The Manchester Museum explores extraordinary work of Enigma cracker Alan Turing

Ruth Hazard | 23 March 2012
A black and white photograph of Alan Turing
Alan Turing's life is explored in a major new show in Manchester© 1951 National Portrait Gallery London
Exhibition: Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma, The Manchester Museum, Manchester, March 24 - November 18 2012

Alan Turing may be most famous for cracking the Nazi's Enigma code during the Second World War, but in this centenary year of his birth an exhibition at The Manchester Museum has chosen to explore his lesser-known, final work.

During the early 1950s, Turing started an exploration into morphogenesis, the study of how living things develop their shape and structure from simple balls of cells.

He worked at the University of Manchester, where the world’s first working electronic stored-program computer, the "Baby", had just been built.

A photograph of a slide showing a collection of different shaped objects in a petri dish
Turing's Radiolaria Slide© The University of Manchester
From 1951-54, Turing used the more advanced Ferranti Mark I computer to explore morphogenesis.

In an article published in 1952 he suggested that everything, from the spots and stripes on animal furs to the arrangement of pinecones and flowers, could be explained by the interactions between two chemicals.

The exhibition combines Turing’s own notes with objects from the museum collection to focus on this important body of work that continues to generate debate among scientists today.

While Turing’s brilliance was recognised by his contemporaries, he encountered difficulties as a gay man at a time when same-sex relationships between men were illegal in Britain.

In 1952, Turing and another man were convicted of gross indecency. As part of his sentence, Turing had to undertake a year-long "treatment" of female sex hormones.

A year after these ended, Turing was found dead at his home in Wilmslow. He had been poisoned by cyanide, apparently taken on an apple.

A black and white slide of cells
© The University of Manchester
Manchester is a particularly fitting home for this display. Turing completed his groundbreaking final work in the city and his achievements continue to be celebrated by the people living there today.

Earlier this year Manchester Withington’s MP, John Leech, submitted an Early Day Motion urging people to sign an online petition lodged by William Jones protesting Turing’s conviction and asking for a posthumous pardon.

"Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma is an intriguing and surprising look at Turing’s work, an important part of the celebrations which are taking place nationally to mark his centenary”, says the museum’s Director, Nick Merriman.

“Turing produced a body of controversial work right here on Oxford Road, literally next door to where the exhibition takes place and we are proud to be honoring him with this exciting exhibition.”

  • Open 10am-5pm (11am-4pm Sunday and Monday). Admission free.
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