Now, and documentation of the first typewriter. It also contains hundreds of interactive exhibits. A recent addition is the IMAX 3D Cinema showing science and nature documentaries, most of them in 3-D, and the Wellcome Wing which focuses on digital technology. [7] Entrance has been free since 1 December 2001.

The museum houses some of the many objects collected by Henry Wellcome around a medical theme. The fourth floor exhibit is called "Glimpses of Medical History", with reconstructions and dioramas of the history of practised medicine. The fifth floor gallery is called "Science and the Art of Medicine", with exhibits of medical instruments and practices from ancient days and from many countries. The collection is strong in clinical medicine, biosciences and public health. The museum is a member of the London Museums of Health & Medicine.

The Science Museum has a dedicated library, and until the 1960s was Britain's National Library for Science, Medicine and Technology. It holds runs of periodicals, early books and manuscripts, and is used by scholars worldwide. It was, for a number of years, run in conjunction with the Library of Imperial College, but in 2007 the Library was divided over two sites. Histories of science and biographies of scientists were kept at the Imperial College Library in London until February 2014 when the arrangement was terminated, the shelves were cleared and the books and journals shipped out, joining the rest of the collection, which includes original scientific works and archives, in Wroughton, Wiltshire. [8] The Imperial College library catalogue search system now informs searchers that volumes formerly held there are "Available at Science Museum Library Swindon Currently unavailable". A new Research Centre with library facilities is promised for late 2015 but is unlikely to have book stacks nearby.

Replica of the DNA model built by Crick and Watson in 1953. DNA Model Crick-Watson.jpg
Replica of the DNA model built by Crick and Watson in 1953.

The Science Museum's medical collections have a global scope and coverage. Strengths include Clinical Medicine, Biosciences and Public Health. The new Wellcome Wing, with its focus on Bioscience, makes the Museum a leading world centre for the presentation of contemporary science to the public.

As of 2019 170,000 items which are not on current display are stored at Blythe House in West Kensington, in addition to storage at the Science Museum at Wroughton, a 220-hectare (545-acre) former RAF base near Swindon owned by the Museum since 1979. Blythe House storage is shared with the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and also houses facilities including a conservation laboratory, a photographic studio, and a quarantine area where newly arrived items are examined. [9]

The museums have to move out of Blythe House. The Science Museum will use £40m from the government to develop the Wroughton site and put many previously stored items on display there from 2023, in addition to storage, conservation labs, and research facilities. [10]

The Dana Centre

In November 2003, the Science Museum opened the Dana Centre. The centre is an urban bar and café annexed to the museum. It was designed by MJP Architects. [11]

In October 2007, the Science Museum cancelled a talk by the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, James D. Watson, because he claimed that IQ test results showed blacks to have lower intelligence than whites. The decision was criticised by some scientists, including Richard Dawkins, [12] as well as supported by other scientists, including Steven Rose. [13]

Informal Learning

Around 450,000 young people visit the Science Museum on educational trips or benefit from its outreach programmes each year, more than any other UK museum. [14]

Old Bess, A surviving example of a steam engine made by James Watt, in 1777. Old bess beam engine may 2015.JPG
Old Bess , A surviving example of a steam engine made by James Watt, in 1777.

Science Night

The Science Museum also organises "Science Night", "all-night extravaganza with a scientific twist". Up to 380 children aged between 8 and 11, accompanied by adults, are invited to spend an evening performing fun "science based" activities and then spend the night sleeping in the museum galleries amongst the exhibits. In the morning, they're woken to breakfast and more science, watching a film before the end of the event. [15]


On the evening of the last Wednesday of every month (except December) the museum organises an adults only evening with up to 30 events, from lectures to silent discos. Previous Lates have seen conversations with the actress activist Lily Cole [16] and Biorevolutions with the Francis Crick Institute which attracted around 7000 people, mostly under the age of 35. [17]


The East Hall Science Museum - East Hall 2390.jpg
The East Hall

The Science Museum is made up of a number of galleries, some of which are permanent, and some of which are temporary.

