Infectious Science in Medicine Gallery

The Science Museum has opened up and overhauled its entire medical history. The new permanent gallery here is devoted to the history and discovery of medical science and healthcare.

The stories from this exhibition cover a diverse range of topics from anatomy to hospitals and diseases in public health situations. First up there is the wax models dating over 300 years ago. These were used in the training of medical students to explain how the body was wired up together. Showing how the heart circulated blood and oxygen through the arteries. It literally lifts the under the skin without the extreme gruesome ness. So you don’t need to carry a sick bag.

One object here that I find remarkable is from notorious grave robber William Burke. After he was hanged in 1870 his body was dissected and the Museum has a sample of his brain perfectly preserved and on display.

Medicine technology stems from a combination of biology, chemistry and physics welded together to engineer high tech examination techniques. One of these is from X-rays and magnets.

X-rays were discovered in 1895 by William Rontgen, but the first practical machines used in hospitals didn’t emerge until the 1920s. There is an example of an X-ray from 1925 that once belonged to Jewish German Doctor Ernst Rachwalsky. It looks amazing and its construction was very advanced for its time. It might be primitive by today’s standards but it really does show how transformative X-ray scans have become. No more messy intrusions were needed after this came about.

Another innovation here is magnetic resonance imagining scanners or MRI. Here you can see an MRI scanner from 1978 showing its large doughtnut shaped magnets. This one was built by the inventor of MRI, Peter Mansfield. He had used himself as a guinea pig to test his magnetic contraption to see if it was safe for humans. Thanks to Mansfield they are widely used in medical diagnosis.

When I first worked here as a volunteer the medical galleries were on the fourth and fifth floors of the museum, which were largely unnoticed by the public. There is a great improvement in the medical science exhibition where the large open floor space means they have a massive showcase with in depth knowledge on a grand scale of achievement.

If I could pick a medical pioneer of this gallery whose work made a lasting contribution to medicine it would be Joseph Lister. He was a surgeon from Essex who invented the technique of sterilization and hygiene in hospitals. Back in 19th century surgeons had trouble from keeping their patients free from deadly infections because the medical tools they used would often get cross contaminated with infections from the blood. Until in the 1860s Lister introduce carbolic acid into cleansing the tools and workspace of germs and infections. This practice is now common standard in hospitals all over the world and now they have saved endless patients from death in the care of their doctors.

On display is one of Listers microscopes from 1830 – 1850 and a carbolic spray device from 1867 used to sterilize the operating theatre.

At the time I was writing this the museum was hosting half-term activities. The staff were demonstrating science with family friendly activities. The amount of interest in this is phenomenal. Hundreds of families are coming here every year and the Science Museum likes to get people engaged in science through projects like this. Today we had a design your own stethoscope, STEM ambassadors showing immune cells and bacteria under a microscope. We pride ourselves on thrilling our visitors with what we show to them everyday.

There are some things about this gallery that appeal to me as an autistic even though they show a dark side to the medical world. This was when society dismissed the mentally ill and disabled as hideous creatures that were to be hidden from society. As well as dismissing them through junk science like the anti vaccination conspirators.

I hope that one day the world will embrace autistics as really useful and magnificent people. Just like I show it through this blog as an existential aspie geek. Now its time for you to see the exhibition for yourself.