The Science Museum on Exhibition Road is unassumingly nestled between the terracotta façade of the Natural History Museum to the south, and the main campus of Imperial College to the north. Opened in 1928, millions have walked through its doors since to learn about the wonders of science and discovery, from space to genomes and everything in between.
On the last Wednesday of every month, the Science Museum hosts “Lates”, where they stay open after closure for a lively adults-only experience of the exhibits, as well as interactive shows, lectures, and demonstrations.
November’s Lates was dedicated to mathematics; cleverly called “CalcuLates” by the pun-loving organisers. Although a crowd had lined up for the opening at 6:45, by 8:00, one could easily walk past the burly security guards into the cavernous main hall where a DJ was blaring EDM. Most attendees were scattered throughout the rest of the museum, where dozens of exhibits, demonstrations, and stands were set up to engage people on the wonders of math. And indeed, they were engaged: thousands were happily wandering the vast halls, giggling, talking to mathematicians and scientists, and watching the many displays and demonstrations. Couples in long sweaters and tight pants were clutching large bottles of chilled Bulmer and mingling amongst groups of smartly-dressed friends, though many chose to check out the permanent exhibits solo.
On the first floor, a silent disco – where party-goers wear headsets instead of listening to loudspeakers – was raging underneath a suspended space rocket. Right next to the bopping dancers and directly in front of the Eagle (Apollo 11’s moon lander) was an Albert Einstein impersonator, enthusiastically demonstrating physics concepts using just strings and audience participation. Further on and just past the hot food stand wafting hedonistic scents of garlic and spices, Isaac Newton was making a crowd of about 50 giggle, using three girls and an oddly-shaped pink rocket foot pump.
The second floor had another array of interactive excitement – from allowing people to hold some of the Museum’s fascinating objects from their collections, to using a replica of the infamous Enigma machine of the Nazi’s in WWII. Meanwhile, on the third floor, we could learn how to use math to calculate survival times and odds against zombie apocalypses. There was also the option of flying on an interactive flight simulator to test out a jet simulation (for a small price).
From colouring to computers, actors to dancers, probabilities to parties, the Science Museum CalcuLates was a wonderful mathematical Wednesday evening – surprisingly stimulating and enjoyably educational. And the best part? The attendees at the silent disco who busted into an impromptu, out-loud, and in-unison chant for YMCA on my way out the door, hand gestures and all – leaving a fully plastered grin on my face.
Naomi Stewart is studying for an MSc in Science Communication