Past events at the Whipple Museum

Below are details and images from recent past events at or involving the Whipple Museum.

Mind your head: Phrenology at the Whipple

Whipple Library, Friday 14th September, 10.00am - 4.00pm.

A special display of pamphlets, books, models and ephemera relating to phrenology at the Whipple Library. Visitors investigated the products of this nineteenth-century pseudoscience which declared personal characteristics were represented by the shape of your head. They were able to gain a better understanding of humorous misunderstandings as well as problematic misuses of the quack science that preceded psychology. Guides helped visitors form their own phrenological diagnosis.

All at Sea

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Thursday 30th August, 1-4pm

Visitors learned how people from across the world navigated the oceans with help from the Whipple Museum, using a compass to explore the Museum and play a Pacific-themed trading game. Then they had the opportunity to make their own bean map to take home.

Big Weekend: Make and Create Tent

Parker's Piece, Saturday 14th July 2018, 12 - 5pm

Visitors joined the University of Cambridge Museums to enjoy hands-on activities inspired by the collections. We were there making models of different celestial movements - looking at eclipses, transits and orbits!


Sedgwick Museum, Thursday 26th July 2018, 10am - 1pm

We joined the Sedgwick Museum to explore different types of brain and how we understand them. Visitors made their own thinking cap and model brain.

Digital Dark Materials at Fitz Family Art Week

Fitzwilliam Museum, Tuesday 31st July, Wednesday 1st August, Thursday 2nd August and Saturday 4th August, 11.30am - 1.30pm

This summer visitors joined us for pop-up workshops at The Fitzwilliam Museum: making their own moving, digitally-enhanced alethiometer, inspired by the ADC production of His Dark Materials and the Whipple's exciting collections.

Time-Travelling Scientists

Museum of Classical Archaeology, Monday 6th August, 12-4pm

Visitors stepped back in time to find out about science in ancient Greece and Rome. How did they build impressive buildings? How did they cure their illnesses? And how did they make sense of the stars?

Science Detectives

Saturday 18th August, 9.30am - 3.30pm

Attendees honed their scientific skills in preparation for a forensic investigation at the Botanic Gardens.

Whipple Wildlife

Museum of Zoology, Tuesday 21st August 10.00am - 12.00pm, 2.00 - 4.00pm

Spotted an animal in the wild? The Whipple used past zoologists' tried and tested techniques to help visitors hone their investigative skills so they can get a better look.

Science and Magic at the Whipple Museum

Thursday 29 March, 7-9pm.

Have you ever wondered how a magician pulls off a trick? Is it magic - or science? Visitors enjoyed an evening of jaw-dropping trickery and slight-of-hand inspired by the Whipple Museum's collection of historic scientific instruments and models. Magicians from Cambridge's very own Hogwarts, the Academy of Magic and Science, revealed how Science and Magic are linked in helping us understand the world around us.

With the help of astonishing tricks and interactive performances, attendees found out some of the scientific principles behind illusion, perception and bias.

Astronomy and Empire: late opening

Wednesday 14th March, 5:30pm - 8:00pm

Family event: Stargazers around the World

Saturday 17th March, 11:00am - 4:00pm

Inspired by our exhibition Astronomy and Empire, visitors joined explorers at the Whipple for family hunts and activities that travelled far and wide. Explorers have long travelled to distant lands, keen to understand more about the world by practicing their own scientific expeditions and make sense of what is around us. Once they got there they were astounded by diverse and extraordinary scientific practices across the globe!

Ages 3+. Drop in.

Astronomy and Empire: Curator talk

Wednesday 21st March, 1:00pm - 2:00pm

Curator Dr. Joshua Nall spoke about our newest special exhibition, Astronomy and Empire, the first exhibition to inhabit our newly refurbished Special Exhibition Gallery. Visitors gained an understanding of the realities and practicalities of science in the field as well as an insight into how field science was employed as a method to legitimise key aspects of British colonisation.

Twilight at the Museums: Eclipse Expedition

Tuesday 13th February, 16.30 - 19.30

Darkness has descended... Visitors joined historic explorers in a trail that took them on a scientific expedition, gathering vital equipment and travelling across distant lands to observe a rare solar eclipse!

Twilight at the Museums [] is a FREE after-hours event for families where museums and collections across the city turn down the lights and open their doors for after-hours fun. With free, drop-in activities and themed trails across the venues, there is plenty for families to enjoy.

Climate Hack Showcase

Sunday 21 January 2018, 2pm - 4pm

How would you change a museum? Over three days, teams of makers, scientists, artists and communicators developed prototypes to showcase our museums' narratives on climate change in our first ever Climate Hack.

