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Spectacular time-eater by Dr. John C Taylor goes on view at National Museum of Scotland
Dr. John C Taylor with the Chronophage. Photo: Ian Jacobs.

EDINBURGH.- A spectacular timepiece designed by Dr John C Taylor OBE is going on display in the Discoveries Gallery at the National Museum of Scotland.

The 3.3 metre Midsummer Chronophage, which has no hands or numbers and is inspired by the idea that everyone experiences time differently, will be on display from Thursday 24 May 2012 until Sunday 13 January 2013.

Dr Taylor’s clock is controlled by a Chronophage, which is a mythical beast that eats time. It slowly opens its jaws for 59 seconds and then snaps shut on the 60th – chews the minute - swallows it. Then, you can never get it back…

Dr Taylor explains: ‘It takes a dyslexic inventor to produce a clock without hands that that also plays games with you. Once you have seen the Chronophage all other clocks will seem rather boring - all they do is tell the time. This one surprises you, sometimes stopping, running fast or backwards as it tells relative time and yet still managing to be accurate to within 100th of a second on every fifth minute.

‘It was Einstein who said Time was relative. When asked for an example, he paused and then said, “If you think about it, an hour spent on a park bench with a pretty girl passes in a moment, but a moment sat on a hot stove seems like an hour.’

The clock face is made of 24ct gold-plate, on stainless steel. It was formed into its wave shape by several underwater explosions. Accurate time is shown once every five minutes through the light slits which replace traditional hands and numbers. A fabulous light show is created in concentric circles as each minute passes. The hour is struck 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 which chomps away time on top of the clock was inspired by the work of the horologist John Harrison (1693-1776). Harrison is famous for his portable sea clocks, invented to solve the problem of measuring longitude at sea, and for his many inventions to increase the accuracy of timekeeping, including the grasshopper escapement.

Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director, National Museums Scotland, said: ‘I am delighted to have this spectacular timepiece on loan. The Chronophage is a beautiful and amazing work of engineering, and is certain to generate a huge amount of public interest.’

The clock represents a fusion of art and technology. It took more than two years to make and involved over a hundred people including artists, engineers, scientists, jewellers and calligraphers. It is up to the observer to decide whether this is simply a beautiful clock, or a work of art or even an installation on Time.

Dr Taylor said: ‘The Chronophage is a unique blend of art and science, and each one is completely unique, with a different mythical creature eating away time. I’m grateful to National Museums Scotland for the opportunity to exhibit the Midsummer Chronophage in one of the most amazing public spaces in Scotland.’

Dr John C Taylor is an inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, best known for his ubiquitous kettle safety switch or thermostat which turns the kettle off when it has boiled or overheats. The Chronophage is one of only three in existence, with another at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and the third, featuring a Chinese dragon, set to go to Shanghai. A fourth is currently in development.

The clock is displayed alongside two more traditional clocks - a panelled Longcase Clock by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, dating from around 1660 and an Ebonized longcase wooden regulator designed by John and James Harrison, circa 1726.

On Friday 6 July at the National Museum of Scotland, American author Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter will be in conversation with Dr John Taylor. John Harrison, the inspiration behind the Chronophage, appeared as a main character in Longitude, and was played by Michael Gambon in the BAFTA-winning TV adaptation of Sobel’s book, which also featured Jeremy Irons, Bill Nighy and Brian Cox. The event is part of the RBS Museum Talks series.

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