THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Science blog

Discover Science at the British Library

Introduction

We are the British Library Science Team; we provide access to world-leading scientific information resources, manage UK DataCite and run science events and exhibitions. This blog highlights a variety of the activities we are involved with. Follow us on Twitter: @ScienceBL. Read more

13 March 2017

Elsevier Postgraduate Science Workshop for Staff and Readers

Elsevier PM 150317

Colleagues and readers are invited to this Elsevier publisher-led training event exploring the SCOPUS database, Science Direct e-books and journals to enhance their research sources and learn about effective search techniques to find what researchers need.

This afternoon training session is an opportunity for scientists and engineers to learn more about searching the numerical index on the Engineering Village database platform which allows searching for ranges of values crucial to a variety of engineering applications.

Date: Wed 15 March 2017, at 14.00 - 17.00

Venue: British Library, Social Science Seminar Room, Social Science Reading Room, Floor 1 science 1

 Afternoon Programme:

SCOPUS for Scientists                         14.00-15.00

Q&A session                                        15.30 – 16.00

Science Direct                                      16.00 – 16.30

Engineering Village

and numerical index searching:  16.30 – 17.00

Booking via email:    science@bl.uk

10 March 2017

Francis Crick - our new neighbour

Crick

Francis Crick image by Marc Lieberman via Wikimedia Commons

When the Francis Crick Institute opened in 2016 it became, with 1500 scientists, the largest biomedical research laboratory in Europe. Our new neighbour is built on the remaining acres of the old Midland railway goods yard at St Pancras that had been left unoccupied by the British Library. In 2007 this site was chosen as the central London site for a new institute combining the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill and the London laboratories of Cancer Research UK.

The new institute celebrates the name of one of the outstanding scientists of the 20th century. If you enter the public exhibition hall of the Francis Crick Institute you will see a remarkable 3D portrait, showing Crick in full flow at a lectern, holding one of his classic papers. Although well known for his co-discovery of the DNA double helix with James Watson, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, Crick’s many other major contributions to biology are less widely known.

His background was in physics and engineering - in the war he devised “smart” mines that were used successfully against U boat bases - and so he brought a rigorous insight to biological problems which until the 1950s had been largely an empirical discipline. Watson and Crick’s classic 1953 paper on DNA and the double helix concluded with a leap of imagination in understanding DNA’s function with the famous line "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material." As Peter Medawar wrote :

“If the solution had come out piecemeal instead of in a blaze of understanding, then it still would have been a great episode in biological history.’ But it would not have been the dazzling achievement that, in fact, it was.”

Five years later in a second blaze of understanding  Crick set out a model for modern biology that has driven research ever since. The quotation below from his 1958 paper On protein synthesis gives a flavour of how Crick cut through a mass of confusing evidence and introduced the concept of information to biology.

“My own thinking (with that of many of my colleagues) is based on two general principles, which I call the Sequence Hypothesis, (…it assumes that the specificity of a piece if nucleic acid is expressed solely by the sequence of its bases, and that this sequence is a simple code of the amino acid of a particular protein) and the Central Dogma (…once “information” has passed into protein it cannot get out again). The direct evidence for both of them is negligible, but I have found them to be of great help in getting to grips with these very complex problems. I present them here in the hope that others can make similar use of them. Their speculative nature is emphasized by their names. It is an instructive exercise to attempt to build a useful theory without using them. One generally ends in the wilderness.”

And in a few more lines Crick went on to predict from basic principles the next link in the mechanism of protein synthesis – the “adapter” molecule or transfer RNA. This extraordinary paper is one of the greatest achievements in theoretical biology but it is also notable for his collegiate spirit, giving others the tools to think about interesting problems. Crick followed this triumph with a leading  role in unravelling the genetic code but by the mid-1960s the science of molecular biology had matured, moving from its classical phase to its baroque period, and Crick was ready to move on to new challenges.  Pausing briefly to look at the fundamental problem of development - how different genes are expressed in different patterns - he migrated from Cambridge to the Salk Institute in California to take up the study of the brain. His interest as he explained later in a BBC interview with Lewis Wolpert  went back to the start of his career in biology in the 1940’s

“The problem was what did I like?..... I decided that the gossip test is a good one, that what you are really interested in is what you gossip about. I looked at what I was gossiping to people about in science and it boiled down to two areas. One was the border line between the living and the non-living, and the other was the way the human brain worked”

His ambition was to demonstrate the physical basis of consciousness and he thought that the easiest way to approach this problem was to study vision as he explains  in his book The astonishing hypothesis. He continued to struggle with the problem of consciousness until 2004, finishing his final paper just three hours before his death from cancer.

