Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age – Science Museum

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One of my most anticipated exhibitions of the year was the Science Museum’s Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age. When we think of space travel, we often think of the USA’s feat of landing on the moon, and Neil Armstrong’s status as the first human to step on to the moon. However, it was the Russians that led the way in terms of space exploration.

After the Russian Revolution, many Russians dreamed about space travel and I enjoyed looking at the pictures and models from the early 20th century. For instance, Georgy Krutikov’s drawings of capsules and space cities date from 1928, well before space travel became a reality. The exhibition charts how the dream became a reality: the first satellite in space (1957), the first animal in orbit (1957), the first man in space (1961), the first spacewalk (1965), and the first on Mars and Venus (1970s).

Models and diagrams help to bring home the enormous complexity of the task, and souvenirs, statues and posters emphasise how individuals such as Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova became lauded as national – and international – heroes. Even in the context of the Cold War, Gagarin’s visit to London in 1961 was a huge success. My favourite aspects of the exhibition were the inclusion of personal items such as cosmonauts’ space suits and the tiny capsules that transported these pioneers around the earth, now charred and blackened after shooting through the atmosphere. It was sobering to look at these compact capsules, which now seem almost retro, and to think that they were responsible for successfully keeping their inhabitants safe as they orbited.

Later in the exhibition, the technology of space travel at the time is explored, with items on display including different clothes for different situations, food sachets, and even a shower. As space travel was such a new concept, the designers made use of feedback from the cosmonauts as to what worked and what didn’t. The shower was not particularly popular.

I loved this exhibition – it was absolutely fascinating. It runs until 13 March next year, so don’t miss your chance to visit.

The Power of Poison – Old Truman Brewery

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Entrance to the exhibition

I visited The Power of Poison, a temporary exhibition located in the Old Truman Brewery in London. It took me a while to find it, as it is hidden away down a side street. Once inside the foyer, you descend into the basement, which is cloaked in black as a backdrop to this fascinating exhibition.

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Cute, but deadly

The first section looks at poisons that occur in the natural world, created by animals and plants to protect themselves from danger. It is decked out like a Columbian jungle and is full of scary, larger-than-life models of spiders, ants and scorpions that can kill or maim with their poison. Monkeys, too, can be poisonous, and some birds wipe their wings in poison to protect themselves.

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Magical spell book

I also learned about the distinction between poison and venom – snakes, for instance, are venomous because although they can bite and inject you with venom, they are safe to eat when cooked. A case of real Golden Poison Frogs is at the centre of the room.

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The tea party from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I then moved on to the second section, looking at the myths and legends surrounding poison. This space touched on the Mad Hatter (mercury used heavily by Victorian hatters was supposed to make them mad), the Witches of Macbeth (whose ingredients for spells could be interpreted as different kinds of poisonous plants) and Snow White (is there really a poison that could give the illusion of death?).

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Snow White
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Fascinating wall of books

A wall of books showcases the most famous tales that feature poison, including the Harry Potter series, the Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie’s detective novels.

I found it really interesting to see how the exhibition put these stories and fables into historical and scientific context, looking at the truth behind the tales. Antidotes and charms, real or supposed, are also included in this section.

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This rabbit was supposedly evil and used poison to kill…

The final section is about detecting poisons, and you can test your own skill using one of the supplied iPads to solve poison-related mysteries. I really enjoyed this bit and took great pride in getting them all right first time (in fairness they are really designed for children!). The exhibition as a whole is really well thought-out and put together, and while I’m not convinced it is worth the full admission price, it’s certainly deserving of a visit if you can get hold of a cheaper ticket.

Collider – Science Museum

The second exhibition I saw at the Science Museum was Collider. Designed as an immersive experience, it looks at the largest scientific experiment ever constructed, the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. It started with a rather cheesy video presentation, then opened up to let you walk through the collider – which in real life is 27 km long – and learn about the uncovering of the Higgs boson particle.

I enjoyed the exhibition, particularly the video and multimedia aspects which helped me to understand what was going on. Having not studied science for over ten years, I really had to struggle to understand the concept behind the collider but I certainly came out with a better grasp of it than when I went in.