The following museums were open and showcasing one prototype each: the Polar Museum, the University Museum of Zoology, the Whipple Museum of the History of Science and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Mothers who make session
A Mothers Who Make session. Image © Mothers' Who Make, Bristol.

Mothers Who Make

Tuesday 16th January, 10am - 12pm.

Mothers Who Make is a growing national initiative aimed at supporting mothers who are artists - professional and/or passionate - writers, painters, actors, dancers, musicians, film-makers.... Suitable for every kind of maker, and every kind of mother. This was the Cambridge groups' first meeting.

Astronomy and Empire: Curator's Tour Livestreamed

Live on Facebook 13th December at 12pm.

Hosted through the University of Cambridge Museums' Facebook page [], watch this special curator's tour of our Astronomy and Empire exhibition. A great opportunity to hear Dr Joshua Nall and host Nick Oram discuss the controversial history of science in the British Empire, from eclipse expeditions to prayer-wheels.

Botanical Gardens
A Festival of Light at the Botanical Gardens.

India Unboxed presents: The Festival of Light

Wednesday 25th October, 18.30-21.00

Spectacular light installations and Indian beats - a celebration of Diwali with the University of Cambridge Museums at the Botanic Garden.

The Whipple joined the University of Cambridge Museums and investigated the beautiful tools and techniques that were used to help star-gazers understand the night sky in India.

Activity at the Whipple
Want to stop a crook in their tracks? Make a fake at the Whipple. Image © Whipple Museum


Monday 23rd October, 11.00 - 16.00

Visitors joined detectives at the Whipple for this family hunt for fakes and forgeries in the museum galleries. Skilfully crafted instruments made by sneaky criminals have recently been exposed by our top investigators, and attendees helped spot them. They then learnt how to spot an imposter and had a go at making their own criminal forgery.

1874 Greenwich Park observatory
1874 Observatory at Greenwich Park © National Maritime Museum.

Astronomy and Empire: Curator Talk

Friday 20 October, 13.00 - 14.00

Curator Dr. Joshua Nall spoke about our newest special exhibition, Astronomy and Empire, the first exhibition to inhabit our newly refurbished Special Exhibition Gallery. He spoke about the realities and practicalities of science in the field, as well as how field science was employed as a method to legitimise key aspects of British colonisation.

Ages 15+. Free but please arrive on time.

Fakes, Mistakes and Mystery at the Whipple

Thursday 19th October, 17.00 - 20.00

Visitors were invited to unravel the network of lies behind a series of forgeries at the Whipple at this interactive evening for adults and young people. They learnt how to spot a fake and uncover clues that identify criminal dealers and forgers. As in the art world, the business of creating a forgery of a historical scientific instrument is a lucrative one - who was responsible?

Curators and researchers at the Whipple have been exposing forgeries since the 1950s. At 6pm, curator Dr. Joshua Nall delivered a talk on research that recently exposed fakes in our collection.

Richard of Wallingford
Quarter-sized replica of Richard of Wallingford astronomical clock, made by Don Unwin.

Can Machines Think?

Wednesday 18 October, 17:30pm - 18:30pm

Can machines think? Philosopher and cognitive scientist Marta Halina explored what is unique about the human mind and whether we can build machines that match or exceed our abilities.

Open Cambridge: Exploring deep history

Friday 8th September, 10am - 4pm

The Whipple Museum and Library held a special joint display of books, images and instruments that reflect how humans have studied the earth and its history over time. From works interpreting fossil bones to artistic impressions of geological strata, this was the first opportunity to view fascinating items from a recent donation by one of the world's foremost historians of the geological sciences. A mind-expanding journey into the pre-human era of 'deep time'.

Summer at the Museums: D.I.Y. Experimenting

Monday 7th and 21st August 11.00 - 13.00, 14.00 - 16.00

Visitors donned their metaphorical white jackets and embraced their inner scientist as we experimented and investigated everyday curiosities, inspired by chemistry sets and at-home experiment kits in our new Learning Gallery.

Summer at the Museums: Toying with science

Monday 31st July and 14th August, 11.00 - 13.00, 14.00 - 16.00

Over the years, toy-makers have sneakily snuck science into their toys and games, making them exciting, unusual and experimental and helping us learn more about the world. Visitors played with past and present science toys in our new Learning Gallery, and made their own to take home!

Neurotrail - Saturday opening

Saturday 24th June, 12.30 - 16.30

In collaboration with Cambridge Neuroscience, as a part of BRAINFest, the Whipple was open as a part of the Neurotrail.

