Part 12: Science Museum


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The Trip

On our way back from Windsor we had a bit of time left so we decided to do a fast viewing of the Science Museum.  It was close to one of our tube stops so that seemed to be a good idea.  None of us were prepared for the scope and depth of the museum and they rang the closing bell before we could get our fill.  The short story is that this is a multi-day affair, not unlike the British Museum.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

Our train from Windsor came into Paddington Station, a rather large place.

Getting from Paddington to the museum took us through an extensive tunnel system where we spotted this fellow.  Much better than the normal yodeling guitarist.

We went to the Science Museum with the intent purpose of seeing Babbage's Difference Engine, but immediately got side-tracked by one of James Watt's original steam engines.  The invention of the steam engine changed the world and these machines were the very first examples of harvesting the power of heated vapor phase water.

We were on a mission because we knew that closing time was fast approaching, but it was hard to walk past without at least a quick peek.

This engine was massive, one of the largest I have seen.

The castings and arms are huge and a daunting task to manufacture and transport.

Rather ghastly, but half of Babbage's brain was on display.  I am not sure what happened to the other half, but Babbage was anything but a half-wit.

The museum had a number of Babbage's machines on display.  These machines were intricate and complex with plenty of gears, cams and cogs.

One of the machines would do 31 digit arithmetic and was used to produce tables of mathematical functions and artillery trajectory tables.

The level of detailed machining that was required to produce a working device was almost overwhelming.

The actual difference engine was never finished, but finished over 100 years later by museum volunteers.

Given the target audience of the museum, the description of how the machines actually functioned was somewhat lacking.  Note the large, many-lobed vertical cam on the left edge of the photo above.

Gears drive cogs and cogs drive gears.

This photo makes me think of terms we used in engineering school like "now just turn the crank".

Look at this stack of cams!!

We we rapidly running out of time, so we moved on to another display this one showing a mechanical differential equation solver.

In some respects, this is more complex than Babbage's engine.

A mechanical tide predictor that used the periodic motion of the planets as its tide model.  All the components were coupled by shafts, gears and cables.

I am sad to admit, but when I was in school I had a slide rule.  In fact, I still have it.  It still works, but it is a PITA to use.  But, slide rules got us to the moon and it got me through college.

Some of these "slip sticks" were very powerful.

A close relative of #5 is sitting on my book case at home.  My father used it during his engineering studies in college and so did I.

They rang the closing bell, so we had to leave, but to get out we had to go past the steam engines again.

One of Watt's early boilers - spherical to better handle the pressure.

An early steam turbine.

Yow!!  I was not prepared for the extensive exhibits in the museum.  The vast majority of the many floors of the museum were unexplored by us.  Sadly, our schedule is full and we are leaving London in 2 days, so we'll have to leave this for our next visit.

Tomorrow, we head to Bletchley Park to see the Cryptographic museum and the Enigma and the "Bombe" decryption machine.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2015, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.