Scienceworks

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Scienceworks

Scienceworks makes science an adventure. Located in Spotswood (7km from the Melbourne CBD), you can discover everyday science through interactive exhibits, programs and shows at this award-winning, interactive museum. 

Great Melbourne Telescope volunteers

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
13 March 2014
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Each Wednesday, a dozen or so engineering and astronomy buffs head to a museum workshop to restore one of Marvellous Melbourne's grandest marvels. The Great Melbourne Telescope (GMT), scorched by the Mount Stromlo fires in 2003, is being resurrected thanks to an estimated 10,000 hours of volunteer work (so far). This group recently received a Certificate of Appreciation in the 2013 Arts Portfolio Leadership Awards.

GMT restoration team Mathew Churchward reading out the Arts Portfolio Award commendation to the Wednesday restoration workshop team.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The workdays have "a bit of a men's shed feel about them," says Senior Curator Matthew Churchward. He coordinates the project alongside Curator of Engineering Matilda Vaughan. The combined knowledge in the room – all members of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, many with experience in engineering, electronics, astronomy and optics – means this piece of 19th-century technology is in expert hands.

Three men with computer L-R: Barry Cleland, John Cavedon, new volunteer Norm and Stephen Bentley working on technical drawings of GMT parts.
Source: Museum Victoria

Building telescopes is a common pastime for amateur astronomers; volunteer Barry Adcock has a home-built a 14-inch diameter telescope for his backyard dome observatory, plus another telescope that allows him to view the stars from inside his house. For many, stargazing is a habit they picked up when very young. Scottish-born Jim Pollock recalls a lunar eclipse in 1949 during which the moon was bright blue after forest fires in Canada. "In the atmosphere, tiny particles of pinene, the oil from the pine trees, scattered red light beautifully and just let the blue light through." Another volunteer, Barry Clelland, remembers looking up as a kid from his backyard in the suburbs and thinking, "that's half the universe there. You could see the Milky Way in Heidelberg back then."

On this day, a sub-group is working on the mirror polishing and grinding machine, a beautiful hulking contraption with a cast iron frame and gears and shafts. The GMT's half-ton speculum metal mirrors tarnished over time, so every few years they were removed and reconditioned with this machine. "We're still trying to work out exactly how it was driven," says Matthew. The mirror sits on a rotating table and as it moves, the polishing head also rotates, "so it doesn't get a flat spot in any part of the mirror. It keeps moving as it's rubbing." Or, like "patting your head and rubbing your tummy," jokes volunteer David Linke. The team hopes to have the polishing machine working within the next year as a hint of what's to come with the telescope itself.

David Linke with the mirror polishing machine. David Linke with the mirror polishing machine.
Source: Musuem Victoria
 

In the workshop, parts of GMT are laid out on pallets and benches. With a grin, David says, "it's a big jigsaw puzzle, isn't it?" Above it all, for equal parts reference and reverence, hangs a large-scale historical picture of the GMT in operation.

Museum workshop A view of the workshop with the GMT’s lattice tube in the foreground. On the back wall hangs the large historical photograph of the GMT at the Melbourne Observatory.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most of the large parts of the GMT were recovered after the 2003 Mt Stromlo fires. "Oh golly, it was a dirty job to get everything out of that cube," recounts David. "The aluminium had melted from the dome and filled up the screw holes so you couldn't see where things were undone." Many months of work saw the GMT dismantled and its surviving parts audited. Fortunately, the GMT had an unofficial champion in Barry Clark, who has been involved with the Melbourne Observatory since 1955. At that time, decommissioned equipment went into storage and was at risk of being lost. Says Matthew, "Barry's been instrumental in recovering bits and pieces that were hidden under the floor. He's discovered some key bits of equipment that went right back to the very earliest observatory at Williamstown."

Detail of the dismantled cube of the GMT. Detail of the dismantled cube of the GMT.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Lengthy reverse-engineering is recreating the missing parts. "We go out there with a ruler and pencil and paper, take measurements and sketch it up roughly," says Campbell Johns. The measurements are made in imperial units to match Irish manufacturer Thomas Grubb's original specifications, before conversion to metric for fabrication. Some of the team with technical drawing expertise convert the workshop sketches into digital CAD files. There's a lot of cross-checking with old photographs, drawings and the extant parts.

