The scientists who helped Britain to victory in the Second World War and launched a post-war science renaissance, will be at the centre of a new exhibition, Churchill’s Scientists, which opens at the Science Museum on 23 January 2015.
Timed to mark the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death, this will be the first exhibition dedicated to Churchill and the remarkable scientific breakthroughs that took place under his direction as Prime Minister.
From Robert Watson-Watt’s invention of the radar, which helped Britain win against the odds in the Battle of Britain, to Dorothy Hodgkin’s advancement of X-ray crystallography, the exhibition will explore the achievements of the scientists and inventors who came to prominence during Churchill’s period in power and whose influence is still felt today.
Starting with the Second World War, the exhibition will present extraordinary stories of scientific endeavour and explore how science came to the aid of the British war effort in areas as diverse as nutrition, the production of penicillin and antibiotics, sea warfare and the atomic bomb.
The exhibition will feature unique objects from the Science Museum’s collections together with original archive film footage, letters and photographs. Highlights include rarely seen relics of Britain’s war time atom bomb project ‘Tube Alloys’ and the high-speed camera built at Aldermaston to film the first microseconds of detonation of Britain’s home-grown atomic bomb, first tested in 1952.
Lesser known stories include the work of pioneering nutritionist Elsie Widdowson, who, with her scientific partner Robert McCance, tested the austere war diet on themselves and authored their work The Composition of Foods – a book that remains the standard work on nutrition today.
“Many people are unaware of Churchill’s fascination with science and its power to help in war”, said Andrew Nahum, Lead Curator of the exhibition. “In the post-war period he was a great champion of deeper science education in this country. This is a great opportunity for us to bring these stories to the public’s attention as we pay tribute to Sir Winston Churchill in the 50th anniversary year of his death.”
The second part of the exhibition will explore scientific advances in post-war Britain in fields ranging from molecular genetics to radio astronomy, nuclear power, nerve and brain function and robotics. It explores Bernard Lovell’s ambitions to build the world’s largest steerable radio telescope and John Kendrew’s breakthrough with his famous ‘forest of rods’ model of myoglobin – the first protein to be analysed structurally in three dimensions.
Visitors will see a number of personal items belonging to Churchill including the cigar he was smoking when he heard he had been re-elected as Prime Minister in 1951. The display will also feature a green velvet ‘siren suit’ – a one piece outfit designed to be worn during air raids, plus original proofs from Churchill’s iconic six volume history, The Second World War, marked up and corrected by his own hand.
Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery said, “We are really excited that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are able to support this exhibition about Churchill. We can’t wait for visitors to discover what an influence he had on science.”
Churchill’s Scientists is a free exhibition and will open to the public on Friday 23 January 2015. The exhibition is part of Churchill 2015, a unique programme of events to commemorate Churchill’s life, work and achievements and mark the 50th anniversary of his death.