We all have our own history of medicine. From birth and broken bones in our adventurous youth to routine trips to the dentist, doctor and optician, visits to loved ones in hospital and experiences of loss. We are deeply invested in our own health and that of friends and family. Opening on 16 November, Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries creates a magnificent new home for the most significant medical collections in the world, providing a rich historical context for our experience of medicine today and featuring moving personal stories from patients and practitioners.
The vast galleries cover more than 3000m², an area equivalent to 1,500 hospital beds. The five new galleries reveal how the quest to better understand the human body has transformed medicine. They examine treatments that save, improve and sometimes harm lives, highlight the health challenges faced by populations and uncover our hopes and fears about health.
Over three thousand medical artefacts from the extraordinary collections of Henry Wellcome and the Science Museum Group will go on public display in the world’s largest medical galleries. Visitors will see ground-breaking objects from the history of medicine, including two hundred year old wax anatomical models, the very first stethoscope, lancets used by Edward Jenner in his smallpox vaccinations, medicine chests used on expeditions to Mount Everest and Antarctica, an intricate model of a 1930s hospital, a rare iron lung used by patients with polio and the world’s first MRI scanner, protein model and paramedic bicycle. Within the galleries, visitors can step inside a real Victorian pharmacy, brought to life through an immersive digital experience, discover what it takes to perform heart transplant surgery and treat a critically ill patient in an interactive game.
The faces, voices and stories of patients and practitioners are featured throughout the galleries in films, displays, interactive experiences and portraits. Visitors can listen to stories from therapists and their clients, see objects selected by staff and patients representing their experience of the NHS today and hear rehabilitation stories from people affected by brain injuries. The galleries also explore the experiences of patients with mental health issues through films and audio recordings produced by a group with extensive experience of mental health services in the UK. Stories from individuals impacted by how medicine defines ‘normal’ will also encourage discussion, with visitors able to listen to their stories next to life-size portraits by award-winning photographer Siân Davey.
Davey’s portraits are one of four commissioned artworks in Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries which act as powerful visual interventions into the galleries’ themes and give visitors a different way to connect with the objects and stories on display. The artworks include Self-Conscious Gene by Marc Quinn, inspired by the tattooed body of model Rick Genest this monumental bronze sculpture greets visitors as they enter the galleries; Bloom by Studio Roso, an aerial sculpture which represents the spread of diseases through populations using a large network of propellers that spin, glow and change colour; Santa Medicina by Eleanor Crook, a beautiful and intriguing bronze sculpture of a figure that is both surgeon and saint which encourages visitors to contemplate their relationship with mortality.
They complete our ambitious Masterplan project which has transformed more than half of the museum since 2010, creating aesthetically and intellectually stimulating new spaces for our visitors.
Featuring significant objects in the history of medicine from the first stethoscope to the first model of a protein, the Medicine and Bodies gallery explores how the quest to better understand the human body has transformed medicine.
At the heart of Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries is a spectacular and sculptural object-rich gallery, Exploring Medicine. A thousand medical artefacts are on display, celebrating the scale, diversity and significance of the Science Museum Group and Sir Henry Wellcome's museum collections.
Medicine and Treatments: The GSK Gallery will examine the core purpose of medicine, treating people. With a focus on personal experiences, this gallery reveals a range of treatments that save, alter and extend lives, exploring their capacity to harm as well as heal.
Stepping back from our personal experience of medicine, Medicine and Communities examines health challenges faced by groups, cities and populations, from deadly epidemics to the provision of health services.
The contemplative Faith, Hope and Fear gallery explores the trust we place in medicine and features cultural and religious items that represent hopes and fears about our health. Spanning centuries and continents, the mass displays of religious statues, amulets and anatomical votives showcase the wealth of cultures represented in the medical collections.
The galleries open at the Science Museum from Saturday 16 November 2019, with further information available at sciencemuseum.org.uk/medicine. A series of unique public events have been programmed to mark the opening of the galleries, including the UK premiere of gene editing documentary Human Nature, a panel discussion exploring the anti-vaccination movement, volunteer tours of the galleries and a special edition of the Science Museum’s adults-only Lates.