steam engineGuess where I went today!

Well, since there are only 5 places I can think of in the world that would make me open a post like that, it shouldn’t be too hard. That’s right, it was the London Science Museum! It’s the best place to go for industrial age technology, since they have a bunch of Watt’s original engines, one of the first x-ray machines, and a huge gallery with all sorts of awesome stuff in it. I love the big old clunky technology that had gears and balance arms and flywheels and that you could actually figure out just by looking at it, so it took about five minutes for me to totally lose all semblance of propriety. Some of the scale models were actually running, and I must have pushed the start button on the miniature victorian engineering shop a good 5 times before I could drag myself away.

The medical and materials science exhibits I’ve pretty much outgrown, and while the space exhibit was pretty awesome, I think the National Air and Space Museum in DC has spoiled me. However, there’s nowhere else in the world you can see the original Rocket locomotive or the oldest haystack boiler, the Columbine, Smoking Billy,  or Old Bess.

radial steam turbineThe locomotives were all intact, but some of the steam engines had been cut away so you could see how they work, like this one. Apart from being amazed at the delicacy of the teeth (which don’t show too well in the photograph), I was interested by the fact that this one’s a radial turbine. The ones in modern power plants are all axial, but this early design apparently does it the other way round. Unfortunately the structure in the accompanying animation of how it works vastly differed from that of the actual machine, so I’m still a little fuzzy on where the steam enters and where it goes out. I guess that’s an excuse for me to go back.

Tomorrow I was planning to check out the Darwin exhibit at the Natural History Museum, which is right next door. It would be easy to swing by to spend 20 minutes or so figuring it out, and perhaps getting some freezedried icecream for lunch. I was seriously considering it today, but I got distracted by the motors. Also, I might try to catch a showing of their new imax educational film, which I missed today. It’s apparently on the logic behind a lot of the more fundamental mechanical inventions. The title is “A World Of Cracking Ideas,” some details of which can be found below.

Wallace & Gromit set

Dang, now I want some Wensleydale…