"We don't even know if there was ever a full set of working drawings," says Matthew. "It appears they did the basic layout and started building it before they had the detailed design. You can see evidence in the way parts were modified during the construction process, like spots flattened out of a casting to make a seat for another component." A volunteer adds, "Pretty amazing given in those days there were no angle grinders or power drills or oxy welders. It was all done with cold chisels."

Three men with computers L-R: Barry Clark, Barry Adcock and Mal Poulton working on optics design specifications for the GMT.
Source: Museum Victoria

So why are these men devoting their spare time to this project? It's evident from the way they talk about the GMT that they admire its history and innovation. In addition to its astronomical achievements, including the first observations of southern nebulae, the ingenious nature of its design bewitches them. It had two axes and counterweights that allowed just one person to move the beautifully balanced telescope. In its lifetime there were larger scopes, but none so nimble. Matthew's view is that it's an opportunity of a lifetime for amateur enthusiasts to build such a large telescope; few individuals would have the resources to do so alone. Other volunteers nominate restoring an important part of Melbourne's history as their prime incentive – they want to see it back in its old home.

Indeed, the end goal is to return the working telescope to the Melbourne Observatory for public viewings. Its original configuration restored, there may be new electronic additions to allow digital photography or remote operation via the web. As Matthew says "It could be very inspiring for astronomy in Victoria."

Links:

The Great Melbourne Telescope website contains the story of the telescope, and updates about its restoration through the ASV's Phoenix newsletter

Follow the GMT project on twitter: @GMT21stC

Great Melbourne Telescope on Collections Online

One-sixty

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
9 March 2014
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Comments (1)

Harry Telford bought Phar Lap at auction for 160 guineas, back when Big Red was known only as "Good Walker, Great Shoulder, Very Strong Made Colt".

horse auction catalogue The page from the Annual New Zealand Thoroughbred Yearling Sales on 24 Jan 1928, with hand-written notes about Harry Telford's purchase. (HT 8465)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There were 160 tradesmen working in the Engineering Workshops of the Kodak factory complex in Coburg.

Photo of Kodak workshop Men operating machinery in the Kodak Engineering Workshop, Coburg, circa 1963. (MM 95964)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Harry Johns drove his famous boxing troupe around in a bright red, customised International AR 160 Series truck.

Harry Johns' boxing truck Harry Johns' boxing troupe truck. (SH 961969)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This centuries-old English penny in our Numismatics Collection was given the registration number NU 160.

Edward 1 penny Penny, Edward I, England, 1280-1281 (NU 160)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

And today, Museum Victoria is 160 years old! On 9 March 1854, the Assay Office in La Trobe Street opened to the public. Surveyor-General Andrew Clarke arranged for two rooms on the first floor of the Assay Office to be aside for the new Museum of Natural History and its collections.

This letter from the Public Records Office of Victoria records the formal permission granted the newborn museum by Assay Master Dr Edward Davy. (We assume Clarke had taken the liberty of moving a few specimens in before the official word arrived.)

Letter from Assay Master Dr Edward Davy Copy of letter to Surveyor-General Andrew Clark from Assay Master Dr Edward Davy, 1854.
Source: PROV

Transcript:
Government Assay Office
Melbourne 28th Apr 1854
Sir,
In reply to your letter of 22nd inst enquiring what accommodation can be given at the Assay Office for receiving Specimens which may, from time to time, be forwarded to the intended Museum of Natural History, I have the honor to state that there are at present, two rooms on the first floor of the building disposable for the purpose referred to.
I have the honor to be, Sir, Your most Obdt Servant,
E. Davy
Assay Master

 

Now we just need to figure out how to fit 160 candles on a birthday cake... I think we're going to need two cakes.

Boy with two cakes Boy with two cakes on his third birthday, Prahran, 1942. (MM 110629)
Source: Museum Victoria

A Christmas star for 2013

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
13 December 2013
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Just in time for Christmas, a new star has appeared in our southern sky!

Nova Centauri 2013 is the brightest nova to be seen since 1999. It is about as bright as the fifth star in the Southern Cross and is very easy to spot from Melbourne, and across Australia in general. It sits right next to Beta Centauri, one of the famous two pointer stars that leads the way to the Southern Cross.

