20 October, 2009

An Hour In The Darwin Centre

Not too long ago, I reported that the Natural History Museum in London had opened a new permanent section called the Darwin Centre. Well, I was in London a few weeks ago for an interview, so I popped in to have a look. Unfortunately I only had about an hour to spare so I wasn't able to really get stuck into each exhibit but on the whole, although a little light on all things Darwin, it is very impressive.

When I say it was a little light on Darwin, I mean it was not what I expected. I presumed there would be whole sections on Darwin the man, Darwin the ecologist, Darwin the author, etc......

.......but no, the whole Darwin Centre is actually more an explanation of the scientific method than anything to specifically do with Darwin. Not that that's a bad thing. It's actually a very good thing. As a scientist, I perhaps take for granted the processes which we undergo when we set up experiments, observe and record the results and then come to scientific conclusions. But the non-scientific public may not necessarily understand these processes and hence may harbour concerns about some of the more seemingly outlandish and far-fetched claims made by science.

Here at the Darwin Centre, the scientific method is broken down into multiple hi-tech stations with an abundance of information available through an impressive display of LCD touchscreen monitors. The visitor interacts with cyber scientists to learn how an experiment is done and how to analyze results.

For example, the image below show visitors extracting DNA from plant samples and running agarose gels to separate the DNA based on size. In this way it's possible to look for genetic polymorphisms between different samples and examine their frequencies in different populations.

And here onlookers learn about microscopy

Budding young minds can see what a science lab is like firsthand, although having said that there weren't actually any scientists in the labs when I visited.

Oh and another thing... it's free!

In fact both the Natural History Museum and the neighbouring Science Museum are totally free (with occasional exceptions for certain exhibits). There really has been no expense spared and I wish I could have stayed for longer, but I'm moving to London in a few weeks time so I'll be able to visit it again. You should too!


BeamStalk said...

I can't wait to get a more in depth look at the new center when you get more time. I love London but it is an expensive town.

rhiggs said...

Yeah I'll do just that when I get a chance. I was literally only able to do a walkthrough this time. It definitely whet my appetite though...

Lance Vartanian said...

Wow, that really is a high tech place. It is a lot easier to understand and visual very abstract ideas with the help of modern technology; especially with the help of those wide touchscreen LCD monitors.

Lance Vartanian