Crick’s last days have a remarkable resonance with those of Charles Darwin. For Darwin’s last paper  On the dispersal of freshwater bivalves, written during his final debilitating  illness and published after his death, came about in response to a communication from the Leicestershire naturalist, Walter Crick, none other than Francis Crick’s grandfather.

Read more about Francis Crick here …. and listen to Francis Crick talking

Richard Wakeford, Science Reference Specialist

01 March 2017

The 100 most reported and shared science articles of 2016

Wright_of_Derby,_The_Orrery compressed
"A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery" by Joseph Wright of Derby. Since the 18th century, astronomy has remained popular among non-scientists.

Altmetric.com have recently published the list of the top 100 scholarly articles most mentioned in news and social media in 2016.  The subjects can be roughly assigned as:

Health and medicine     63
Biology   15
Environment 7
Astronomy 6
Computer science 2
Psychology 2
Scholarly publishing 2
Archaeology 1
Engineering 1
Statistics 1

Predictably, health and medicine articles were most of interest to the non-scholarly media, and social media, with many articles relating to high-profile issues such as obesity and the emergence of the Zika virus, or which could be considered to inspire "might someday lead to a cure for [condition]" stories. Environmental stories were unexpectedly low on the list. Two articles seemingly owed their popularity to a celebrity effect - President Obama's article on the Affordable Care Act, and an essay by the wife of the actor and comedian Robin Williams on the neurological problems that contributed to his suicide. Biology stories were dominated by ones on the always popular topic of prehistoric life, especially life that could be represented as particularly relevant to human ancestry. 

However, a few articles hit the headlines after arousing interest specifically within the scientific community, notably the American Statistical Association's statement stepping into the "p-value" debate about the reliability and meaningfulness of statistical significance testing in science, and the announcement of the long-awaited conclusive detection of gravitational waves. Two stories about the scientific publishing process itself got into the top 100 - the New England Journal of Medicine's controversial "research parasite" editorial on data sharing and a BMJ satirical piece on the perennial battle between authors and peer reviewers. 

So, what does this mean to us as scientific librarians? Most clearly, that at the extremes altmetrics are clearly dominated by what the general public is interested in rather than necessarily what is most important to the development of science. While we are always looking for new information to help us decide what to acquire, this list probably will not affect our purchasing much!

Posted by Philip Eagle - STM Content Expert

08 February 2017

EBSCO Database Training Sessions at the British Library on Wednesday 15 February 2017

BL Intranet: Training sessions: Science Research and Discovery Tools

Registered readers and those who may like to join us as registered researchers (see web site ww.bl.uk ) are invited to join these free training sessions that focus on digital research and discovery tools. Find out more about EBSCO resources on 15 February 2017 between 10-17.00, which will be held in the social science reading room and training suite following the programme outlined below: 

BL Intranet: Training sessions: Science Research and Discovery Tools

EBSCO: Wednesday 15 February 2017 

10.00 – 11.00

Introduction to searching on the EBSCO databases: key features                                                                             

11.30 – 12.00

Drop-in session / Q&A                                                                                                                             

13.30 – 14.00

Drop-in session

14.00 – 15.00

Science related databases:  e.g.  Anthropology plus, environmental sciences, nursing, library sciences, mental health, sports sciences                                                                                                                                                

15.30 – 16.30

Social sciences and humanities databases: e.g. Education, Law,  Arts,  Music, Human resources, History,  Religion,  and Economics                                                                                                                  

The electronic resources subscribed to by the Library can be found here.

Booking your place

Please email science@bl.uk to book your free place. 

 

Science-research-discovery-tools-image

 

03 February 2017

HPC & Big Data

Big-data-1667184_1280
Matt and Philip attended the HPC & Big Data conference on Wednesday 1st February. This is an annual one-day conference on the uses of high-performance computing and especially on big data. “Big data” is used widely to mean very large collections of data in science, social science, and business.

