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Science Museum finds time for new clock display

Exhibition preview

THE CELEBRATED time-eating Chronophage clock, designed by Dr John Taylor OBE, will go on display at the Science Museum from Monday, April 18, 2011.

It will be exhibited alongside an original Harrison clock in an installation designed to give insight into the mind of one of today’s most creative and successful inventors. The exhibition, entitled A Time Eating Clock: A Story of Invention, will be held until October 2011.

Like its sister clock, permanently installed outside Corpus Christi College Library, Cambridge University, this giant kinetic piece is destined to be a show-stopper. The patented timepiece is a genuinely new way of presenting time.

The Chronophage shows time in a way that causes its viewers to reflect on the very nature of time measurement. Some minutes race by, others drag, some disappear and others appear to stand still. Every five minutes the clock “corrects” itself and accurate time (whatever that means) is shown through light slits, as the Chronophage is a clock without hands or numbers.

Dr Taylor said: “The perceived duration of each minute varies from person to person and depends on circumstances. As you get older, you become more aware that time isn’t on your side and every minute that passes is gone forever. The Chronophage shows this quite graphically as it relentlessly devours each and every minute.”

Walking atop the 1.5 metre golden face is a large kinetic sculpture of a grasshopper. The creature, an integral part of the mechanics of the clock, appears to devour time – the name Chronophage literally means Time-Eater from the Greek: Chronos (Time) and Phago (I eat). The hour is tolled by the sound of a chain clanking into a small wooden coffin concealed in the back of the clock to remind us that our time on earth is limited.

The Chronophage stands 3.3 metres high and is made of gold-plate, stainless steel, and electro-mechanical components. It represents a fusion of art and technology. It has taken more than two years to make and over a hundred people including artists, engineers, scientists, jewellers and calligraphers have been involved in the process. The face was created by a series of underwater explosions.

Dr Taylor, 74, is an inventor and horologist – someone who studies the measurement of time. He was awarded an OBE for his services to horology in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List, and is the recipient of four Queen’s Awards for Innovation.

He holds close to 200 patents, mostly to do with domestic electrical appliances. Among his list of inventions are the kettle thermostat (that automatically switches off a kettle at the right temperature). The contribution to energy saving for this single invention alone is tremendous in itself. He also invented the cordless electric kettle. If it wasn’t for Dr Taylor, all our kettles may still all be whistling!

The inventor has a life-long fascination with the world of time-keeping. He has one of the most important collections of clocks in private hands and has curated major exhibitions on 17th and 18th century horology.

Dr Taylor designed the Chronophage as a tribute to English clockmaker John Harrison. Harrison solved the problem of measuring longitude at sea in the 18th century and also invented the grasshopper escapement – a tiny internal device that releases a clock’s gears at each swing of its pendulum.

With the Chronophage Dr Taylor has created a clock, that is both traditional (driven by a spring and paced by a rocking escapement) and entirely new.

The installation will be on the first floor of the museum outside the café so that visitors can enjoy all its changing features.

Admission: Free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6m (except December 24 – 26).

Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD

Tel: 0870 870 4868