- Museum of the History of Science - http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk -

The Stories

Armillary Sphere

by Hina, Tahirah, Ismail, Yahye

I know why you are looking at me. After all I am the most important instrument in the gallery. That’s why they have put me in the centre. The rings you can see represent the great circles of the stars in the heavens. The Latin word for ring is armillary which is how I got my name. Without armillary spheres many mechanical devices would not have been developed. I am used in Astronomy. Do you know what that means? Let me explain, astronomy is the study of the stars and planets. I am an astronomical instrument and model. I can show you what time the sun is going to rise and set. I was developed by the Ancient Greeks, and used for teaching.
But why I am more important than all the other armillary spheres in this gallery?
I belonged to Henry Percy, also known as the Wizard Earl. He was a friend of Queen Elizabeth I and interested in science. Nobody knows who made me but I was made of brass in Italy in 1580. Can you see the three lions holding me up? They are also made of brass and they show I was meant to be not just any old armillary sphere. But remember I am not just a marvellous piece of furniture, I am a model of the universe. You can also see an armillary sphere just like me on the Portuguese flag.

The Difference Engine

By Alexsandra and Hasan

Excuse me! Excuse me! Don’t just walk past. We might not look like much but we are very important. We are the pieces from the first automatic calculating machine.

We were made by Charles Babbage. He was born in London in 1791. He was a mathematician and inspired by how a calculating machine could work. He wanted to make us into a calculating machine, but unfortunately he didn’t finish his work. It was sad, because we were not finished but we are still very important in the history of science. Even though we were not finished we’re still proud that people worked on us for 20 years!

We are made of brass and steel. Some of us are round and some of us are straight, but we all fit together somehow and we would make a good calculator if someone could fit us together!

Short’s Reflecting Telescope

By Kyrone, Ruby, Abida, Sophie

Hello! Hello! Yes, I am talking to you. It’s a bit boring down here in the basement. It would be nice if I was used every once in a while. I was a very successful instrument and I was widely used because of my good performance for over a century! What was I used for? I am 269 years old and about 12 feet long, made of pine planks with brass fittings.

I am a Gregorian reflecting telescope. James Gregory was a Scottish Mathematician and Astronomer and invented the reflecting telescope. I get my name from the mirrors inside me, I use mirrors inside my long tube to help you see things far away. Don’t get me mixed up with the refractor telescope, they use lenses and they are not as good. If you want to take a look at the moon, planets or stars, I am your best choice.
I was made by James Short. The great James Short made two other ones just like me and I was the only one to survive. And here I am in the basement! I cost about 800 guineas (a guinea is about £1.05 in your money, can you work out how much I would cost today?) and I was made for the Duke of Marlborough.

Curta Calculator

By Tahira, Murtaza, Buket

Excuse me, Yes, right here, I am the Curta Calculator but not any old calculator. I am the last mechanical calculator. I was made by Curt Herztark. He was a famous Austrian manufacturer of mechanical calculators.
We were really useful when we were made, but now people just keep us as something to look at.
I think I am just as important as the electronic calculators. I would love people to use me again. 85,000 calculators like me were made right up to 1972. I am very portable and I can add, subtract, multiply and divide.
But now I just sit here.


By Halima, Lubna

Hello there. Just because I am on the bottom shelf I am not boring, don’t walk away. I am actually a very important globe. I am not a globe of the earth but I am a globe of the moon and there are only ten of me in the whole world. When I was made not many people bought me and I felt very sad.
I am really special because people and scientists sometimes used me to look at the moon instead of looking through a telescope. I am made of papier mache on a brass stand. I am named after Selene who is the goddess of the moon.
I was made by John Russell, he was a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and a painter to King George III. He was fascinated by the moon. Look on the staircase and you will see one of his drawings of the moon.


By Aneesah, Samiur, Amisha

I am the most important Astrolabe in the museum because I used to belong to Queen Elizabeth I.
I was a key astronomical instrument during the Middle Ages and I can be used to tell the time, measure the heights of buildings and stars and for many other calculations and observations.

The real details of how I was invented in Ancient Greece have been lost but they know who designed and made me. Thomas Gemini! Of course that was not his real name he changed it because it sounded more astronomical. Astrolabes like me became more popular after the invention of the printing press. This meant that the instructions for using us could be easily distributed and everyone, not just Kings and Queens, could appreciate us. Astrolabes were very popular at court, that’s why Elizabeth had one, because we could be used for astrology and we could be used to calculate your horoscope.