Isaac's Eye
Poster for Isaac's Eye, by Julia Ostmann and Alona Bach.

A staged reading of Isaac's Eye, a play by Lucas Hnath

Wednesday 14th June, 17.00 - 19.00.

When young Isaac Newton meets the great Robert Hooke - the most famous and powerful scientist in Britain - the resulting battle of intellects and egos pulses with wit, humour and tension. Presented in conjunction with 'Staging the History of Science', an exhibition at the Whipple Library.

Why Is This Here?
'Why Is This Here?' display at the Whipple Museum.Image © Whipple Museum

Why is this here?

5pm - 8pm, Wednesday 22nd March

This was a chance to gain a better understanding of museums' relationships with objects as we explored histories that are secretive, forgotten about, problematic or just weird. A part of Why is this Here?, our latest temporary exhibition.

Customised and Invented!

11am - 4pm, Saturday 18th March

What do you do if you need something that doesn't exist? You invent it! A Saturday opening at the Whipple, where visitors had the chance to discover how inventors have tinkered and adjusted over the years, adding gadgets and improvements to become better scientists.

Free, drop in, all ages.

Make your own seventeenth-century diary

5pm-6.30pm, Thursday 16 March

Diaries and journals function as daily records of life. They allow us to reflect and reminisce. In the seventeenth century in England writing such autobiographical texts was very popular; hundreds of examples from the period survive. Drawing on the historical example of Elizabeth Isham's (1608-1654) book of 'confessions', this hands-on workshop examined the practice and meaning of writing diaries in the past and today. We considered how we decide what is important to record for posterity and whether this has changed over time.

This event was organised by Leah Astbury and supported by a University of Cambridge Public Engagement Seed Grant. Leah Astbury is a Society for Renaissance Studies Postdoctoral Fellow based at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge.

The Bone Collectors: Assembling the 'New Museums' in Victorian Cambridge

12pm - 1pm, Thursday 16th March

Boris Jardine gave a talk detailing the development of the New Museums Site at the end of the nineteenth century. The site was once home to the Botanical Garden, then a suite of (long demolished) museums, and then the laboratories that are only now moving to West Cambridge. This richly illustrated talk looks at the large collections of animal and human bones that were amassed on the site in the nineteenth century, and on curators and scientists who worked on them.

Julia Keenan's Whipple Artwork
Julia Keenan's artwork in the Whipple Museum.

Julia Keenan: Strange Chimera

12.30pm - 1.30pm, Tuesday 14th March

Artist Julia Keenan spoke about her project, 'Strange Chimera', which she developed as a response to the Whipple Museum's incredible 19th century anatomical and botanical models, made by Dr. Louis Auzoux. During the project, she had constructed hybrid objects that explored the models as teaching aids but also consider how they provoke feelings in the contemporary space of the museum.

Twilight at the Museums: Larger than Life?

4.30pm - 7.30pm, Wednesday 15th February

At the Whipple, things are not always what they seem... frogs, or fungus or even planets are unusually enormous or incredibly small. Visitors hunted for creations of unbelievable shapes and sizes.

UCM Lates: Art under the Microscope

6.30pm - 8.30pm, 14th December

At this special late event, contemporary glass artist, Jenny Walsh, explained how it took skilled craftsmanship to grind glass and change its composition for scientific use. Participants then spent the evening making their own microscopic glass artworks using glass confetti, dichroic glass and twisted cane on fusing glass slides.

Mill Road Winter Fair

Saturday 3rd December, 11am - 4pm, Mill Road

The University of Cambridge Museums were at Mill Road Winter Fair, encouraging the general public to get a hands-on taste for our wide-ranging and exciting collections. The Whipple brought a range of handling objects: real scientific instruments!

Educating the Eyes: Geometrical Models and their Makers, 1860-1890

Wednesday 9th November, 12pm - 1pm

David E. Rowe is professor emeritus for history of mathematics and natural sciences at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. This talk focused on one of his research interests concerning the role of visualization in geometry, or what came to be known in Germany as anschauliche Geometrie.

Alien tripod illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds".

H.G. Wells readings

12pm-1pm, Fridays in November

Robert Lloyd Parry specializes in retelling the classic tales of the late 19th century, works by the likes of M R James, Arthur Conan Doyle, and - in this the 150th anniversary of his birth - H G Wells. Four of his best short 'scientific romances' were read in the eminently suitable surrounding of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science.

