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Behind the scenes at the Science Museum

Whether you’re going over half term with your children or with friends on the weekend, the Science Museum is a guaranteed good time. We met with Hannah, an Explainer at the Science Museum, for a little insight into what it’s like working there as well as some visitor tips and top picks.

The flight gallery, where Hannah had asked to meet, is tucked away on the top floor of the Science Museum. Dozens of massive aircrafts hang suspended from the ceiling, hovering silently. After weaving my way through the vast galleries of excited children, screaming and laughing, I was shocked at how peaceful it was. I found Hannah amongst the planes and she told me it was one of her favourite parts of the Museum and she found the stories behind the planes fascinating. I had to agree, it was truly astonishing.

Tell me about your role as an Explainer.

I’ve been an Explainer since November. We mainly work in the interactive galleries of the museum – Wonderlab, The Garden and Pattern Pod. They are all for different age groups of children. We all have different roles in there but when you’re starting out you just meet visitors in the galleries and say “Oh I’ve noticed you’re interested in this, can I tell you about it?” Later you become trained in doing shows to a small group of people in the gallery. I have just been trained in my first show which is about the Solar System! I will learn more shows soon and then train to do them in the show space that can be in front of 250 people! The shows are brilliant, they involve all sorts of things including explosions. When we have older kids the show is more of a conversation and is guided by the questions from the kids.

What is the best part about your job?

I love the job! I think the best part is just having those one-to-one interactions where you really feel like you’ve made a difference. I thought that would be a very rare part of the job but actually just speaking to children they have so many lightbulb moments like “wow that’s so cool” or “wow, I had no idea” and that happens every single day. Earlier today I was talking to a kid about the solar system and he was so knowledgeable and would just rattle off information and questions. We ended up having what I think was like an hour-long chat, I think he spent most of his time in Wonderlab with me! So having those really rewarding interactions is definitely the best thing about the job.

What are your favourite bits of the museum?

The Wonderlab is great for kids. Instead of lecturing kids about friction for example, we have a slide made of 3 different materials. They’re really steep, actually quite scary, but really fun scary and they learn about friction in that way. It’s active learning and it doesn’t even feel like learning. But once you feel the difference between slides it makes friction, which is quite an abstract concept, immediately make sense. It’s a really cool place where all the exhibits are well thought out and really quite unique. Other exhibits I love are all the exhibits in the Wellcome wing - Who am I and Atmosphere which are very interactive oh and the flight gallery of course. 

What are your top tips for people visiting the museum?

I think the first thing you need to do is speak to Visitor Experiences and see what’s there because there is so much going on that people will have never even heard of. They are at the entrance and hanging around the whole place. They are really good at giving recommendations. If you’ve got kids definitely the Wonderlab. The annual pass is so reasonable, we have kids that come here every week or even more than once a week. I think the Pattern Pod is really special for the younger kids. Also do one of the volunteer highlight tours. We’ve got stuff like the largest chunk of the moon that has been brought back on an Apollo mission, an Apollo 10 capsule, a model of Bepi Colombo. All the planes in the flight gallery have amazing significance. So top tip is just taking a bit of time before you come to find what you want to see. 

What kind of people do you work with?

Everyone’s so lovely, crazy and fun and lovely. Actually, half the people that are Explainers are drama students, comedians or performers of some sort and the other half are scientists! So we kind of bounce off each other – us scientists learn lots of performance skills from them and they learn about the science from us, so it works really well. My team leader is a comedian, he’s brilliant, and he’s given some really useful workshops on skills like staying calm, especially when talking to hundreds of people, and how to keep your voice loud. His big thing is to have a really solid intro and exit as it makes it much easier for you when you start and end on a good note.

What kind of training did you have to complete to be an Explainer?

We are trained to know about a couple of objects in the galleries, but we also get reading time and are expected to go away and learn about more objects, which is really cool. You also get a lot of museum time to wander around and familiarise yourself with the layout, which is super helpful as it can be a confusing place! We had a couple of training days before the job started where we learnt how best to approach and talk to people, presentation skills and how to pitch our shows to different age groups. I think the training has been amazing and of really high quality.

Do you like working in South Kensington?

Yes, I love it! I love how it’s very close to Hyde Park so if it’s a nice day I’ll just walk back through park. I love any excuse to go through Hyde Park, there are loads of dogs and they are all really cute. I love all the little cafés, I’ve been here since Sept and I’m still discovering so much. There is a lot going on all the time. It’s also just a really beautiful area with the Royal Albert Hall and all of these incredible buildings. I couldn’t imagine anywhere nicer to work to be honest!

Do you visit the other museums in the area?

I’ve been to the V&A a few times and I love it there, it’s very calm and has great cafés. The collections in the Natural History Museum are amazing and the building is so beautiful! I need to go to the Life in the Dark exhibition and also to Videogames in the V&A. We luckily get a pass to explore lots of partner exhibitions free of charge!

Hannah is a student on the Science Communication MSc at Imperial College London and works part-time as an Explainer at the Science Museum.

We met Hannah in the flight gallery of the Science Museum

Hannah in Wonderlab
These slides in Wonderlab demonstrate how friction works
The show space where children can learn about electricity

Hannah guides talks about the solar system
The Wonderlab is full of interactive exhibits and enthusiastic Explainers!