What is the appeal of the Science Museum Lates?

My prevailing memory of this month’s Science Museum Lates is watching a pig’s small intestine laid out before me whilst simultaneously keeping an eye on the intestines of BBC One Show presenter Dr Mosley projected on the wall behind. I would struggle to find a less romantic scene and yet the Science Museum has gained a reputation as one of London’s dating hotspots. It gives daters the opportunity to impress with intellect rather than by having to try anything on the dance floor.

Not that there isn’t a bit of dancing to be had. The Lates come complete with a silent disco which is both busy and, with the constant presence of some enthusiastic singers, pretty noisy! Other than the surrounding displays of pieces of rocket and moon, this part of the night has very little to do with science. It is instead an opportunity to live out a popular childhood fantasy of running around a museum at night. The absence of children allows groups of adults, wine in hand, to become children again when confronted with a room full of aircrafts.

As one such wined adult told me: ‘You work in the week and at the weekend you’re either hung over or shopping’. The Science Museum Lates provide an opportunity to enjoy what the museum has to offer whilst avoiding the weekend crowds. There are the usual displays to be browsed with the addition of special exhibitions, both scientific and otherwise, based on a specific theme. This month’s theme was surgery – hence the dissection of the pig. Surgeons (including Imperial’s own Professor Kneebone) performed surgical procedures, contrasting those from today with those from the 1980s; visitors had a chance to test their own surgical skills; and there was the strange sight of Dr. Michael Mosley swallowing a camera.

So it seems there are two main appeals of the night. The first is the science, with displays enhanced by the adult-only policy and unique demonstrations from scientists. The second is the night life with dance floors, bars and even a (science based) pub quiz.

However, these two aspects don’t seem to blend and I found that the contrast between disco and dissection was a little abrupt. But there was one corner of the museum that seamlessly combined the two. Lotto lab, an interactive lab within the Science Museum by day, struck a successful balance. With a DJ, a speaker wall that visitors could control under the influence of their science-themed cocktails, and interactive experiments all around, it did well to communicate its scientific messages without boring an audience on a mission to enjoy themselves. It also did justice to the dating hopes of the crowd.

Buying a cocktail involved taking part in a social experiment where women rated the attractiveness of men. Whilst a tad morally ambiguous (objectification is never fully acceptable but we’ll let that slide in the name of science) from what I observed the experiment fuelled flirtatious behaviour as men were asked to impress and women to judge their success in doing so. There were communicators on hand to explain experiments and give demonstrations of optical illusions and this interactive mode of communicating the science adhered much more to the vibe of a night-time adult event than many of the other exhibits.

That said the whole museum was busy and the night seemed to be an all round success. I would recommend the experience to anyone fascinated by science, especially all those who enjoy flirting over intestines.

Georgia Bladon is studying for a Masters in Science Communication at Imperial College London. If you are interested in checking out the next science museum lates the next event is on the 28th of March from 18:45 and entry is free.

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