Category Archives: Participation

Uncovering the personal experience of pain

Hello, I’m Nicola and I’m one of the team working on Pain Less.

One of the things I’ve been doing is working with people from outside of the Museum. This group of adults who live with pain will give a different view on our content.

Over eight sessions they provided us with an insightful and personal perspective on our new exhibition. This significantly shaped our approach to the exhibition and the outcome of these creative workshops are on display as part of Pain Less.

So where did we start?

To start things off, we brought together several top researchers to give short talks about pain, anaesthesia and consciousness to our participants. This gave everyone the chance to find out more and talk directly to the researchers about the science behind the exhibition.

The first few sessions focused on getting to grips with the ever-changing content. With the help of our great facilitator, Lucinda Jarrett, it soon became clear that out of the three topics, pain really stood out as the most interesting and relevant to the group – in particular how pain is a very personal experience. This might seem obvious, but it was learning about the experiences of people living with chronic pain that really brought this home for us. It became an important part of the look and feel of the exhibition, which you’ll hopefully see really clearly when you come and visit.

In the sessions we explored the link between the brain and body when we feel pain – how did the group’s experiences compare with the findings of our researchers? Which research stories could they relate to?

We also needed to think about how was this going to appear within the exhibition. An open offer to do anything you want for an exhibition can be daunting… so we provided a few suggestions that we also knew we could support the group with.

After some consideration the group chose to make a film. This would explore a story or stories from the exhibition. The idea was to think about the scientific research and provide personal reflection on what the studies mean to people who live with pain every day.

The creative process

Before we could get the cameras rolling we needed a better idea of what this film was going to be, and how it would reflect the research covered in Pain Less. We recruited artists and film-makers Deborah Padfield and Helen Omand to work with the group in a series of workshops, and help shape their creative responses into a film.

The different members of the group had their own perspectives on the stories being told in the exhibition and their own ways of expressing this. They all chose some objects from the exhibition – and some that they brought themselves – and used them to create visual metaphors for what they wanted to express.

For one participant the idea of losing consciousness under anaesthesia wasn’t scary but actually a welcome relief from pain – so the anaesthesia machine was particularly interesting. Another person was fascinated by the research into using tarantula venom to relieve pain – we didn’t have the real thing at the time and so had to make do with a fake spider instead!

Once the visual metaphors had been photographed it was time to start filming. Deborah and Helen filmed the metaphors along with members of the group discussing the objects they had chosen, and the research stories told in the exhibition.

These discussions explored several perspectives on the content from the members of the group, such as the link between the brain and body, and the nerves which transmit pain, how pain can affect our mood and emotions, and how pain is a constant experience, but one that changes for various reasons. Another common theme was the individual ways in which everyone experienced pain and found their own ways to cope with it. Many participants also expressed hope that improved scientific understanding and medicine would lead to better pain relief in future.

Once the individual sequences of film were made the group got together with Deborah and Helen to watch the scenes and think about how they might link them together.

The group started off with a creative exercise using water, ink, string and sand to paint pictures that might represent links. In previous discussions, the idea of representing the link between nerves and the brain with threads, hairs and wires had come up a few times, so we looked at different ways of using this in the film. Poetry, reflections and shared thoughts from the sessions were also useful.

When the group reassembled for their final meeting, they viewed a rough-cut of the film, talked about a few edits and after some careful consideration chose a title:

Fragmented Lines: revisualising pain

All I can say now is a huge thank you to all the members of the group who dedicated their time to the sessions. The film is now installed in the exhibition and can be viewed in its own reflective space. Personally, I’ve found it inspiring to be able to meet such interesting people and I greatly appreciate the personal perspective they have given to the exhibition.

Fragmented lines: re-visualising pain.

A film co-created in workshops by adults living with pain

Ann Eastman
Sheherezade Hill
Cornelia Hörl
Patricia Macdonald
Neelan Thanabalasingam

With Deborah Padfield and Helen Omand

Facilitated by Lucinda Jarrett

In collaboration with the Science Museum



Year 9 students, aged 13–14, from Langley Academy worked with us throughout the creation of Pain Less to make sure the exhibition is fun and relevant to the next generation of science enthusiasts.

Not only did the group help us with the content of our Pain Less exhibition, but they got together with game makers ThoughtDen to create a game.

Want to play?… Have a go at Ouch!

Can you beat our high scores? The competition is fierce – blistered fingers all round!

Playing with pain

Hi, I’m Jasmine. I’m part of the contemporary science team working on Pain Less. When creating a new exhibition our job is to research the topic, interview and work with experts, and write the content for the exhibition.

