I wander into St Albans museum and head downstairs to the science exhibition in the Weston Gallery. It explores the role that St Albans has played in the lives and work of scientists throughout history. Although science was never my favourite subject at school, I’m open to learning something new and exercising my brain after all of the indulgences of the Christmas season.

The first exhibit is of Francis Bacon’s book, I then realise that this exhibition, Novum Organum Scientiarum, is named after the book, which was written in Latin: “Many will travel and knowledge will be increased.” It was published in the 17th Century and affirmed Bacon’s place as the father of empiricism and experimental philosophy.

Novum Organum was his response to the fact that methods of exploring the natural world had remained unchanged for nearly 2,000 years. Firstly, Bacon proposed how mistaken thinking can make it impossible to find the truth and secondly, he set out a new system of logic showing how observations and new experimental methods lead to establishing general theories.

We then learn a little about Bacon’s life, that he was educated on the outskirts of St Albans, went on to study law at Cambridge and then became a politician and MP. Although Bacon may not have made any specific scientific discoveries, he provided a framework for others in the field of the philosophy of science.

The exhibition also explores a number of other scientific pioneers. Exhibitions like these can potentially spark a child’s lifelong interest in science and inspire them to gain a deeper understanding of the real world. With the dawning of artificial intelligence (AI) there has never been such an exciting time to boost a child’s interest in STEM subjects, and as we’re all aware many jobs in the future will be AI-related.

I enjoy looking up periodically at inspirational quotes. I think my favourite is Hawking’s “intelligence is the ability to adapt and change”, echoing Einstein’s belief that it is precisely this human ability that will secure our survival.

Hawking’s work on cosmology has shone a light on the nature of gravity, the origins of the universe and given us a deeper understanding on black holes. I am interested to discover that Hawking moved with his family from London to St Albans and apparently regarded it as a somewhat “conservative place compared with Highgate”, claiming: “In Highgate our family seemed normal but in St Albans I think we were definitely regarded as eccentric.”

Other scientists celebrated here include Thomas Mercer, the most important English chronometer manufacturer, and Eleanor Ormerod, a female pioneer in the field of entomology. Compiling huge collections, organising and interpreting detailed observations allowed her to give practical advice to farmers and agriculturalists on how to mitigate insect damage to crops and animals.

I take a look at some intriguing large black and white photos. In the 1800s, observing natural history became a popular hobby and many amateur scientists held vast private collections of specimens from insects to plants. I like the one of the Natural History Museum, its central hall showing a huge blue whale skeleton back in 1881. Memories of meandering around the infinite worlds within the museum as a school child come back to me. Other photos include Kew, our national botanical garden and Temperate House, another fascinating space, built in the mid 1800s and filled with thousands of diverse species.

Then there is Gugliemo Marconi, who founded the international telecommunications and engineering company with headquarters in St Albans, and Lawes and Gilbert, who established Rothamsted, the oldest and world-leading centre of agricultural research based in Harpenden and boasting the longest-running agricultural scientific experimentation in the world.

Perhaps the most fascinating exhibit is this perfect replica of the Wallingford Clock which takes up a significant amount of floor space in the middle of the room. Designed by Richard Wallingford, Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of St Albans Abbey in the 1300s this astronomical clock was one of the most sophisticated clock mechanisms in existence at the time.

According to The Abbey Chronicle, while at Oxford he neglected his theological studies and seemed to be more interested in his mathematical and astronomical research. He was criticised by many, including King Edward III, for spending money on his beloved timepiece, capable of a myriad of astronomical observations while the Abbey was in huge disrepair.

I stand here and stare at this quirky and somewhat elaborate medieval mechanism, so shiny and intricate! It’s an impressive 20th Century replica with its blue circular astrolabe face, so mechanically complex with gears, an oval wheel measuring the variable velocity of solar motion, planetary courses, lunar phases, eclipses and even a dial capable of predicting the ocean’s tides!

Taking ourselves and our children to such free exhibitions reminds us of Rosalind Franklin's quote that “science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated”. As I leave, I have a look at a blackboard covered in Post It notes with answers to the question: “What are the big questions scientists should be exploring?”

My two questions involve the issues around how scientists can create more sustainable ways to harness the Earth’s resources and the use of AI in developing cures for diseases.

It has been an enlightening hour or so and has felt refreshing to roam around such a well-researched science exhibition, reminding us that St Albans has been home to every kind of scientist over the centuries.

Having a museum in the middle of our high street offers us an opportunity to learn more about and engage with our heritage here in Hertfordshire. It feels great to leave a building slightly smarter than when you walked in!

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city