Power: The East Hall

Video of a Corliss steam engine in the Power Gallery in motion.

The East Hall is the first area that most visitors see as they enter the building, stretching up through three floors. On the ground, the area is mostly filled with iconic steam engines of various sorts, including the oldest surviving James Watt beam engine, which together tell the story of the British industrial revolution. Up in the air, suspended from the ceiling is a giant metallic ring, the inside of which is covered in white LEDs which form patterns and display messages typed into kiosks by visitors in the Energy gallery.

Also on display is a recreation of James Watt's garret workshop from his home, Heathfield Hall, using over 8,300 objects removed from the room, which was sealed after his 1819 death, when the hall was demolished in 1927. [18]

Exploring Space

Exploring Space is a historical gallery, filled with rockets and exhibits that tell the story of human space exploration and the benefits that space exploration has brought us (particularly in the world of telecommunications).

Making the Modern World

Apollo 10 Command Module in the Modern World Gallery Apollo 10 comand module science museum.JPG
Apollo 10 Command Module in the Modern World Gallery

Making the Modern World is a relatively new gallery, in which some of the museum's most iconic objects, including Stephenson's Rocket, Watson and Crick's double helix, and an Apollo spacecraft, are imaginatively displayed along a timeline chronicling man's technological achievements.


Flight is another longstanding gallery, up towards the western end of the third floor. Contained in the gallery are several full sized aeroplanes and helicopters, including Alcock and Brown's transatlantic Vickers Vimy (1919), Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, as well as numerous aero-engines and a cross-section of a Boeing 747.


One of the most popular galleries in the museum is the interactive Launchpad gallery. Redesigned and reopened in November 2007, the new look gallery houses over 50 interactive exhibits illustrating many different concepts in physical science. The gallery is staffed by Explainers who are available to demonstrate how exhibits work, conduct live experiments and perform shows to schools and the visiting public. Launchpad has now closed, [19] the Science Museum are preparing a new Interactive gallery which opens in late 2016. The new gallery will be bigger than Launchpad and packed with state-of-the-art interactive exhibits.

Media Space

This gallery is a collaboration between the Science Museum and the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, home of a photography collection of more than three million images. [20]

Information Age

Information Age Gallery at the Science Museum London Information Age Gallery at the Science Museum London.jpg
Information Age Gallery at the Science Museum London

The landmark gallery explores the six networks that have transformed global communications: The Cable, The Telephone Exchange, Broadcast, The Constellation, The Cell and The Web/ [21]

It was opened on 24 October 2014 by the Queen, Elizabeth II, who sent her first tweet. [22] It replaced the former Shipping galleries, on the second floor, which closed on 15 May 2012. Their contents were 3D scanned and made available online. [23]

Engineer your Future

A gallery which opened in December 2014 that aims to inspire school children to go into careers in engineering, developed with a consortium of companies and the Royal Academy of Engineering. [24]

Temporary exhibitions

These range from the award-winning Codebreaker, on the life of Alan Turing, [25] to Unlocking Lovelock, which explores the archive of James Lovelock. [26]

Touring exhibitions

The Science Museum has developed many touring exhibitions over the years. The Science Box contemporary science series toured various venues in the UK and Europe in the 1990s and from 1995 The Science of Sport appeared in various incarnations and venues around the World. In 2005 The Science Museum teamed up with Fleming Media to set up The Science of... who develop and tour exhibitions including The Science of Aliens , The Science of Spying and The Science of Survival

In 2008, The Science of Survival exhibition opened to the public and allowed visitors to explore what the world might be like in 2050 and how humankind will meet the challenges of climate change and energy shortages.

In 2014 the museum launched the family science Energy Show, which toured the country. [27]

The same year it began a new programme of touring exhibitions which opened with Collider: Step inside the world’s greatest experiment to much critical acclaim. The exhibition takes visitors behind the scenes at CERN and explores the science and engineering behind the discovery of the Higgs Boson. The exhibition will tour until early 2017.

Media Space exhibitions also go on tour, notably Only in England which displays works by the great photographers Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr.