However, we’re doing things a little differently this time – enlisting help from groups of people who can give us unique perspectives on the topic and shape the content of Pain Less. So my job is a little different too. My main task throughout the creation of Pain Less is to work with one of these groups – Year 9 students from Langley Academy – to ensure their ideas inspire and become part of the exhibition

So what have they done so far?

At the start the students met researchers at the top of their game studying pain, anaesthesia and consciousness.

Out of the three topics, the students decided their favourite was pain, because everyone, well almost everyone, can relate to the experience.

The students got to quiz the experts about everything and anything they could think of that’s to do with pain…

How many different types of pain are there? Why do we all experience pain differently? Why do some people feel more pain than others? Do you feel that current painkillers are good enough? If you could get rid of pain completely, would you?

The questions they asked, along with the very interesting answers, inspired the content of our exhibition. We explored different pain treatments, such as virtual reality and spider venom. The students, especially the girls, were very interested in how our mood can drastically influence our perception of pain. This then became one of the main topics of Pain Less.

As well exploring the stories we tell in Pain Less, we shared the different ways we deliver our content at the Science Museum. We visited some of the Musuem’s other interactive galleries – Atmosphere, Launchpad and Who am I? – and also took the students to explore our team’s interactive gallery, Antenna.

From artwork to films to objects, the students told us what they liked and disliked.

They decided they wanted their contribution to Pain Less to be an interactive video game, as that’s what they enjoyed the most in the galleries they visited. You can have a go at some of these games yourself online.

In the next few sessions, ideas for games were all jotted down on giant tablecloths before being presented to the rest of the group.

The students agreed that the aim of the game should be to stop the pain, and came up with some very painful scenarios for the game character: getting your braces tightened, paper cuts, even broken limbs.

Creativity was not lacking! All we needed was an expert game designer…

So we introduced the group to Thought Den, a video game company from Bristol. Together they talked about point systems, bonuses and power-ups, and how they could be related to the science in the exhibition. One idea was a ‘power-up painkiller’ – the character can take it to defeat attacking pain waves, but must be careful not to use it too often as it will become less effective, reflecting the reality that we can build up a tolerance to painkillers.

As there were so many ideas for the game, we’re all very curious to finally see it in action!

I’ve only given you a taster of all the work we’ve done with Langley Academy, but luckily, back at the start of the project, I began writing a blog (yes another one!) about our sessions, called Ouch!Ouch!Ouch! Check out sketches and ideas from the students, online science games, even a video of a tarantula and a scorpion getting milked… Enjoy!

Pain Less participation

Hi, I’m Kayte. I work as the Audience Advocate for Pain Less. My role is to understand and promote the needs of our diverse audiences, so that the exhibition is engaging and relevant to our visitors.

You may have found out from previous posts that we’re working closely with two groups of non-museum people and you might be wondering why. So I thought I’d hop on the blogging bandwagon and try to explain…

From the very beginning we knew that the Pain Less project would involve working closely with the public in new and more inclusive ways.


We wanted to bring some alternative and unique perspectives to Pain Less. These would not only complement what we learned through research and talking to experts, but also influence what stories and topics we would explore.

However this was never simply about improving content – in this age of information-sharing and social media, people expect to participate, not just interact, to collaborate not consume. Visitors want to engage with us more deeply than by only wandering around a gallery or watching a demonstration, and the Science Museum is finding ways to make this happen.

We decided to work closely with a few specific groups of people. These groups were intended not only to represent our potential visitors, but to offer interesting and unique insights into the topic of pain.

So enter our two participatory groups: Year 9 students from Langley Academy, and a group of adult chronic pain sufferers. We engaged with both from the outset, to ensure that their involvement is not simply to interpret or comment on our perspective, but rather to inform it, to shape it and to work with us to create Pain Less.

The benefits to the project were noticed immediately – the participants brought previously untapped perspectives to the table, made us think in new ways about our content, and as a result our expertise in dialogue with visitors has vastly improved.

What happened?

Pain quickly stood out amongst the trio of anaesthesia, consciousness and pain as the most engaging and intriguing topic for both groups, and this guided the team in their thinking about the main focus of the exhibition. Our participant groups were fascinated by the relationship between the body and the mind when it feels pain, the effect your mood can have on your levels of pain, and the very personal nature of pain.

Making it relevant

The Langley group are also keen that their input is represented in a way that’s going to appeal to other young people. They have helped us develop an interactive game you can play in the exhibition or online. This approach, they said, is how they and their friends like to encounter new ideas and information. And who wouldn’t? It will be exciting, dynamic and competitive – the perfect formula for an interactive exhibit.

Our adult group’s input is more personal. Using objects, photography and film-making the group are creating an artistic response to the exhibition’s content and main themes. Their response will offer visitors a unique perspective on the exhibition, from those who live with profound and continuous pain.