The explorers of outer space - beyond the ionosphere - are the astronomers. With intellect and imagination they have reached out millions of miles and brought down the knowledge on which our understanding of the universe is based.
('South Bank Exhibition' guide book)
Alongside details of travels and discoveries on Earth, the Dome of Discovery turned visitors' eyes to the skies. Quite literally so, since visitors were able to use a 74-in telescope to view radio signals which had been sent from an aerial on top of the Shot Tower and reflected back to earth by the moon. The South Bank guide book explained that during the Exhibition the telescope would be contributing to contemporary research and that it would be used for scientific purposes after the Exhibition closed. The telescope was a key exhibit in a display which promoted the importance of astronomical exploration in increasing human understanding of the functioning of the universe. This display encompassed time, the planets, the stars (with a planetarium reached by an 'Escalator to Outer Space') and explorations of space - by telescope only of course.
Outer space, as well as being a very serious scientific business, was
also the inspiration for more creative imaginings. Science Fiction publications
had already started presenting exciting tales of the inter-galactic exploits
of space-age heroes like Captain Dan Dare before the first visitor peered
through the Dome of Discovery's telescope. Outer space had become a popular
and enduring enthusiasm.
[of the Exhibition of Industrial Power in Glasgow] In the last hall of the exhibition, the hall of the Future, the achievement of Watt, Trevithick, Faraday, Parsons and Rutherford will be fitting background for the power of the tomorrow - Atomic Energy.
('Festival of Britain' guide book)
Nuclear fission, the splitting of the atom, was first achieved in the
1930s. Experiments continued in the 1940s and the extent of the power
that could be generated as a result of nuclear fission was demonstrated
with devastating effect in 1945. In the year in which two of the scientists
involved were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discovery,
the Festival of Britain presented a very positive view of the potential
of atomic energy. The Exhibition of Industrial Power at Kelvin Hall in
Glasgow presented atomic energy as the energy of the future - a very immediate
future, with Britain's first nuclear power station opening at Calder Hall
in 1956. Meanwhile in London the Exhibition of Science at South Kensington
explored the physical and chemical nature of matter and the possibilities
offered by the understanding of atomic structures and behaviour and welcomed
the consequent capabilities to create entirely new substances and materials.
From this information it is possible to build quite new substances with specially desired properties, such as drugs and plastics.
('Festival of Britain' guide book)
The enthusiasm for all things atomic and scientific provided inspiration in contemporary design. A Festival Pattern Group designed patterns based on the crystal structure of various substances, including insulin, quartz and polythene. And the molecular model itself, with its bobbles connecting sticks in order to represent an atomic structure, became an aesthetic of 1950s design. It has even been suggested that Ernest Race's 'Antelope' chairs, widely used within the South Bank Exhibition, were reminiscent of a molecular model with their spindly legs bearing rubber shields on their ends - although the practical matter of protecting the ground surface from the very thin chair legs was no doubt also a factor.
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