The museum is adjacent to the Natural History Museum and used to be connected to it by a public corridor, which is now closed. The closest London Underground station is South Kensington; a subway connects the museums to the station.

At the front of the museum to the east is Exhibition Road. Immediately to the south is Museum Lane and the Natural History Museum. To the rear is Queen's Gate and to the north is Imperial College.


The Science Museum underwent a series of refurbishments as part of a vision to update the museum. The East Hall has been finished and the renovated museum shop opened in October 2005.


The Science Museum's website has a variety of features, including collections information and the award-winning Launchball game. [28]


The museum joined the 10:10 project in 2009 in a bid to reduce its carbon footprint. One year later it announced that it had reduced its carbon emissions (according to 10:10's criteria) by 17%. [29]

Centennial volume: Science for the Nation

The leading academic publisher Palgrave Macmillan published the official centenary history of the Science Museum on 14 April 2010. The first complete history of the Science Museum since 1957, Science for the Nation: Perspectives on the History of the Science Museum is a series of individual views by Science Museum staff and external academic historians of different aspects of the Science Museum's history. While it is not a chronological history in the conventional sense, the first five chapters cover the history of the museum from the Brompton Boilers in the 1860s to the opening of the Wellcome Wing in 2000. The remaining eight chapters cover a variety of themes concerning the Museum's development.

Directors of the Science Museum

Making the Modern World gallery from above Making the Modern World gallery london science museum.JPG
Making the Modern World gallery from above

The Directors of the South Kensington Museum were:

The Directors of the Science Museum have been:

The following have been Head/Director of the Science Museum in London, not including its satellite museums:

The following have been Directors of the National Museum of Science and Industry, (since April 2012 renamed the Science Museum Group) which oversees the Science Museum and other related museums, from 2002:

Related Research Articles

National Science and Media Museum National Museum

The National Science and Media Museum, located in Bradford, West Yorkshire, is part of the national Science Museum Group in the UK. The museum has seven floors of galleries with permanent exhibitions focusing on photography, television, animation, videogaming, the Internet and the scientific principles behind light and colour. It also hosts temporary exhibitions and maintains a collection of 3.5 million pieces in its research facility. The venue has three cinemas, operated in partnership with Picturehouse Cinemas, including an IMAX screen. It hosts festivals dedicated to widescreen film, video games and science, and has previously hosted popular film festivals, including the Bradford International Film Festival until 2014.

Science and Industry Museum Science museum in Liverpool Road, Manchester

The Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, England, is a large museum devoted to the development of science, technology and industry with emphasis on the city's achievements in these fields. The museum is part of the Science Museum Group, a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, having merged with the National Science Museum in 2012.

1862 International Exhibition Worlds Fair held in London

The International of 1862, or Great London Exposition, was a world's fair. It was held from 1 May to 1 November 1862, beside the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society, South Kensington, London, England, on a site that now houses museums including the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum (London).

Tate St Ives art gallery in St Ives, Cornwall, England

Tate St Ives is an art gallery in St Ives, Cornwall, England, exhibiting work by modern British artists with links to the St Ives area. The Tate also took over management of another museum in the town, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, in 1980.

Natural History Museum, London Natural History Museum in London

The Natural History Museum in London is a natural history museum that exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. It is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the others being the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum's main frontage, however, is on Cromwell Road.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery museum and art gallery in Birmingham, England

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BM&AG) is a museum and art gallery in Birmingham, England. It has a collection of international importance covering fine art, ceramics, metalwork, jewellery, natural history, archaeology, ethnography, local history and industrial history.

World Museum museum in Liverpool, England

World Museum is a large museum in Liverpool, England which has extensive collections covering archaeology, ethnology and the natural and physical sciences. Special attractions include the Natural History Centre and a planetarium. Entry to the museum is free. The museum is part of National Museums Liverpool.

Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum Science museum

Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum is a science museum in Birmingham, England. Opened in 2001, it is part of Birmingham Museums Trust and is located within the Millennium Point complex on Curzon Street, Digbeth.

