Leonardo da Vinci @Sciencemuseum uncovers a mechanical genius with a childs-eye

A visit to the Science Museum is an investment. A trip that you need an entire day for. Unless you live in West London it’s a journey that you need to psyche yourself up for, even before the onset of the crowds and the sizeable walking distances around each gallery.

So, like us, if you’ve favoured more bite-size encounters with the museum, such as the now de-funked Launch Pad or the interactive kids gallery in the Basement, Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius is a new and surprisingly manageable exhibition which is making it even more worth the trawl.

Despite being more widely celebrated for his paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci created a remarkable body of intricate mechanical drawings that drew on his observations of the natural world and radically sought to solve problems of the day – from flight to manufacturing and even war. It was this unique style of drawing alongside his imaginative approach to engineering which really set him apart from other inventors of his time and endears any visitor – young or old, to his work.

Da Vinci saw drawing as fundamental to understanding the world, and like a child, when he drew it was without compromise. He prioritised truth over beauty, which resulted in imperfect and animated sketches, which now convert brilliantly into the many games, models and multimedia installations around the exhibition. Family highlights of the exhibition include:

Sandtimer quizzes – Quizzing the visitor on the many concepts that fascinated da Vinci, use the magnets to post your answers before the sands run out. Only the correct answers remain stuck-fast.

Gears, Pulleys and Camshafts – Great even for the very young who might tag along, this interactive station gives you a chance to discover how a simple change to the mechanics of a structure, can bring about dramatic changes in how it might operate.

Models – Flying machines, weavings looms and even early leather diving suits provide endless fascination throughout, but ‘Beating Wings’ takes some beating (if you pardon the pun). Hit the button to stop the footage of a bird in flight. Then turn the crank on the neighbouring model to replicate its position on the wind. Yup, that was Leonardo’s challenge when scoping out his flying machine. So much harder than it looks.

Also lovely is the word cloud image of da Vinci accumulated from adjectives that visitors have selected to describe him. Although this would have been better suited towards the end of the exhibition once you have digested everything on offer, it’s still good fun to participate.

The majority of the exhibition is perfectly pitched for the recommended age of 5+, with school-age children more likely to appreciate da Vinci’s efforts outside of the ‘knobs and levers’. The relationship between science and nature and the intricacies of the drawings (turned models and animations) take some explanation, but with no admission fees for under 7’s, I’d be more inclined to suggest nothing ventured, nothing gained. A view that this experimental genius would have been sure to agree with.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius is at the Science Museum until 4th September 2016. Admission Adults £10, Children 7-16 £8, Under 7s free. See website for opening times and directions.

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