Nova Cen 2013 from ESO This photograph was taken from La Silla Observatory in the Chilean Atacama Desert on the morning of 9 December 2013.
Image: Yuri Beletsky
Source: ESO
 

The nova appears just to the left of Beta Centauri, the bluer and higher of the two bright stars in the lower-right part of the image. The Southern Cross and the dark Coal Sack Nebula are also captured near the top of the image.

The nova was discovered on 2 December by John Seach from New South Wales. It is a 'classical nova' and is caused by a dead white dwarf star having a brief, but intense new-lease on life. White dwarfs are stellar embers, where nuclear fusion (the fire that keeps a star shining) has ended. However, this white dwarf has a close companion star. If enough gas from the companion falls onto the white dwarf it triggers a brief explosion on the star's surface.

The star undergoes an extreme burst of brightness. But unlike a supernova, the white dwarf remains intact and lives to tell the tale.

What better reason is there to slip away from the Christmas madness and spend a quiet moment or two, under the stars.

Links:

Ideas about the 'real' Christmas star from Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog

ESO Science Outreach Network - Australia

Preparing to Think Ahead

Author
by Alice
Publish date
5 December 2013
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The whole preparation department have been hard at work over the past few months getting their creations ready for the opening of Scienceworks' new permanent exhibition, Think Ahead.

I went to visit the team during their last week of preparation to see some of their projects in the final stages of development.

Building model houses Building model houses
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What has always impressed me about all the clever individuals in the preparation department is that their job combines highly refined artistic skills with science and design....and a whole lot of patience and lateral thinking!   

The team’s recent body of work for Think Ahead is certainly a testament to their craft. Using a creative mix of materials ranging from state-of-the-art plastic technology to readymade dollhouse furniture, the team have created a wide range of objects and interactives for permanent display including plastic foods, futuristic human figurines, replica ice cores, miniature dioramas and life-sized human mannequins. They even utilised the museum’s 3D printer to produce miniature model tyres for their futuristic farm machinery.

3D printed tyres 3D printed tyres
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Future food Future food
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

With the exhibition targeted at 8 to 12 year olds, the team have included many clever little twists to catch the eye of their audience. In one display, a model dolls house that shows the evolution of a child’s bedroom from the turn of the century to today, and references to contemporary pop culture are included in the form of mini Diablo and Angry Birds posters pasted on the walls of the modern bedroom. 

Bedroom diorama Bedroom diorama
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Other creations such as Michael Pennell’s future human figurines and Steven Sparrey’s silicone life sized mannequin (modelled from Michael's face) look like props right from the set of a new sci-fi blockbuster.

Future human figurines Future human figurines
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Think Ahead opens this week at Scienceworks.

Travel by tube...or is that tubes?

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
8 November 2013
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Can you imagine zipping around your city – or even between cities – via vacuum tubes? The idea of using air to push or pull people through tubes is familiar from sci-fi shows like Futurama, but could we really travel by tube from Melbourne to Perth, say?

Futurama Tube Transport System Characters in the TV show Futurama zoom around New New York City Tube Transport System.
Source: 20th Century Fox Television
 

For over a century, pneumatic (air-driven) systems have transported small parcels, cash and documents quickly and securely over short distances. You may have seen pneumatic tubes in supermarkets that provide change or send money from the till to a central depository. Several European cities, including Paris and Prague, once had pneumatic postal systems. These days, many hospitals use air tubes to transport drugs and tests between pharmacies, labs and wards far more quickly than a human could carry them. Stanford Hospital's network is so extensive that it earned a listing in the Atlas Obscura and features in this video made by the Exploratorium. 

 

But would the idea work on a grand scale for transporting people? Elon Musk, inventor and chief executive of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, thinks it could. Earlier this year he released his concept for the Hyperloop – a superfast, solar-powered, city-to-city elevated transit system that he says could take passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.

Concept drawing of the Hyperloop Concept drawing of the Hyperloop transit system.
Source: Tesla Motors
 

Air tubes have moved people before; America’s first subway in New York City was actually a prototype pneumatic train built in 1870 by Alfred Ely Beach that ran for just one block. Other pneumatic railways operated in various cities from the 1840s, including London, Paris and Dublin. None traversed more than a few miles or survived longer than a few years simply because steam and electric trains proved more practical. However Elon Musk now estimates that the cost of building tubes across California would be far less than building above-ground rail tracks.