We Astrolabes may be the most interesting symbol of shared knowledge between the Muslim, Jewish and Christian world in Medieval times.

By the way, sometimes people call us the Medieval Blackberry, because we have so many apps!

Silver Microscope

Shannon, Latifah

I am a microscope, but not any old microscope. Don’t just walk past me. I belonged to King George III.
I am both a compound and a simple microscope. A simple microscope has one lens a compound microscope has more than one lens. Can you see how many I have?

I am made of silver and steel but I am not here just to look pretty. No-one realises how important we microscopes are. No-one realises how much we help in medicine. George Adams made me in 1763, but it was Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek who made the first microscope and discovered a microscopic world.
I didn’t just sit on a shelf when George III owned me, I wish I could be taken out and used

Wimshurst Induction Machine

By Ellie, Miron, Yasmina

I am the first machine to store electricity!

My proper name is an Electrostatic generator. What does that mean? Well let me explain.
If you turn my handle it rotates two glass discs carrying metal strips in opposite directions.
This makes an electric charge. The charge is collected in the capacitors (they look like glass bottles) which stores the electricity. I can be used to power other machines. I was invented by James Wimshurst between 1880 and 1883.
I was owned by a nice man called E.G. Spencer-Churchill. He hooked me up to an x-ray machine and used me to help take x rays of his friends. But then my job became more serious, my owner took me to the Boer war in South Africa and I was used to take x-rays. For a time I was the only apparatus of my kind available in South Africa.

Curta Calculator

By Saleban, Adeel, Ieseha and Umayrah

Why am I obsolete? Why me? I can add, take away, multiply and divide. A great big adding machine can’t fit in your pocket but I can!

Let me explain how I work. You set my dials and turn the handle on the top and I display your answer quicker than a pencil and paper or twenty top brains.

I got my inventor Curt Herzstark out of trouble. During World War II, my inventor was sent to a concentration camp. While he was there, the Nazis thought he could design a good present for their leader, Hitler. The present was me. After the war my inventor had a factory and they made more of me.

Did you know I was the last mechanical calculator?

Lawrence of Arabia’s Camera

By Jasmin, Sanna and Rakib

I travelled the world! But wouldn’t any other camera do the same? I’m not that special but I’ll be remembered because of my owner, T.E. Lawrence or as you might know him ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
Unfortunately my owner died in a terrible motorcycle crash. He was an explorer and adventurer and archaeologist. I have eleven different parts and I take wonderful photographs.

I was born or should I say manufactured in 1910. Did you ask where? In London.

Who made me? J.H. Dallymeyer.

You are bursting with questions, but I’ll answer just one more as I’m getting tired. I am made of leather, velvet, wood, baize and glass.

Roman Sundial

By Dominic, Azeem, Rabiah

Out of all the objects in the Museum I was the first to be made. I am so old that I can’t remember where I was made but I can remember where I was found, somewhere near Bratislava. I was buried deep under the floor and people walked over me. One day a person was digging very deep and then they found me but they didn’t know what I am.
I am a Roman Sundial. I tell people what time it is. I am made of bronze. The patterns on me tell people what time it is.

French Revolutionary Clock

Lucas, Jessica and Halimah

I come from France. What am I? What do I do? I was made during the French Revolution for poor people who were fed up with the rich. My inventor was close to the royal family so he was sent to prison and nearly died.
My top part is an armillary sphere which helps people to understand the stars. On the bottom I am a clock. Do you notice anything unusual about my clock? It’s only got 10 hours because they changed everything to metric even the time.

I am made out of brass. When the clock hands move the sphere moves. I do feel sorry for the rich people because they had their heads chopped off by the poor.

I hope you enjoyed my extraordinary story.

The Bhugola

by Abdullah, Riyad and Joana

I am extremely rare. Why? Well I am probably the only Bhugola to have survived. You are probably wondering what a Bhugola is? Well let me explain. I come from India. I was made by a famous craftsman called Ksema Kama in the year 1571 when Elizabeth I was your Queen. Most people think I am made of gold but I am made of brass. Brass is a very good metal for making scientific instruments and models. I am special because I have two functions. I am a box for storing food and I am also a globe.

A globe I hear you say? I might not look like a globe to you but I am a terrestrial globe. I suppose you could call me an Earth Ball. That means I am a 3d model of the world. But I represent the world in Hindu mythology and that is why I am shaped like an egg and not a perfect sphere. If you look closely you will see the Hindu gods Brhama and Shiva, the ocean of milk, beautiful lands covered with animals and people. In Hindu mythology the earth stands on the backs of 4 elephants, but sadly I have only three.


