Alan Turing commemorated by Science Museum

Alan Turing, the scientist credited with a string of computing firsts, including the invention of the Bombe machines which broke German Enigma codes in WWII, is to be celebrated in a new Science Museum exhibition designed by Nissen Richards.

Alan Turing 29 March 1951 (NPL Archive Science Museum)
Alan Turing 29 March 1951 (NPL Archive Science Museum)

Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy will tell his story through the machines he invented and the blueprint he left for computer science.

Nissen Richards won a tender for the exhibition’s 3D design in Febuary and has sought to tell Turing’s story across five zones ‘delineated by graphics and lighting, rather then thresholds,’ according to Nissen Richards designer Joel Cassy.

The zones will examine both ‘Turing’s personality and the objects he worked with’ says Cassy, who is working with consultancy founder Pippa Nissen on the ‘post-concept stage of the project.’

Large-scale graphics will show the human nature of his work – ‘He wasn’t a lonely maths nerd; he wrokled in big teams and archive graphics of Bletchley Park will show this,’ says Cassy.

Lighting will bring out ‘the jewel-like quality of the machines’ across the five zones, ending with ‘a circular and fairly dark infinity space’ which explores the circumstances around Turing’s death and his late work.

The Pilot Ace, made in 1950, demonstrated the beginnings of Turing’s ideas for a universal programmable computer. It will be featured in the exhibition, alongside a working replica of the machine.

German military Enigma machines will be on show, and some remaining parts of the Bombe machines which Turing invented to decipher their encryptions.

Four rotor Enigma cypher machine credit (Science Society Picture Library)
Four rotor Enigma cypher machine credit (Science Society Picture Library)

Turing was recently commemorated in a Purpose-designed Britons of Distinction Royal Mail stamp series, which featured a photograph of a Bombe Machine replica, as displayed in Bletchley Park.

Pilot ACE (Science Society picture library)
Pilot ACE (Science Society picture library)

The Bombes allowed allied intelligence to intercept German messages during WWII and locate German U-Boat submarines. Over 200 of the machines were built, each weighing a ton, operating from UK sites including Bletchley Park.

The exhibition also interrogates Turning’s work on artificial intelligence and morphogenesis – mathematical biology – which he was working on at the time of his death in 1954, at the age of 41.

This followed his arrest and conviction in 1952 for gross indecency – when homosexuality was illegal in the UK. Turing chose a course of female hormone treatment (chemical castration) over a prison sentence.

Pilot Ace (Science Society picture library)
Pilot Ace (Science Society picture library)

He was found dead at his home and an inquest ruled death by suicide from cyanide poisoning.  A half-eaten apple was found near his body, and speculation has suggested this is how the dose was delivered.

Code Breaker Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy runs from 21 June 2012 – June 2013 at The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7

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  • Michael Marks November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s about time Alan Turing was appreciated in this way. A man born before his time in both his intellect and his personal choices. It’s a deep pity that he didn’t live to see the culmination of one and the toleration of the other.

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