There were some very interesting presentations over the day. Anthony Lee from our friends the Turing Institute discussed the Institute’s plans for the future and the potential of big data in general. The increasing amounts of data being created in “big science” scientific experiments and the world at large mean that the problems of research have shifted from data collection being the hard part to processing capabilities being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data.

A presentation from the Earlham Institute and Verne Global revealed that Iceland could become a centre for high-performance computing in the future, thanks to its combination of cheap, green electricity from hydroelectric and geothermal power, high-bandwidth data links to other continents, and a cool climate which reduces the need for active cooling of equipment. HPC worldwide now consumes more energy than the entire airline industry and whole countries of the size and development level of Italy and Spain. Seljalandsfoss-1207956_1280

Dave Underwood of the Met Office described the Met Office’s acquisition of the largest HPC computer in Europe. He also pointed out the extreme male-biased demographic of the event, something that both Matt and Philip had noticed (although we admit, one of our female team members could have gone instead of Philip).

Luciano Floridi of Oxford University discussed the ethical issues of Big Data and pointed out that as intangibles become a greater portion of companies’ value, so scandal becomes more damaging to them. Current controversies involving behaviour on the internet suggest that moral principles of security, privacy, and freedom of speech may be increasingly conflicting with one another, leading to difficult questions of how to balance them.

JISC gave a presentation on their actual and planned shared HPC data centres, and invited representatives from our friends and neighbours at the Crick Institute, and the Wellcome Trust’s Sanger Institute on their IT plans. Alison Davis from Crick pointed out that an under-rated problem for academic IT departments is individual researchers’ desire to carry huge quantities of digital data with them when they move institutions, causing extra demand on storage and raising difficult issues of ownership.

Finally, Richard Self of the University of Derby gave an illuminating presentation on the potential pitfalls of “big data” in social science and business, such as the fact that the size of a sample does not guarantee that it is representative of the whole population, the probability of finding apparent correlations in a large sample that are created by chance and not causation, and the lack of guaranteed veracity. (For example, in one investigation 14% of geographical locations from mobile phone data were 65km or more out of place.)

Philip Eagle, Content Expert - STM

13 January 2017

Making hydrogen from wax

Philip recently attended an event for other Oxford University chemistry alumni, and one of the speakers drew attention to a recent publication from, among others, Oxford chemists, regarding the production of hydrogen from paraffin waxes by microwave degradation using a ruthenium catalyst.

Hydrogen has often been suggested as an environmentally-friendly replacement energy source for fossil fuels in transport vehicles and other applications requiring high energy density. (Note that hydrogen is not a “fuel”, as it must be made using energy from other sources, which can be environmentally-friendly or not.) However, there are significant problems with this, notably involving the safe storage of a highly-inflammable and explosive gas which is much lighter than air.

Hydrogen wax cycle
Figure 5 from original article showing chemical cycle and outputs

This publication suggests that wax could be carried on vehicles and used to create hydrogen gas in situ, the waste carbon being used to make more wax via syngas production and the Fischer-Tropsch process, where carbon monoxide and hydrogen is converted into hydrocarbons as a potential source of petro-chemicals that does not involve releasing fossil carbon into the atmosphere. While this publication is still a long way from a working industrial-scale process, it offers a very hopeful potential avenue for less-polluting technology.

Source: Gonzalez-Cortes, S et al. Wax: A benign hydrogen-storage material that rapidly releases H2-rich gases through microwave-assisted catalytic decomposition, Scientific Reports, 2016 6, 35315. Available online at http://www.nature.com/articles/srep35315

Further reading:
Ball, M et al (Eds.). Compendium of hydrogen energy: volume 4, Hydrogen use, safety and the hydrogen economy, Oxford: Woodhead Publishing, 2015. Available online in the British Library Reading Rooms.

19 December 2016

The first paper on carbon dioxide and global warming

Before 2016 ends, there’s one anniversary we previously didn’t get around to marking, the publication in 1896 of the first articles suggesting that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere might affect Earth’s climate via the greenhouse effect, by the Swedish chemist and physicist Svante Arrhenius. This phenomenon is almost universally accepted as a hazard to the future of human civilisation by climate scientists, although still denied by certain political figures.