By Klaudia and Milo

I don’t know why you bother looking at the other things in the museum, if it wasn’t for me and my inventor you people wouldn’t have T.V. radios, mobile phones and the internet.

So let me tell you my fascinating story. My inventor Mr Marconi spent a long time trying to work out how to send messages without wires. Finally in 1901 he was done.

He used me to receive the first signal to be sent without a wire across the Atlantic Ocean. He was so nervous he couldn’t hear anything and passed me to his assistant Mr Kemp, saying, ‘Can you hear anything Mr Kemp?’ Mr Kemp waited for a bit and heard the three dots of morse code.

Mr Marconi died and eventually I ended up on this shelf at MHS, but I am happy because I am looked after very well.


By Lojain, Cassien, Humna

Why is everyone looking at her? Just because she belonged to Queen Elizabeth I doesn’t make her better than me, I am far more special.

I am not just any old Astrolabe, I am an Islamic Astrolabe. Do you know what that is? An Islamic Astrolabe doesn’t just tell the time, measure the height of the stars and buildings, but I also show the phases of the moon.
I am made out of beautiful brass with silver ornaments. I was made in 1221AD in Isfahan in Persia, (now Iran). I was owned by a poor man named Hassan Shah, his name is carved onto me. I am 275 mm tall and 185 mm wide.
I was presented to the Museum of the History of Science by Lewis Evans a great collector. But now I just sit here and you cannot even see the gears inside me.

Fictional Pieces

The Quick Pic

Inspired by: The Camera Obscura

by Georgia and Ishtyak

I’m the last of my kind. And the last person who used me to take a picture turned into dust!
I am special, because I was made by the famous Christophoro da vinci. Let me tell you my story. Three hundred and fifty years ago in Italy I was made to take pictures. However I was stolen by an evil princess. She bundled me into a stuffy package and sent me to Spain. What did she think I was some old stray dog? When I got to Spain I found myself in a beautiful white palace. I didn’t mind the mishandling, but then they threw me in a dusty cellar.
One morning I was taken out and there was the evil princess! She put her horrible head inside my bag to take her picture and I turned her into dust. You might think that was harsh but she was very mean. It did make people rather scared to use me so now I live in a comfy museum.

The Koura

Inspired by: the Spherical Astrolabe

By Khadija and Asia

Three thousand years ago, a new type of globe was made to communicate with the stars and moon. It was made by Podeseuo Ammedeus who was both an astronomer and a sorcerer.

The object could transport you between one place and another. It was made out of silver, gold and bronze. The globe belonged to an astronomer named Halima. She lived at the top of a tall tower. There was nothing to do but look at the stars. Halima was a famous lady because she owned this globe. Halima attempted to use the globe to communicate with the stars. She did this by twisting it once and asking the stars to move her from place to place. As she did this, the globe flashed and Halima magically found herself outside the tower. The Vikings heard about the object and the globe’s power and they decided to steal it. But Halima had realised the power of the object and wanted it to stay in her family. When she died it was given to her children and then passed through the generations.

The Turner

Inspired by: The Receiver

By Mumin and Awais

The Turner is a metal object that works like a screwdriver. It has a useful hook. The tape on the sides makes it safe and easy to handle. The circular plate is placed on a screw and turned. The Turner was invented by John Fernando who lived in Italy in the year 1811. He made it for the King who had a problem with his hands. The King loved making things but he could not use an ordinary screwdriver. The King was so pleased that he made Fernando a very wealthy man.

When Fernando died at the age of eighty, the King paid his respects by putting a Turner in Fernando’s coffin.
Can you find the Turner in this cabinet?

Buddy Vase

Inspired by: One of the Drug Jars.

By Joel and Kelly

The Buddy vase was found in Ancient Greece by Joel and Kelly. They brought this magnificent vase back to England and gave it to the Museum of the History of Science to find out more about it. They found out that it was made nine centuries ago for the youngest daughter of a Greek King and her name was Amilia.

The vase was made of fine porcelain and painted with the picture of a dog, which looks like a fluffy bunny. They used fine shades of blue to emphasise the beautiful patterns. The vase is unique and worth £3,000.

The Museum thinks it was made by Zeus Ammedaeus, a famous pottery maker of the time. He chose rabbits and dogs because the King’s daughter liked these animals.

