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3 posts categorized "Modern history"

14 March 2016

The secret lives of scientists

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From Brian Cox and his past life as a pop star to Albert Einstein’s career as a patent clerk, PhD placement student Eleanor Sherwood delves into the more unknown pursuits and occupations of well-known scientists. 

Brian Cox 

BrianCox_200
©Vconnare at English Wikipedia
 

Brian Cox is an Advanced Fellow of Particle Physics at the University of Manchester and also conducts research at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  Although a well-known face in the media, presenting popular TV shows such as The Wonders of the Solar System and The Wonders of the Universe1, Professor Cox has had previous brushes with fame as a member of two separate bands.  Between 1986 and 1992, Cox was a keyboard player in hard rock band Dare and, during the completion of his Physics PhD, Cox also played the keyboard in the more well-known pop rock/dance group D:Ream2,3.  The band’s best-known single ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ was performed live on Top of the Pops in 1994 and was featured heavily in Labour’s 1997 election campaign3

Read Brian Cox’s PhD thesis here via the British Library's online e-theses service, EThOS.

Albert Einstein

Einstein_1921_by_F_Schmutzer_-_restoration
© Ferdinand Schmutzer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist born in Germany.  He is probably one of the most famous scientists of modern times and his most well-known work, the general theory of relativity, forms the basis of modern physics.  However, after graduating from the Swiss Polytechnic School in Zurich in 19004, Einstein struggled to find a job in academia and so found work as a clerk in the Swiss Federal Patent Office in Bern. He worked here throughout his ‘miracle year’ of 1905, where he was awarded his PhD and also published four groundbreaking papers, and only left in 1909 to accept the post of ‘Professor Extraordinarius’ in theoretical physics at the University of Zurich5.

 

Read some of Einstein's many books at the British Library, ranging from explanations of the Theory of Relativity to autobiographical writings

William HerschelWilhelm_Herschel_03

Friedrich William Herschel was born in Hannover yet moved to Bath, England at age 19.  An accomplished astronomer, Herschel is credited with the discovery of Uranus, the confirmation of the theory that nebulae were composed of stars rather than a luminous fluid, as was the opposing theory, and a theory of stellar evolution6. However, Herschel was only a professional astronomer from the age of 43; until this time, William Herschel taught, performed and composed music and was employed for some time as the organist of a chapel in Bath.

Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander_Graham_Bell
By Moffett Studio, via Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh to a family of elocutionists.  Although he is most notably credited with the invention of the telephone,Bell contributed to many other inventions including metal detectors and early aircraft7, and was also a professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at Boston University8.  However, as well as his scientific endeavours, Bell was a teacher of his father’s ‘Visible Speech’ system at a number of institutions for deaf or deaf-mute students.  He also opened his own ‘School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech’; a notable student being Helen Keller, with whom he worked and was friends for over 30 years9.

Polly Matzinger

Polly Matzinger is an American immunologist and has held research posts at The University of   727px-Polly_&_Annie
Cambridge, The Basel Institute for Immunology and most recently at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Maryland10.  She is most well-known for her work on ‘The Danger Model’, a theory explaining how immune cells can sense when the body is under attack and thus when to mount an immune response.  Leading up to her scientific career however, Matzinger undertook a number of ‘unconventional’ career paths.  Among many jobs, Matzinger worked as a jazz musician, problem dog trainer and even a playboy ‘bunny’, however it was her job as a cocktail waitress and an evening serving two university professors which led to her being persuaded to pursue a career in science11

Read Matzinger's 1994 review on the Danger Theory published in Annual Reviews of Immunology at the British Library - available to order as a hard copy here from the British Library collections.

Alan Turing

Alan_Turing_Aged_16 (1)
Author unknown, via Wikimedia Commons

Alan Turing was a British computer scientist, cryptanalyst, logician and mathematician, and is widely regarded to be the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence.  Turing is also credited with the design and development of the ‘Bombe’- an electromechanical device which was used during World War II to decipher Enigma-encrypted messages from the German military.  Aside from this, Turing was a talented long distance runner and used to frequently run the 40 miles from his work station at Bletchley Park to London for meetings.  Turing even tried out for the 1948 British Olympics marathon team and, despite being injured at the time, finished with a time only 12 minutes slower than winning time for that year12.

Read all about the life of Alan Turing in the book by Robert Hodges: 'Alan Turing: The Enigma'. Available to order here from the British Library collections

 

05 October 2015

New opportunities for collaborative PhD research exploring the British Library’s science collections

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Applications for collaborative PhD research around the British Library’s science collections are now open to UK universities and other HEIs

AHRC logoThe British Library is looking for university partners to co-supervise collaborative PhD research projects that will open up unexplored aspects of its science collections.  Funding is available from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships programme, through which the Library works with UK universities or other eligible Higher Education Institutes around strategic research themes.

Our current CDP opportunities include a project to examine the culture and evolution of scientific research, drawing on scientists’ personal archives, and another project to develop digital tools for the investigation of scientific knowledge in the 17th and 18th centuries:

The Working Life of Scientists: Exploring the Culture of Scientific Research through Personal Archives

This project will involve a detailed mapping of the key personal relationships of 20th century British scientists to shed light on the nature, communication and reception of scientific research. It will draw on the Library’s Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts collections, which include personal archives and correspondence from the fields of computer science and programming, cybernetics and artificial intelligence, as well as evolutionary, developmental and molecular biology. As well as being situated within social and cultural history, particularly the history of science and the history of ideas, this cross-disciplinary project is applicable to research in areas such as social anthropology, sociology and social network analysis. It will open up a nuanced understanding of the BL’s collection of the personal archives of twentieth century British scientists. It will enable us to better exploit these valuable collections to research audiences across a number of disciplines.