Beach pneumatic tunnel The remains of Beach's pneumatic tunnel photographed in 1899, 30 years after it was built.
Source: Scientific American via archive.org
 

The beauty of pneumatic transport is its simplicity: just by changing the air pressure in a tube, you can shift anything contained within the tube. This principle is familiar to every kid who has used a straw to sip a drink or fire a spitball at the teacher. All you need is a durable capsule, a powerful pump to push air through the tubes, and a way to divert the capsules to their correct destination.

Lamson Pneumatic Tubes brochure Lamson brochure circa 1920. This photograph was taken by a researcher in the New York Public Library - and the librarians sent the access request for this item via the library's pneumatic tube system!
Image: Molly Steemson
Source: flickr user maximolly
 

To demonstrate the concept, we’re installing a pneumatic system in Think Ahead that was made by Lamson Solutions. This company has built transport apparatus in Australia since 1898; their early retail systems evolved from hollow balls rolling along inclined tracks, through to flying-fox style wires overhead launching spring-loaded capsules of money. In 1908 they introduced vacuum tubes and still make them today for hospitals, stores, manufacturing plants and more. Pneumatic transport for rubbish or recycling collection in big cities is another developing idea; it would certainly take a lot of smelly and fuel-guzzling rubbish trucks off the roads.

The potential of pneumatic transport is just one of the fascinating ideas in Think Ahead, an exhibition about imagining the future, which will be opening at Scienceworks this December. 

1889 tram model

Author
by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
29 October 2013
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Comments (1)

Matilda swapped a life working as an engineer for a life curating the museum’s historical Engineering collection. She’s very curious about how stuff works, how it’s made and why. If a machine’s got a switch, she’ll definitely flick it.

What do you do when a significant part of our local transport history would make a great addition to a new exhibition, but it no longer exists? Well, you recreate it in miniature, of course.

By 1888, Melbourne was already on its way to an integrated suburban rail transport network, and horse-drawn tramcars mingled with cable tramcars. Tramcars propelled by electric motors were very new and developing rapidly. Overseas commercially-operated installations were powered by either on-board batteries or connections to external underground or overhead electrical wiring. The first electric tram powered by an overhead wire in Australia was demonstrated as a fee paying, passenger-carrying attraction within the grounds of the 1888 Melbourne International Centennial Exhibition.

Men on Melbourne's first electric tram Australia’s first suburban electric tramway service at the Box Hill terminus on opening day, 14 October 1889. Do these passengers look excited about their ride on the latest public transport system in Melbourne?
Source: Doncaster & Templestowe Historical Society (DP0203)

While news reports from the time provide basic information about the tramcar and the exhibit, we couldn’t find any surviving photographs. However images do exist of its later use, in the following year, on the Box Hill-Doncaster Tramway Company’s route. This route ran from Box Hill Railway Station up what is now known as Tram Road, towards the Observation Tower and close to where Doncaster Shoppingtown now stands.

We provided these photographs, supplemented with curatorial research gleaned from historical literature such as newspapers, engineering journals, patents and electric tramcar and street railway technology reviews, to model maker Mark O'Brien. He used this information to prepare a digital model using 3D modelling software, carefully deconstructing parts to suit the manufacturing method.

Man sitting at computer showing a 3D digital model The 3D digital model can be rotated and viewed from all angles, to match the viewers’ perspective to the original photographic image.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Then came the real art of the project: translating the digital model into an actual object. The miniature parts were crafted with a blend of traditional model making techniques and additive manufacturing technology (3D printing).

parts of tram model Left: assembly of the tram model parts prior to painting and finishing. Right: the truck (or bogie) construction prior to painting, in the hand of the model maker Mark O'Brien.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

parts of tram model Left: detail of conductor base. Right: electric motor, wheels and axle box, 3D printed and finished to resemble metal.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Scanning the tram model into the collection system Upon its arrival at the museum, we checked the condition of the tram model, registered it, tagged it and scanned into the Collection Location System for tracking.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

When the Box Hill tramway closed down, the original tramcar was sold to H.V. McKay’s Sunshine agricultural implements manufacturing plant and stripped of its electric motor and fittings. The tramcar carriage itself became one of the shelter sheds used for workers’ leisure activities in the nearby parklands. It suffered the fate of most wooden objects left out in the weather for years. In the museum environment however, this miniature representation of the tramcar will live on as part of the as part of the state’s permanent Rail Transport Collection, and will be part of the Think Ahead exhibition at Scienceworks from December 2013.

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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