The Science Of Spying At The Science Museum, London

By Melina Greenfield | 07 February 2007
A child plays with an interactive screen

The Science of Spying. Courtesy The Science Museum

Melina Greenfield goes undercover in South Kensington to get the inside story on a new spying exhibition, running until September 2 2007.

The Science of Spying, which opens on February 10 2007 at the Science Museum is a family-friendly exhibition designed to get kids of all ages to explore and use their imagination.

The name of the exhibition might well give a clue about its nature, but there is a lot more to this show than meets the (spying) eye. The serious message, before we get on to the fun stuff, has to be awareness about the environment that we now live in. This is not just about James Bond.

With identity fraud peaking and big brother recording our every move, this exhibition is a peep into what goes on in the world of espionage. It also offers an insight into how the digital revolution has made a massive impact on our society - making our own privacy seem somewhat questionable.

A baby doll with a camera in her left eye

The Science of Spying. Courtesy The Science Museum

Some rather well informed experts worked alongside the exhibition designers. Harry Ferguson, an ex-MI6 agent, advised on the show and he believes being a good spy combines physical skills as well as the ability to use modern technology.

Now for the exciting stuff: the interactive exhibition starts with the message that spies are cool. In this case they are. You are handed your own Spymaker agent card that you must carry with you at all times - you are now in a world of secrets, hacking, information gathering and outwitting your fellow spies in order to survive to the bitter end. At one point I had to remind myself I wasn’t inside a video game.

You are also given a challenge to undertake. Visitors are welcomed to the Spymaker team and 'the toughest spy training programme'. Can you beat the challenges ahead? Are you cunning and resourceful? Do you have what it takes to become a spy? I wasn’t sure but I was about to find out.

A boy scans his face with a biometric scanner

The Science of Spying. Courtesy The Science Museum

The first part of the training has me cracking codes, opening doors with keys and puzzling out scenarios where I have to decide what I would do to escape sticky situations. There is also a two-way lie detector test where you have to guess whether your fellow spy is deceiving you.

Looming over proceedings is a shadowy organisation called Osteck that you have to try to infiltrate, and to do this you can create a fake identification. Firstly, in Spyworld, you can put your face into a flashing sphere while a biometric scanner calculates your dimensions. Further on I have a brain scan that concludes I have some memory, and am therefore a threat to other spies (some memory? I love technology).

In Spyworld, trainee spies need to escape counter surveillance and detection, and once passed through the body scanner they need to undergo a series of challenges where they will undercover hidden clues and messages.

A super powered leg inside a display case

The Science of Spying. Courtesy The Science Museum

The spies go on a journey; using real spy technology they enter rooms and virtual dimensions, and when the spies’ mission is almost complete they reach a futuristic stash of gadgets in the Spy Future Lab to help them keep their fingers on the button of evolving espionage.

You may want to invest in a ‘super-powered leg’ or buy a can of ‘blur’ - an anti-photographic spray that contains nanoparticles to blind cameras and white out the face of the camera-shy.

For those who want to keep their cool, there is a watch that monitors heart rate and injects a dose of beta-blocker to calm the anxious spy. And if you thought sweets were just for sucking, there are handy tips on how to create false fingerprints with gelatine.

Children sitting on large coloured illuminated plastic seats

The Science of Spying. Courtesy The Science Museum

To complete the mission there is a final piece to the puzzle. Once that's found, the only way out is to baffle the CCTV cameras and plan a route of escape.

Now listen very carefully, I shall say this only once…The Science of Spying is cracking fun for all the family, children and adults alike will be seduced into this covert world where only those who possess the necessary skills and intelligence can survive.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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