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It’s about time

Strictly Science, a free public exhibition tracing the past, present and potential future of the MRC has taken over a foyer at Imperial College London for 10 days. MRC Senior Press Officer Cathy Beveridge went along to try out the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow labs and found a mixture of marmite, motion capture and musing on the future.

Pictures by Haberdashery (http://www.haberdasherylondon.com/)

Pictures by Haberdashery (http://www.haberdasherylondon.com/)

How can an exhibition encapsulate a century of modern medicine in a way that brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of science for both adults and children? This is the ambitious aim of the Strictly Science exhibition; which not only looks back at 100 years of discoveries as part of the MRC’s Centenary programme, but also aims to use this as a springboard to get people excited about science, and the possibilities of scientific discovery in the next 100 years.

The journey starts in 1913, the year in which the MRC was founded, with a salute to David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister whose 1911 National Insurance Act set the wheels in motion for the establishment of the organisation, primarily to curb the devastating effects of tuberculosis on the population. You can see posters showing how this was lauded as the ‘Dawn of Hope’ — the first time public money had been used for medical research.

Strictly Science’s ‘Yesterday lab’ encourages children to dip their hands into bowls of marmite and cod liver oil and recreate the recipes that researcher Harriette Chick developed to bolster vitamin D in the diet and help to cure the bone disease rickets.

Instruments such as Henry Dale’s clockwork kymograph, a simple black device he developed to measure the activity of muscles, looks deceptively primitive, bringing home that these researchers were making discoveries that changed the world without any of the technology that contemporary researchers rely on — and not an iPad in sight.

The simple idea of ‘how does our brain help us move’ provides the backbone for many of the experiments that form the ‘Today lab’, which is based on contemporary work at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre. The Wii Balance Boards and motion capture suits are unnerving in their ability to analyse and mimic the effects of ageing on our bodies. Meanwhile, the BLINK game allows players to play the classic arcade game PONG solely with their eyes, a thrilling concept that offers exciting possibilities for people who don’t have the use of their limbs to interact with computers.

But where is all this going? The ‘Future lab’ provides a series of perspectives from researchers, commentators and children on their hopes and fears for science between now and 2113. Both the adults and children agree that science is unpredictable, though the kids are slightly more outlandish — can we ever rule out the possibility of a ‘giant radioactive killer baby’ or, perhaps more hearteningly, ‘a heart-healing ice lolly’?

Cathy Beveridge

The Strictly Science exhibition runs until 14 April 2013, 10.00 – 18.00, in the Exhibition Road foyer of Imperial College London, South Kensington.

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