Friday 4th November - The Crystal Egg

Friday 11th November - The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes

Friday 18th November - The New Accelerator

Friday 25th November - The Sea Raiders

'A trip to the moon, in the world famous air ship "Luna"': a postcard advertising the 'Trip to the Moon' ride at Coney Island. (Wh.6604.7) Image © the Whipple Museum.

Festival of Ideas: Space Oddities

5pm - 8pm, Friday 21st October

Before Virgin Galactic, before the Space Race, even before the Wright Brothers' first flight, the human imagination was sending astronauts to the Moon. Visitors watched George Méliès' 1902 Le Voyage dans la Lune in the context of early souvenirs, advertisements and toys from our collections - all objects that demonstrate the potential of space when explored by the human imagination.

Festival of Ideas: Polar People on the Move: Family Activity Day

11am - 4pm, Saturday 29th October, Scott Polar Reseach Institute, The Polar Museum

Explorers, hunters and scientists. Sledges, ships and planes. People are on the move through the polar regions. Children, big and small, joined our drawing, building, playing and designing activities. The Whipple joins the Polar museum on the quest to find out about polar people and their adventures as they trek across icy lands.

Set your course for the Whipple! Image © the Whipple Museum.

Festival of Ideas: High seas at the Whipple

11am - 4pm, Thursday 27th October

Visitors set their course for the Whipple, where they grabbed a map and compass before crossing treacherous galleries and discovering treasured objects that reveal tips and tricks explorers used to navigate the globe before Sat Navs and smart phones, or even radar!

Our large frog model, Wh.6599. Frogs have long played an interesting role in scientific practice. Image © the Whipple Museum.

Frogs at the Whipple

Inspired by the arrival of our star amphibian at the museum, in Summer 2016, the Whipple went hopping mad!

Frogs have been fundamental in scientific developments in cloning, in the discovery of the electrical signals from nerves, and have been used for hundreds of years by students learning about anatomy and dissection. Frogs provided the first reliable, non-deadly pregnancy test and have even been into space! We celebrated their significant contributions to the history of science.

Summer at the Museums: Frogs in Focus

11am - 1pm and 2pm - 4pm, Tuesday 2nd August and Tuesday 16th August

Visitors got up close and personal as we put our froggy friends under the microscope, recreating images that show why frogs have been the perfect scientific study buddies throughout history.

Drop in, all ages.

Summer at the Museums: Frog Leaps in Science

11am - 1pm and 2pm - 4pm, Tuesday 9th August and Tuesday 23rd August

More frogs, as visitors hopped along to the Whipple to discover how frogs have made a splash in science, making their own jumping friend to take home!

Drop in, all ages.

Open Cambridge: Orreries and Globes

10am - 4pm, Friday 9th September

We delved into the depths of the Whipple Museum's stunning collection of orreries and globes before exploring related antiquarian books in the Whipple Library. Talks, held on the hour, offered the chance to find out about the links between our historic collections.

Drop in ages 15+.

'A trip to the moon, in the world famous air ship "Luna"': a postcard advertising the 'Trip to the Moon' ride at Coney Island. (Wh.6604.7) Image © the Whipple Museum.

Big Weekend

Saturday 9th July, 12pm - 5pm at Parker's Piece

The Whipple and the other University of Cambridge Museums were at their 'Make and Create' tent on Parker's Piece. Members of the public were inspired by our range of miniature globes, some making their own hanging pocket globe or planet to take home with them.

Drop in, all ages.

'This true book of ours, man himself': anatomising from the Greeks to the French Revolution.

10th March, 15th March and 17th March

Medical historian Andrew Cunningham explored the fascinating history of anatomising human and animal bodies in three illustrated talks: Anatomy in the theatre, Anatomy in the laboratory and Anatomy in the graveyard.

Visualizing Medicine- An evening of art, anatomy, and science

11th March 17.30-20.00

This event was a unique opportunity to look at historical anatomical models and books housed in the Whipple Museum and Library.

Visitors met our guest professional medical illustrators and learnt more about the techniques they use to bring anatomy to life for a wide range of audiences, including students, health science professionals and the general public.

This event picked up the anatomical theme explored in part of the University Library's current 600th anniversary exhibition, 'Lines of Thought', showcasing treasures from the Library's great collections. Open to the public from 11 March to 30 September, Milstein Exhibition Centre, Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR. There is more on this exhibition at the University Library's website [].

Whipple Anatomy Arcade

12th March 11.00-16.00

During this special Saturday opening event, visitors had the opportunity to see human anatomical teaching models and take part in fun anatomical games and puzzles.