Can you find the Vase on these shelves?

What was the Vase really made for?

Cup of Nature

Inspired by: the Rhinoceros Horn Cup

By Paulo and Patryk

A thousand years ago, the cup of nature was made in Brazil. Every year the Brazilians have a festival of nature and the cup of nature represents this. There is only one cup of nature in the world at one time. It is made from the oldest tree in the world.

Inexplicably people try to copy the cup, but this is impossible. If something evil touches the cup it will burn to ashes. However if someone feels bad and fills the cup with water and drinks from the cup they will never feel bad again. The Brazilians believe that the cup of nature represents hope.

Can you find the cup in this cabinet?

What is it really used for?

Star Gazer

Inspired by: the Polyhedral Sundial

By Zoe and Hafiza

The Star Gazer was made four hundred and fifty years ago by John Joiner. He was thirty-eight years old when he invented this magnificent instrument. Its function was to guide lost sailing ships by using the stars.

An evil Pirate called Captain Roger heard about the Star Gazer and was very impressed. He stole the instrument during a sea battle, but it was useless because he did not know how to make it work.

The Star Gazer is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds because only one was ever made. That is why it is kept here in the Museum of the History of Science and people come from far away to see it.

Time Traveller Machine – The O’Brien

Inspired by: The Curta Calculator

By Aminah and Bilal

This machine is extremely rare. The owner of this extraordinary machine was an explorer. His name was Bilal, and he was not an ordinary explorer because he travelled in time.

The machine is called the O’Brien after its inventor Doctor O’Brien. He invented it in the year 1710. Its function is to make you travel in time, all over the world, including space. Why don’t people still use it to travel in time?
People think it’s just a rusty old machine and can’t travel in time anymore so they put it in the Museum of the History of Science

The Lucia

Inspired by: The Difference Engine

By Beri and Lujayna

Five hundred years ago in the beautiful city of Venice there lived a vain princess. Her name was Lucia and she was thought to be the most beautiful woman who had ever lived. As she was very vain, she spent a fortune on her appearance. As time passed, Lucia’s Mother grew old. Lucia hated what she saw as her Mother stopped looking so fine. Lucia’s mouth dropped open in horror when her Mother told her she too would grow old. She ordered the best Italian inventor to make something that would stop her ageing.

The inventor Christopher Leonardo, thought that as a clock represents the passing of time, so he could make a clock that would stop time for Lucia and she would never get old. A month went by and he finished the clock. He named it after the princess herself.

Time passed and the ones Lucia loved started to pass away but she stayed exactly the same. She realised that staying young was not as good as she thought. She made up her mind to break the precious clock, which is why it no longer moves and she married a filthy peasant who did not care about his looks but was the kindest man she had ever met. And they lived happily ever after.

The Curton Canon

Inspired by: The Curta Calculator

By Usama and Mohammed

Made in 1915 during World War I, the Curta Canon was made to destroy ships. Doctor Seige invented the Canon for the Germans in Berlin.

The buttons on the outside decide the distance. The turner on the top decides how many balls are fired. If you turn it twice, two balls are fired. The inside is made of gold.

Most of the Curton canons were destroyed in the war and there is only one left here in the Museum.

The Cosmitiznog

Inspired by: Astrolabe owned by Elizabeth I

By Djinn

Chapter 1

Made in 35OAD the Cosmitiznog was invented by Marcus Mualin. He was a Christian sailor and he needed an object to get him to land.

One day his Cosmitiznog broke and he had to make another one so Marcus travelled to Rome. When Marcus arrived the city guards took him to see the mighty Emperor Nero. The mighty Emperor had a habit of covering Christians in tar and setting fire to them.

Nero’s soldiers however spotted the map of metal in Marcus’s satchel and took the object. The object was taken to Nero who commanded Marcus to repair it. So knowing he could make repairs, Marcus got to work. Day and night without stop he worked to make the repairs. At last it was done, he was just about to leave the workshop when he heard a voice command, ‘get him!’ and everything went dark ………

The Clockpus

Inspired by: The Roman Sundial

By Raqiya and Sonia

I was found a thousand years ago on a beach in South Africa. Who found me? Well a strong Viking called Olaf the mighty. He was a famous explorer. Why am I called the Clockpus? I am called the Clockpus because I am half clock and half compass. The Vikings used me to travel the world.

I am an amazing instrument because I am the first and the last of my kind. Unfortunately people have forgotten about me because watches and other kinds of compasses were invented.