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London's Science Museum links tech history

The Science Museum in London contains an array of fascinating and famous tech, and ZDNet UK looks inside the museum's collection
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Pascal's calculating machine

The London Science Museum's collection spans technology throughout history, from medical equipment and computers to rockets and steam engines. ZDNet UK takes a look at some of its most significant objects — large and small, everyday and out of this world.

Pascal's calculator
The device above is an exact replica of Blaise Pascal's calculator. Pascal (1623-1662) was one of France's most celebrated mathematicians. A child prodigy, inventor, philosopher and Catholic theologian, he built this device when he was just 19 to help his tax-collector father with his figures.

The Pascaline calculator uses a stylus to move the wheels, which can handle numbers up to 999,999.999. The device was one of the world's first mechanical adding machines, but was too expensive to mass-produce at the time.


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Galileo's telescopes

Galilean telescopes
The telescopes above are replicas of ones made by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) in 1610 after he heard of the invention of the telescope in Holland. With refinements to the design, Galileo went on to make a string of astronomical discoveries, from landmarks on the moon to sunspots and the moons of Jupiter. These were famously incompatible with Catholic cosmology: the church finally apologised in 1992 for forcing Galileo to recant his conclusions.

The Science Museum's replicas were made in 1923 at the Museo di Fisica e Storia Naturale in Florence, Italy, where the originals are still kept.


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Babbage's Analytical Engine Mill

Babbage Analytical Engine Mill
The Babbage Analytical Engine Mill was built by Henry Babbage (1824-1918) and based on the designs of his father, computing pioneer Charles Babbage (1791-1871). The machine was intended to add, subtract, divide and multiply. Only small parts of the engine, such as this calculating component, were ever completed.

Charles Babbage had first tried to build the Babbage Difference Engine, which was designed to calculate different sums and print the results. His efforts to secure funding for the project were frustrated in his lifetime, and the first working model was only completed by the Science Museum in 1991.

A replica of the Difference Engine No 2 also exists in the Computer History Museum in California. A project to create the full Analytical Engine — which would have been far more complex than the Difference Engine had it ever been built — is currently underway. The complete device is expected to be around the size of a steam train.


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Enigma machine

Enigma machine
The Enigma machine was famously used by the Germans to send encrypted messages during World War II, only for the code to be broken by Allied scientists at Bletchley Park. The device was created in 1918 and made commercially available in the 1920s. The German military saw its potential to scramble messages and commissioned further developments, which resulted in an arms race with the Allied cryptographers.

The machine uses rotating wheels to chew up text and spit it out as ciphertext. The message can only be unscrambled if you know the setting of the Enigma's wheels and patchboard, which the Germans never realised can be deduced through mathematics, machinery, luck and poor operational procedures.


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Phillips Economic Computer

Phillips Economic Computer
The Phillips Economic Computer (also known as 'Moniac') was invented by New Zealand-born engineer and London School of Economics student Bill Phillips in 1949. Legend has it the first of the 2m-high devices was built in Phillips's landlady's garage in Croydon: between 12 and 14 were created and used worldwide.

The machine illustrated the flow of a country's economy in a literal fashion by using coloured fluid, which moved from one tank to another. Each tank symbolised a different sector of the economy, and different economic factors (such as taxation) could be altered by changing the valves that regulated the flow of the fluid. The results could be accurate to better than four percent, and the Moniacs saw use throughout the 1950s until electronic computers became commonplace.


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Sinclair calculator

Sinclair calculator
The Sinclair Executive electronic pocket calculator was the first slimline pocket calculator. The brainchild of designer Clive Sinclair, the device caused quite a stir on its release in 1972. At 56 by 138 by 9mm, it was a good deal thinner than its competitors.

The Executive used a Texas Instruments GLS 1802 chip and achieved its miniaturisation by using small mercury batteries. The device saved power by switching off power to the chip many times a second, relying on its undocumented ability to remember its state in the absence of voltage. This was discovered by Sinclair's chief engineer Jim Westwood, who made similar unorthodox contributions to many Sinclair products.


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Spacelab telescope

Spacelab 2 telescope
This X-ray telescope was created by a team at the University of Birmingham and was flown into orbit on the space shuttle in 1985. The 3.5m-high telescope conducted observations of X-rays at the centre of the Milky Way and was used on board the Spacelab 2 orbital laboratory.


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Beagle 2

Beagle 2
The museum also holds a replica of the Beagle 2, the ill-fated British-built probe that was intended to study the surface of Mars. Communications with the Beagle were lost six days before it was due to land on the Red Planet in 2003.

While it remains unknown whether the Beagle landed on the planet or was destroyed on entry, a faithful copy of it can be found in South Kensington. Plans for Beagle 3 remain unrealised.


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