Spring 2009 Friday Lunchtime Lecture Series

The Royal Society Centre for the History of Science is pleased to announce our forthcoming series of public lectures. The series will range over a wide historical, geographical and scientific territory, from the library of Carl Linnaeus to William and Caroline Herschel in Bath, and from Lord Rayleigh’s laboratory to Ernest Rutherford and the birth of nuclear physics. The lectures are free and all are welcome to attend.

All lunchtime lectures are free, and open to the public. However space is limited, so please reserve a place by registering online (click here) or phoning the Library on 020 7451 2606 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              020 7451 2606      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Each event will last an hour, and will take place in the Library reading rooms at the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG.

Friday 27 February, 1pm
The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Invented Modern Astronomy
In the spring of 1781, William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus, using his homemade telescope in the back garden of his house at 19 New King Street, in Bath.  For the world of astronomy, it was an astonishing find – the first new planet ever found.  But Herschel himself considered it relatively unimportant compared with his true quest: to understand, with the help of his sister and collaborator Caroline, the very nature and evolution of the universe itself.
Michael Lemonick, author of ‘The Georgian Star’

Friday 6 March, 1pm
The Linnean Society Library
Founded in 1788, the Linnean Society is one of London’s oldest learned institutions. Among other collections, the Society’s Library preserves the manuscripts, books and correspondence of Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern plant and animal classification. Linnaeus’s library gives fascinating insight into his life and work.
Lynda Brooks, Librarian, Linnean Society of London

Friday 13 March, 1pm
Sir Joseph Banks, Sir Humphry Davy, and the Age of Wonder
How do individual lives illuminate an age? This talk will reflect on the relationship between biography and history, using two of Britain’s greatest scientists as examples.
Prof. David Knight, Dept. of Philosophy, Durham University

Friday 20 March, 1pm
Rutherford and the Birth of Nuclear Physics
In 1911, Ernest Rutherford interpreted the earlier experimental results of his students, Geiger and Marsden, as showing that at the centre of the atom there was a small, dense nucleus with a positive electric charge. This insight was to fundamentally change our understanding of the structure of the physical world  and led to the birth of nuclear physics.
As we near the centenary of this historic scientific contribution, we will look at how this discovery came about, examine Rutherford’s legacy and the important questions that remain in the field of nuclear physics a hundred years on.
Dr David Jenkins, Dept. of Physics, University of York

Friday 27 March, 1pm
The Information Business: John Houghton F.R.S. and Serial Publication around 1700
The intense cultural and commercial activity centred on London at the end of the seventeenth century attracted a variety of entrepreneurs. One of these was John Houghton, apothecary, commodity-broker and Fellow of the Royal Society. His interest in the overlapping spheres of business and ideas led to the publication of his most durable work the Collection for improvement of husbandry and trade (1692-1703). This weekly serial, with its mixed content of advertising and current information, will provide the focus for an investigation into the way public and private interest and the advancement of learning, could intersect in serial print.
Michael Harris

Friday 3 April, 1pm
Lord Rayleigh’s Legacy
The private laboratories and equipment used by the Third and Fourth Barons Rayleigh (John William Strutt and his son Robert John Strutt) remain largely as they were when used by these great scientists.  This lecture will take the audience on a virtual tour of the laboratories and describe some of the important experiments conducted there.
Prof. E A Davis, Universities of Leicester and Cambridge

Friday 10 April, Good Friday: no lecture

Friday 17 April, 1pm
Transatlantic Scientific Communication in an Age of Revolution
This talk will examine how scientific knowledge was communicated between North America and Europe during a period of great social upheaval. Sociable fellowship, rather than technological developments, underpinned transatlantic communication of scientific knowledge. Joseph Banks FRS was a prime example: his world-wide friendships made him a human hub of transatlantic and intra-European scientific communication.
Margaret Meredith, Visiting scholar at Universiteit Maastricht

Friday 24 April, 1pm
The Telescope at 400: a Satirical Journey
As it begins its fifth century, the telescope holds its own as an icon of scientific endeavour. Its status has not always been uncontested, however, since telescopes and their users have often found themselves on the wrong side of sharp-minded wits. As science suffered turbulent times, so the telescope could come under attack.
Richard Dunn, Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Friday 1 May, 1pm
Marine Archaeology and ‘Hunting the Beagle’
Maritime historian Dr Robert Prescott will talk about his mission to locate the final resting place of Darwin’s ship, the Beagle.
Dr Robert Prescott, University of St Andrews

Friday 8 May, 1pm
Kent’s Cavern and the Archaeology of Human Origins in Britain
Excavations from the 1820s to 1860s in Kent’s Cavern (Torquay, Devon) played a major role in the establishment of deep roots for human antiquity, coinciding with the development and promulgation of Darwin’s and Wallace’s notion of evolution by means of natural selection. We review the history of investigations at the site in wider context, showing how the cave’s archaeology challenged established dogma promulgated by Buckland, Cuvier and others, and came to be one of the most informative sites for Ice Age human behaviour in Britain.
Dr Paul Pettitt, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, and Dr Mark White, Department ofArchaeology, University of Durham