Museum musings

Regular readers of The Engineer will be aware of our ongoing efforts to put online some of the most interesting articles from the magazine’s archives.

It’s fascinating stuff, but on a visit to London’s science museum this week, The Engineer was struck by how many of the inventions and innovations that have graced the magazine’s pages over the past 150 years can actually be seen and admired in the flesh: from early developments in steam engines, to the first computers, to the numerous fascinating bits and pieces of space hardware.

But according to the museums incoming director, Prof Chris Rapley, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Rapley told The Engineer that more than 80 per cent of the science museum’s collection is, for want of funding and space, gathering dust. Hopefully not for much longer. For earlier this year the museum unveiled a bid for £50m of Lottery funding to open up this collection to the public, and bring to life the stories behind around 20,000 objects that are crammed into RAF Wroughton’s cavernous hangars. This treasure trove of iconic objects includes amongst other things, the world’s first hovercraft, some of the earliest bicycles, and even the last surviving Fleet Street press.

The project, dubbed Inspired at The Science Museum, is one of six candidates shortlisted for the Lottery’s £50m living landmarks scheme, and the winning project will be decided by a televised public vote later this year. If Inspired is successful in winning the vote, the 40,000m2 building will open its doors to the public in 2010. If it succeeds in its mission to use the stories of the past to inspire the scientists and engineers of the future it will be money well spent.

Jon Excell