Wellcome Trust Healthcare charity

The Wellcome Trust is a biomedical research charity based in London, United Kingdom. It was established in 1936 with legacies from the pharmaceutical magnate Sir Henry Wellcome to fund research to improve human and animal health. The aim of the Trust is to "achieve extraordinary improvements in health by supporting the brightest minds", and in addition to funding biomedical research it supports the public understanding of science. It has an endowment of £25.9 billion (2018) making it the third wealthiest charitable foundation in the world, after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the INGKA Foundation.

Henry Wellcome Anglo-American businessman

Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome FRS was a British pharmaceutical entrepreneur. He founded the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome & Company with his colleague Silas Burroughs in 1880, which is one of the four large companies to eventually merge to form GlaxoSmithKline. In addition, he left a large amount of capital for charitable work in his will, which was used to form the Wellcome Trust, one of the world's largest medical charities. He was also a keen collector of medical artifacts which are now displayed at the Wellcome Collection.

Design Museum art museum in London, England

The Design Museum is a museum in Kensington, London, which covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design. The museum operates as a registered charity, and all funds generated by ticket sales aid the museum in curating new exhibitions. Entrance is free to the museum's permanent collection display, "Designer Maker User". In 2018 the museum won the European Museum of the Year Award.

Wellcome Library research collection and library in Britain

The Wellcome Library is founded on the collection formed by Sir Henry Wellcome (1853–1936), whose personal wealth allowed him to create one of the most ambitious collections of the 20th century. Henry Wellcome's interest was the history of medicine in a broad sense and included subjects such as alchemy or witchcraft, but also anthropology and ethnography. Since Henry Wellcome’s death in 1936, the Wellcome Trust has been responsible for maintaining the Library's collection and funding its acquisitions. The library is free and open to the public.

Thackray Medical Museum Medical museum in West Yorkshire, England

The Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, is a museum of the history of medicine adjacent to St James's University Hospital. In 1998 it won "Museum of the Year" and has other awards including in 2004 both the "Excellence in England Small Tourist Attraction of the Year" and "Sandford Award for Heritage Education".

Dana Library and Research Centre part of the Science Museum in London

The Dana Library and Research Centre on Queen's Gate, South Kensington, London is part of the Science Museum.

Anchorage Museum museum in Anchorage, Alaska

The Anchorage Museum is a large art, history, ethnography, ecology and science museum located in a modern building in the heart of Anchorage, Alaska. It is dedicated to studying and exploring the land, peoples, art and history of Alaska.

Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science museum in Evansville, Indiana

The Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science is a general-interest museum located on the Ohio riverfront in downtown Evansville, Indiana, United States. Founded in 1904, it is one of Southern Indiana's most established and significant cultural institutions, with comprehensive collections in art, history, anthropology and science. It has a permanent collection of over 30,000 objects including fine arts, decorative arts, historic documents and photographs, and anthropologic and natural history artifacts. Also on the Museum's campus is the Evansville Museum Transportation Center, featuring Southern Indiana transportation artifacts from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

Colonial and Indian Exhibition

The Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 was a very substantial exhibition held in South Kensington in London, and intended "to stimulate commerce and strengthen the bonds of union now existing in every portion of her Majesty's Empire". The exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria, and when it closed had received 5.5 million visitors.

Science Museum at Wroughton Science museum in Wiltshire, England

The Science Museum at Wroughton, near Swindon, England, contains the large-object store of the Science Museum and the Science Museum Library & Archives. It is part of the Science Museum Group. From 2023 it will be a large public museum in its own right, displaying many of the objects previously stored.

Wellcome Collection Museum, library in London

The Wellcome Collection is a museum and library based at 183 Euston Road, London, displaying a mixture of medical artefacts and original artworks exploring "ideas about the connections between medicine, life and art". Founded in 2007, Wellcome Collection now attracts over 700,000 visitors per year and is advertised as "the free destination for the incurably curious". The venue offers contemporary and historic exhibitions and collections, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop and conference facilities.


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Coordinates: 51°29′51″N0°10′29″W / 51.49750°N 0.17472°W / 51.49750; -0.17472