Twilight at the Museums: Gadgets and Gizmos

17 February 4.30 - 8.30pm

A record number of visitors took part in our epic hunt for gadgets and gizmos and discovered how scientific instruments can help make sense of the world around us.

Be sure to check out other Twilight at the Museums events in Cambridge. []

Explorers and Collectors Activity Day

Wednesday 28 October, 10.30am - 3.30pm at The Polar Museum

Exploring the unknown, expeditions to find rare artefacts, collecting specimens of creatures from the distant past... The University of Cambridge Museums celebrated the explorers and collectors that make our museums. Science experiments, craft activities and much more were held throughout the day as visitors got the chance to be an explorer themselves!

With special activities from the Botanic Garden, the Whipple Museum, the Museum of Zoology, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The Big Game Night

Thursday 22 October, 6pm - 7.30pm at The Polar Museum

Returning due to popular demand, The Museum of Zoology, The Whipple Museum and The Polar Museum brought a night of entertainment with our very own game show Q-ice. The audience wathced as our contestants battle out for museum domination with our wise and witty compere, Ed Turner.

Summer at the Museums 2015

All about that fungus

3rd August 11.00-13.00 and 17th August 14.00-16.00

Visitors were invited to take a close look at the fungi models made by one of Cambridge's famous fungus experts, and had the opportunity to make their own models to take home.

Darwin Delights

10th August 11:00-13.00 and 14:00-16:00

The Museum of Zoology visited the Whipple Museum to explore Darwin's life and discoveries. Visitors learned about the instruments he used, the specimens he collected, and could make their own microscope slide to take home.

Take Two: Meet the Researchers at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Friday 15 May 18.00-20.00 2015

Once again, young researchers who have worked with the Whipple Museum and Library's fascinating collections returned to take over our galleries to chat and uncover the many intriguing stories behind the objects. A complementary glass of wine was served as visitors explored the Museum after hours.

To find out about other University of Cambridge Museums after-hours events click here [].

The quest for the curator's code

Saturday 14th March and Sunday 15th March 2015

In this exciting activity visitors used all of their scientific thinking skills to solve a series of fiendish puzzles hidden within the depths of the Whipple Museum. They needed to decrypt messages, break into safes, and navigate treacherous booby traps to solve the mystery behind the Curator's code.

This activity followed on from the past Cambridge Science Festival events: "The Secret of the Sinister Scientist" and "The Mystery of the Horrible Hypothesis". As with these past events, guests were divided into small groups and given a personal guide to help them through the activity. Along the way, guests saw 3D videos, solved puzzles and won prizes. The activity did not stop at the end of the session; further puzzles were available to solve after the event!

Lunchtime Talks at the Whipple Museum

Since the 1860s the New Museums Site in the centre of Cambridge has been one of the University's iconic locations, home to a fascinating variety of scientific work. At a time when the site is seeing many of its science departments leave for new facilities in west Cambridge, 2015 is an ideal time to look back on its extraordinary past. Two talks, by Professor Simon Schaffer and Dr Richard Staley, considered aspects of the site's long history, from the complexity of its origins to its heyday as a centre of cutting-edge research.

The Cavendish and Victorian Cambridge: founding a laboratory, finding a role

Monday 16 March 2015: 1:00pm - 2:00pm

The laboratory set up at the northern end of Free School Lane in the early 1870's eventually became one of the world's leading institutions of experimental physics. But this would have seemed most unlikely, and in some ways undesirable, to many of those involved in the foundation of the Cavendish. Its site, its staff and its aims were all highly controversial. This illustrated talk explored some of those fascinating debates: and linked them with much longer term questions about scientific sites, their audiences and their functions.

This talk was given by Professor Simon Schaffer.

Cloud chambers: tracking the history of particle physics in Cambridge

Wednesday 18 March 2015: 1:00pm - 2:00pm

This talk explores the origins of CTR Wilson's cloud chamber in meteorological research in 1895, and the way from 1911 it was used to take photographs of particle tracks and later helped open up research on cosmic rays by providing evidence for the existence of new particles. Exploring the variety of uses it was given in the hands of Wilson and others such as PMS Blackett and Giuseppe Occhialini helped the exploration of subatomic nature, meteorology, and the social environment of the Cavendish laboratory from the 1890s through to the 1940s.

This talk was given by Dr Richard Staley.

Twilight at the Museums: Cosmic Mission

Wednesday 18th February 2015: 16:30 - 20:30

Do you want to explore space but don't have a rocket? At the Whipple, visitors lookd at our galaxy from the comfort of planet Earth using torches to find out if they what it takes to be a space explorer.

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