Arrhenius2
Svante Arrhenius in 1910

Arrhenius (1859-1927) was one of the main early figures of physical chemistry, the branch of chemistry that uses physics to explain and predict the behaviour of chemical reactions, mixtures of matter and volumes of pure substances. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903, for coming up with the idea that many substances, such as salt, exist as charged ions when they dissolve in water, explaining why solutions conduct electricity. His other important achievements in chemistry include work on the rates of chemical reactions and developing the first clear definition of acids and bases.

Later in his career, he became interested in the discipline then known as “cosmic physics”, which sought to explain the current nature and past history of the Earth and other planets of the solar system. The greenhouse effect paper developed out of his attempts to develop an explanation for ice ages on Earth, which he suggested were caused by changes in the CO2 level of the atmosphere. (This remains one of several competing hypotheses today, although there is argument about whether changes in atmosphere composition were a cause, an effect, or part of a feedback loop.)

He first published his ideas in 1896, in German in the Swedish journal Behang till Kongliga Vetenskaps-Akademiens Handlingar and in an abridged English version in The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. He subsequently expanded on his theory for a mass audience in his popular science work Världarnas utveckling, published in English as Worlds in the Making.

According to Arrhenius, he spent a full year in tedious manual calculations for the paper, in various stages. Firstly, he sought to derive figures for the heat-absorption capacity of water vapour and carbon dioxide from detailed observations on the intensity of moonlight at Earth’s surface carried out by Samuel P Langley in 1885-7. He then calculated mean actual temperatures and humidities at different locations around the world, and then the calculated effects on temperatures in different parts of the world of carbon dioxide levels at 67%, 150%, 200%, 250%, and 300% of the actual one at the time he wrote. He calculated that doubling the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere would raise the temperature in general by 4°C.

In the paper he did not discuss the effect of fossil fuel burning on carbon dioxide emissions. However, he did in Worlds in the Making. On pp.53-63, he discussed the role in carbon dioxide emissions of human activity and volcanism, and declared the chief means of long-term removal of carbon dioxide as formation of carbonate minerals and peat production by plants, before moving on to speculation on the early history of Earth’s atmosphere. At the end of the chapter, he argues that an increased greenhouse effect due to human activity would be a good thing, preventing a new Ice Age and allowing for better yields of crops! At the time, Arrhenius did not consider the risks of rising sea level and local disruption of agriculture, to mention only two potential downsides.

Posted by Philip Eagle, STM Content Expert

Sources and further reading:

 

 

Arrhenius, S. Ueber den Einfluss des atmosphärischen Kohlensäuregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche, Behang till Kongliga Vetenskaps-Akademiens Handlingar, 1896 22 (1,1), 1-102. General Reference Ac.1070

Arrhenius, S. On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground, The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (Fifth Series) April 1896 49 (251), 237-276. General Reference P.P.1433. Also available online at http://www.rsc.org/images/Arrhenius1896_tcm18-173546.pdf

Arrhenius, S, translated by Borns, H. Worlds in the Making. London: Harper & Brothers, 1908. General Reference 8562.cc.38

Brock, W H. The Fontana History of Chemistry. London: Fontana, 1992. General Reference YC.1992.a.2866

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Document Supply 2388.000000

Chen, W-Y et al (Ed.). Handbook of Climate Change Mitigation. New York: Springer, 2012. Science, Technology and Business (B) 363.738747

Earth System Science Data, available online at http://earth-system-science-data.net/

Earth’s Future, available online at http://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/hub/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2328-4277/

Graham, S. On the Shoulders of Giants. Greenbelt, MD: NASA Earth Observatory, 2000. Available online at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Arrhenius/arrhenius.php

Hudson, J. The History of Chemistry. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992. General Reference YC.1993.b.3347

Journal of Advances in Modeling World Systems, available online at http://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/hub/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)1942-2466/

McGuffie, K and Henderson-Sellers, A. The Climate Modelling Primer. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. Science, Technology and Business (B) 551.6011

Matthews, J A (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Environmental Change. Los Angeles: SAGE Reference, 2014. Science, Technology and Business (B) 363.703

Mélieres, M-A and Maréchal, C. Climate Change: Past, Present and Future. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015. Science, Technology and Business (B) 551.6

Nature Climate Change, Science, Technology and Business (P) 333.7205-E(2)

North, G R et al (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press, 2015. Science, Technology and Business (B) 551.503

Philander, S G (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Global Warming and Climate Change. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Reference, 2012. Available electronically in British Library reading rooms

Rodhe, H and Charlson, R (Eds.). The Legacy of Svante Arrhenius: Understanding the Greenhouse Effect. Uddevalla: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1998. General Reference YA.2000.a.37529

16 December 2016

9 famous scientists and their PhD theses

If you are currently working towards a PhD you might worry that your thesis is destined for life as a handy doorstop, or to gather dust on a forgotten Library shelf. But this work can be a stepping stone - either to a career in academia or something else altogether. With this in mind we decided to check out the British Library’s electronic theses service EThOS to see what treasures we could unearth from influential scientists while they were lowly graduate students.

