If you’re bringing your family down to the museum this weekend, you’ll soon discover that not all superheroes wear capes. Our fabulous Explainers are out to prove that inventors have superpowers too. From demonstrations of our working machinery to helping you make your own microscope, they’ll introduce some characters that changed the world without x-ray vision or a Batmobile.
Collectable game cards, that you can pick up from our shows and workshops, will give our younger visitors the chance to battle each other and see who wins. To get you clued up on these amazing people, here’s a quick fact-filled run-down of our Super Inventors…
James Watt (1736 – 1819)
Watt started out as an instrument maker at University of Glasgow but soon became interested in the power of steam. Improving on Thomas Newcommon’s work, he created the Watt Steam Engine in 1781.
His engine was one of the most important innovations of the Industrial Revolution, producing enough power to run large, mass-production factories. He also invented a method for copying papers that was used right up until the 20th Century, and developed the concept of horsepower. However, his name is best known for something he didn’t invent… measuring how bright a lightbulb is!
Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)
Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of the romantic poet Lord Byron, was a respected mathematician long before women’s equality, and a programmer long before computers were invented. In her teens, she became friends with fellow mathematician Charles Babbage who asked her to work on developing his Analytical Engine, an early mechanical computer. She was the first to realise the machine’s capabilities beyond just doing calculations and she wrote the first published algorithm for it.
Tragically, she died aged just 36. Ada may have been described as “the most coarse and vulgar woman in England” but her vision of machines that could do much more than calculation is our reality.
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov
Geim and Novoselov are most famous for graphene, the ‘wonder material’ that has super powers of its own. Despite being only one atom thick, it’s 200 times stronger than steel! It’s also super stretchy, conducts electricity better than anything else and is completely water resistant. Graphene could mean we have everything from bendy, ultra-thin, mobile phones to lightweight, fuel-efficient aeroplanes in the future. And how did Geim and Novoselov find this amazing, world-changing discovery? They actually used a roll of Sellotape and some graphite (the same stuff in your pencil lead!)
Why not visit our Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond exhibition to find out how?
Sebastian Ferranti (1864 – 1930)
Sebastian Ferranti was interested in electricity from when he was very young. At age 13, he invented a form of arc streetlighting and at 16 he built an electrical generator later known as the Ferranti Dynamo. Later, he designed the first modern power station in Deptford, London. One of the supports from it is used for our big sign outside the museum! You can also see one of his steam powered generators in our Power Hall.
Ferranti set up several factories around Manchester that were converted to make munitions during World War I. Although Ferranti himself died in 1930, his company continued to make important innovations and even produced the first commercially available general-use electronic computer – the Ferranti Mark 1 – in 1951.
Edmund Cartwright (1743 – 1823)
Before Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, all cloth weaving had to be done by hand. Although his invention wasn’t a huge success at first, it did kick-start the industrialisation of textiles. Rather than having a single, hand-powered loom, you could now have lots of machines being run from a waterwheel and later, steam engines.
Around Manchester, this led to people working in factories rather than at home. The original hand-weavers often destroyed or protested the new machines and a factory in Gorton, that was going to use Cartwright’s machines, was burnt to the ground before it even opened! Despite this, the new cotton industry became one of the driving forces in the Industrial Revolution, a revolution that changed the world and how we live today.