Hans Sloane’s Books: Evaluating an Enlightenment Library

SloaneEngravedPortraitCroppedThis Digital Humanities projectwill evaluate the library of Hans Sloane (1660-1753): physician, collector and posthumous ‘founding father’ of the British Museum. For over sixty years, Hans Sloane was a dominant figure on London’s intellectual and social landscape. At the heart of his vast collections stood a library of 45,000 books, which – alongside his voluminous correspondence and thousands of prints, drawings, specimens and artefacts – bears witness to his central position in a globalised network of scientific discovery. The CDP project will apply digital techniques to exploit the raw data on over 32,000 items in the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue, and will break new ground by developing digital tools to cross reference, contextualise and analyse the data. This will forge fresh insights into how medical and scientific knowledge was gathered and disseminated in the pre-Linnaean period, with relevance to the history of science, medicine and collecting.

 

Moving beyond our science collections, there is also a third CDP opportunity for a project on ‘Digital Publishing and the Reader’. This will investigate the changing nature of publishing in digital environments to consider how new communication technologies should be recorded or collected as part of a national collection of British written culture.

Applications are invited from academics to develop any of these research themes with a view to co-supervising a PhD project with the British Library from October 2016. Our HEI partners receive and administer the funds for a full PhD studentship from the AHRC and, in collaboration with the Library, oversee the research and training of the student. We provide the student with staff-level access to our collections, expertise and facilities, as well as financial support for research-related costs of up to £1,000 a year.

View further details and application guidelines.

To apply, send the application form to Arts-Humanities@bl.uk by 27 November 2015.

 

22 September 2015

‘Impossibly bold and Utopian’: H.G. Wells on education

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Alice Kirke investigates HG Wells’ views on science education ahead of our upcoming TalkScience event.

Although he is better known as ‘the Shakespeare of science fiction,’[1] H.G. Wells began his career as a school science teacher. Science education today needs to cater for the budding professional scientist in order to tackle global challenges such as population growth, climate change, and food security. But it also needs to nurture a greater public understanding of science. In light of these challenges, the anniversary of Wells’ birth, on 21st September 1866, prompted me to revisit his educational ideas.

H. G WellsBorn into a lower-middle class family, Wells immersed himself in books from the library at the Sussex mansion of Uppark, where his mother worked as a lady's maid. He continued to educate himself while he trained as a pupil-teacher,[2] and was eventually awarded a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in South Kensington in London, now Imperial College.

 

Whilst there, he was taught by the eminent advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution, T.H. Huxley. Wells founded the Science Schools Journal, which provided a forum for the development of his views on science and society. Darwinian notions of progress and degeneration came to inform his understanding of history, the future of mankind, and the importance of education.

In 1937, during his presidential address to the Educational Science section of the British Association, he outlined his concerns over ‘the contents of the minds our schools are turning out.’[3] His address was judged by Nature to be of such historical significance that they published it on the centenary of his birth in 1966. So, what did he have say about education?

In his address, Wells insisted that he was speaking not as a scientist, educator or author but as a ‘citizen’. Ignorance, he argued, led to tyranny, and was a consequence of the failure of elementary education to ‘properly inform’ citizens. He posed the question:

‘What are we telling young people directly about the world in which they are to live?’

Wells advocated a child-centred approach to learning which stimulated curiosity, rather than the old-fashioned rote learning which he believed still characterised schooling in the 1930s. He suggested that instead ‘the weather and the mud pie’ should introduce children to biology and that ‘we ought to build up simple and clear ideas from natural experience.’ Further, he argued that ‘natural experience’ should be the foundation not only of scientific instruction but of education more generally. Geography should give children:

‘a real picture in their minds of the Amazon forest, the pampas, the various phases in the course of the Nile… and the sort of human life that is led in these regions.’

Wells believed that telling children about the physical environment of different areas, and the lives of the people who lived there, would teach them to respect and appreciate the world as ‘one community.’ He described himself as a democratic socialist, and saw education as fundamental to peace; in his Outline of History he claimed that ‘human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ He argued that History should be the ‘main subject of instruction’ in schools, and that to avoid the ‘crazy combative patriotism that plainly threatens to destroy civilisation’, it should be based on the recent discoveries of archaeologists, not the squabbles and affairs of past kings and queens.

The education system Wells envisaged would lay down a ‘foundation of knowledge’, enabling people to continue learning throughout their lives, and to engage with issues which were of public concern, including those related to science and technology. In the world conjured up by his A Modern Utopia engineers and scientists have figured out how to meet all human needs, and are part of the elite ruling group known as the ‘Samurai’. But in the real world, Wells believed that science education was not only for scientists.

Image-utopia-pb-no2cLARGE
Frontispiece, H. G Wells, A Modern Utopia (Chapman and Hall, 1905) Shelfmark: 012631.aa.9

Education meant more than the pursuit of reason and intellect, and was not oriented towards purely instrumental economic goals. It was about discovery, questioning and knowledge, and was part of the whole education of the citizen. He concluded his address by reflecting that his educational vision seemed ‘impossibly bold and Utopian’. But he maintained that a reinvigorated education system which would enable people to engage with political, social and scientific challenges was an achievable aim, and a vital one for anyone concerned about the future of civilisation.

Wells’ reflections on education raise important questions for science education today; how should it be taught, and to what end? To debate these issues with an expert panel, come along to our next TalkScience event on 27th October.



[1] Brian Aldiss and Sam J. Lundwall (eds), The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction: an anthology (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986) p.133 Shelfmark: YC.1987.a.3902

[2] A senior pupil who acted as a teacher to younger children

[3] Supplement to Nature, September 3, 1966