From 1970-1974 Brian May, Queen’s famous guitarist, studied for a PhD investigating interplanetary dust in the solar system. He abandoned his studies when Queen started to have international success. Many years later he returned to Imperial to complete his PhD studies. His final thesis was awarded in 2008 and was entitled A survey of radial velocities in the zodiacal dust cloud.

Brian Harold May_PhD thesis EThOS

Peter Higgs, who shot to fame in 2013 after his discovery of the Higgs Boson (or God particle) was honoured with the Nobel prize in Physics, started his scientific career studying for a PhD - mysteriously entitled “Some problems in the theory of molecular vibrations”.

D-Ream singer turned astrophysicist Brian Cox started his academic career with a PhD studying in high energy particle physics at the University of Manchester. Things could only get better from there... (sorry!)

Prof_Brian_Cox
By cellanr (Prof Brian Cox) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Rosalind Franklin is famous for producing the X-ray diffraction images of DNA that led to the discovery of its double helical structure. Her PhD research focussed on the molecular structure of coal and other organic materials.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered radio pulsars while studying for a PhD at the University of Cambridge in the 1960s.  A visualisation of one of these pulsars was famously used as the cover art for Joy Division's best-selling album Unknown Pleasures.

JoyDivision_UnknownPleasures and Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Jocelyn bell Burnell image by Roger W Haworth (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1966 after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963.  His PhD thesis, properties of expanding universes describes his theory for the creation of the universe and was inspired by Roger Penrose's work on space time singularities.

Jim Al-Khalili presents popular science on radio and TV including Radio 4’s The Life Scientific. He started his career at the University of Surrey with a PhD on “Immediate energy deuteron elastic scattering from nuclei in a three-body model”. Jim (or Jameel) Al-Khalili is now Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey.

Jim Al-Khalili PhD thesis
By Vera de Kok (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Mark Walport investigated the “biology of complement receptors” for his PhD at the University of Cambridge. Complement receptors are key part of our immune system and are responsible for the detection of pathogens. He now serves the lofty position of Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government is former director of the biomedical research funder the Wellcome Trust.

Sir Paul Nurse is now President of the Royal Society and Director of the Francis Crick Institute. His PhD at the University of East Anglia investigated the organisation of amino acids in a species of yeast called Candia Utitlis.  Nurse continued to work on yeast after his PhD and in 1976 discovered the molecules which control the cell cycle in fission yeast. This discovery was honoured with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001.

Katie Howe

12 December 2016

Using our science collections

Some of you reading this blog may never have come to the British Library Science rooms, or only have used a small part of our services. Here’s an example, based on real queries from our reading rooms, of what you can do when you come here.

Emma is a medical student who has been asked to do a report over the vacation on anticonvulsive drugs. She has some online access to her university’s resources from home, but needs a quieter place to work. After getting her reader pass, she asks the science reference desk for the best place to start. She searches Explore the British Library, which is the main catalogue of books and journals in the library, using the search box on the library computer home page, for books on anticonvulsants. She finds several paper books on the open shelf, in particular “Anti-Epileptic Drugs: a Clinician’s Manual” by Ali A Asadi-Pooya at (B) 615.784, and “Wyllie’s Treatment of Epilepsy”, edited by Elaine Wyllie at (B) 616.85306. Also available is an e-book, “The Treatment of Epilepsy”, edited by Simon Shorvon. 

Drugs
CC-BY by e-Magine art (https://www.flickr.com/photos/emagineart/)

After browsing these she moves on to our electronic databases, which are all available from the “Find Electronic Resources” link on the library computer home page. She discovers our subscription to “Drug Information Fulltext” via Ovid, which includes the full text of the American Hospital Formulary Service’s Drug Information Book, giving detailed information on individual substances.

Druginfo
Ovid search results

In order to comment on recent developments in research, she uses the Embase database, a medical database specialising in pharmaceutical material. The database retrieves 155 results for 2016, which is a number possible to browse by title, but allows it to be narrowed by the type of subject matter of the article, such as whether it focusses on “therapy” or “diagnosis”.

Embase results
Embase search results

If she is interested in a specific drug, she can search for that by name on Embase. Another way to find recent articles on a specific substance is to find the main reference on it in one of the book sources, and then find it on the Web of Science database and look for articles citing it. For example, a major article on the use of the drug vigabatrin for complex partial seizures was Cocito et al, “Vigabatrin in partial seizures – a long-term study”, Epilepsy Research 1989, 3(2), pp. 160-6. Web of Science finds fifty later citations, up to 2014.

This was a taste of the different scientific resources that you can use here. We are open to all scientific researchers who have a need to use our resources, and if you know of something you can’t find at your university or workplace, we may well have it here. If you want to check first, send us a question.

Philip Eagle, STM Content Specialist

22 November 2016

Stephen Hales: Reverend, Researcher, Reformer

In the final episode of “Treasures of the British Library” series (tonight at 9pm on Sky Arts) we explored the ancestry of trumpeter Alison Balsom. Alison is descended from the 18th century clergyman and polymath Stephen Hales (1677-1761) and she was keen to find out more about this remarkable man.

The first item I showed Alison was Hales’ seminal work “Vegetable Staticks” or to give it its full title “Vegetable Staticks: or an account of some statical experiments on the sap in vegetables: being an essay towards a natural history of vegetation”. Alas, it was not an age of punchy titles. Hales was interested in understanding how plants give off and take up water and in this book he outlines the many meticulous experiments that seek to understand these processes. Hales even invented the ‘pneumatic trough’ (see below) and used this to collect gases given off by plants. He didn’t however analyse the composition of this gas, since at that time air was understood to be a pure element. It was not until many years later that Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier discovered oxygen was a component of air, making use of Hales’ pneumatic trough to collect, analyse and separate gases.


Vegetable Staticks Stephen Hales p262
Stephen Hales' pneumatic trough. From Vegetable Staticks p260


Some of Hales’ conclusions were remarkably prescient outlining the process of photosynthesis many years before its chemical basis was elucidated. One key quote draws parallels between the function of the leaves of plants with animals' lungs.

Vegetable Staticks Stephen Hales p326
From Vegetable Staticks. p326

 

Two pages later Hales also postulates that light might be a form of energy which is needed by the plant to survive.

Vegetable Staticks Stephen Hales p327
From Vegetable Staticks. p327

 

Alison and I then went on to look at Hales’ “A Description of Ventilators”. One of Hale’s social projects was the invention of ventilating systems for ships and prisons where overcrowding meant that stale air and unhygienic conditions were rife. Hales’ invention was essentially a giant set of bellows which removed the noxious air. The ventilator was initially used to dry grain for preservation but was eventually rolled out to ships, hospitals and prisons where it saved many lives.



Last but not least we came to Reverend Hales’ “A Friendly Admonition to Drinkers of Gin, Brandy and Other Spirituous liquors” which was published anonymously in 1751. Hales was a strong supporter of the Gin Acts of the early 18th century where gin sales were subject to high taxes in an effort to reduce consumption. In the tract he outlines the many physiological consequences of consuming as he called them, “most intoxicating and baneful spirits”. Readers are warned that liquors ‘frequently cause those Obstructions and Stoppages in the Liver, which occasion the Jaundice, Dropsy and many other fatal diseases” and “impair the mind as much as the body”.  However the message was as much moral as it was medical with Hales condemning drunkards and the great sin of drinking throughout.

A friendly admonition Stephen Hales
Stephen Hales' A Friendly Admonition... Title page and p25

 

Although Hales trained as a clergyman and did not have any formal scientific training his achievements rival many of the well-known scientists of the day. Despite this Hales does not tend to feature alongside famous scientists in the history books so we were pleased to be able to shed some light on this interesting character as part of the Treasures of the British Library series.

Katie Howe

With thanks to Tanya Kirk and Duncan Heyes for help sourcing Stephen Hales material from the British Library collections.