THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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43 posts categorized "Innovation"

16 April 2018

The Library of Ideas: Undercurrent at the British Library

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To announce our upcoming special event, The Library of Ideas: Creative Use of the British Library presented by Undercurrent Theatre and the British Library we present a blog post by the Artistic Director of Undercurrent Theatre, Laura Farnworth reflecting on her time here at the Library as Artist-in-Residence.

Undercurrent-1APhotographs by the Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts team.

It is almost a year since our residency, funded by the Arts Council, began here at the British Library as their First Associate Theatre Company. During my time I have been able to rationalise what is important for me as an artist and I have learnt that I love research and it is integral to my artistic process. The better you understand material, the more distinct and original it will make your artistic work. So, spending time in and with personal archives gives you the rare opportunity to really go deep into a subject. It is about making unexpected and surprising connections between remote pieces of research. The result of these connections is where you start to create something new.

As an artist I am always looking to gather as much ‘fuel’ for my process as possible, stimulus, data, information, knowledge and details. The British Library is the optimum resource for this. Not only does it have ‘everything’(!), it also enables you to approach a topic through various ways, sound, image, digital, manuscript, maps… and all these approaches can inspire you in a different way. It really makes you think about the ‘how’ of your work, in other words, not just what your project will say and contain, but how it will be made, crafted, the form it will take.

Undercurrent-2Manuscript material from the J G Ballard archive (Add MS 88938)

A particular highlight of my time here has been researching the archive of the author J G Ballard. The archive is extensive and a fantastic overview and introduction can be found here. Whilst it does not contain as much personal material as some authors’ archives - it holds very little in the way of private correspondence - it does provide a brilliant insight into the creative process of a great artist. Ballard wrote a lot of his novels by hand and many of his typescripts are heavily annotated. As you start to work through the archive you begin to stitch together a sense of his process. You can learn so much from seeing his choices of what to edit or reword. It is unusual to have such private access to the earliest thoughts of a great artist and it’s quite special to unpick how he works through his ideas and begins his projects. 

The culmination of Undercurrent’s residency will be the The Library of Ideas: Creative Use of the British Library  The aim of this event is to encourage early-career artists into the British Library so that they can discover how they can use the Library to develop their own artistic projects. It’s a rare opportunity to meet curators and get up close to some of the collections - everything from sound to manuscripts to digital.

Laura Farnworth

Artistic Director,

Undercurrent Theatre

Associate Theatre Company of the British Library

Posted on behalf of the Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts team.

12 February 2018

Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose: The man who became famous for his research on plants

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In the last blog post we left our fictional hero, the astronomer in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and his real-life counterpart, Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose, on the fringes of Western sciences. The former fails to get international recognition for his discovery of the Little Prince’s asteroid because of his traditional Turkish clothes, the latter fails to get international recognition for his invention of a coherer that would enable wireless telegraphy because of his reluctance to patent his invention. It is now the year 1920, and things are about to change for both our heroes.

Eleven years after the astronomer’s disappointment at the International Astronomical Congress in 1909, a Turkish dictator passes a law that requires all Turkish citizens to dress in European clothes. So the astronomer returns to the congress in 1920 and repeats his demonstration, but this time “dressed with impressive style and elegance”; and this time round, “everybody accepted his report”. Also in 1920, Bose becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society. Eleven years after he was not awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention that paved the way for the radio, Bose has now arrived at the heart of Western scientific institutions.

Burlington_House_ILN_1873Burlington House, which housed the Royal Society 1873-1967. Via Wikimedia commons.

As Patrick Geddes writes, this “formal acceptance and recognition by his European peers” came to Bose as “the culmination of a series of discussions and incidents spread over two decades”. One such incident happened in 1901, when Bose presented his results on “Responses in the Living and Non-living”, which he published as a book in 1902, to the Royal Society. In his talk, Bose showed that external stimuli, such as poison or electricity, have a similar effect on living tissue, such as plants or muscle, and inorganic matter, such as iron oxide or tin. Bose recorded response curves for muscle, plant, and metal and was thus able to show comparable effects of external stimuli on animals, plants, and metals alike.

This was not only revolutionary, but also unacceptable to parts of his audience. Bose, the physicist, was crossing disciplinary boundaries to chemistry, biology, and physiology, and neither the chemists, nor the biologists nor, particularly, the physiologists were happy. He was asked to revise his paper and negate his own results about the electric response of plants, not because his experiments were scientifically unsound, but because Sir John Burdon Sanderson, a famous professor of physiology, did not believe what he had seen with his own eyes. After all, he had tried to obtain these results in his experiments, but never managed. How could a physicist from India possibly achieve what he had not?

PlantNice plant image, nothing to do with the text. Via the British Library Flickr Commons.

At this point of the story, it might come as no surprise that Bose refused to alter his paper, which was consequently not published in the Royal Society’s “Proceedings”. As before, Bose had to rely on time (and his colleagues) to catch up with him; and they did. Eventually. As Geddes writes about Bose’s award of the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1920: his experiments, which were “questioned and belittled in the first stage, have since added a marvellous new province to the empire of human knowledge”.

Christin Hoene

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English Literature at the University of Kent, and Researcher in Residence at the British Library

08 February 2018

Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose: The man who (almost) invented the radio

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The story of Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose’s life and achievements reads somewhat like that of the Turkish astronomer in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, who discovers the asteroid from which the little prince comes. The astronomer presents his findings to the International Astronomical Congress “in a great demonstration”, but also “in Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said”.

J.C.BoseThe Birth Centenary Committee, printed by P.C. Ray. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJ.C.Bose.JPG  

Like his fictional counterpart, Bose (1858 – 1937) for a long time found himself at the edges of Western sciences. He was born in India, came to England in the 1880s to study at University College, London, and Christ’s College, Cambridge, and returned to Calcutta in 1885, where he was appointed Professor of Physics at Presidency College. Here Bose conducted experiments that would lead him to almost invent the radio – something for which his contemporaries Guglielmo Marconi (1874 – 1937) and Karl Ferdinand Braun (1850 – 1918) won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909. Neither Marconi nor Braun mentioned Bose in their Nobel Lectures; despite the fact that Bose’s invention of a specific coherer, which turned out to be a crucial component for wireless telegraphy, predated Marconi’s experiments by 21 months.

However, Bose never patented his invention. Quite to the contrary: he openly displayed the construction and workings of an earlier version of his coherer when he was invited by the Royal Institution to give the prestigious Friday Evening Discourse on 29 January 1897. Afterwards, The Electric Engineer noted with “surprise that no secret was at any time made as to its construction, so that it has been open to all the world to adopt it for practical and possibly money-making purposes”. Bose’s biographer and contemporary Patrick Geddes (1854 – 1932) notes that Bose was “criticised as unpractical for making no profit from his inventions”, but that it fit both his character and his conviction to seek “no personal advantage from his inventions”.

Jagadish_Chandra_Bose_microwave_apparatusDiagram of Bose's microwave spectrometer apparatus, built between 1894 and 1897. By Jagadish Chandra Bose [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Marconi had less scruples. On 12 December 1901, Marconi used Bose’s 1899 improved version of the coherer to receive the first transatlantic wireless signal. Marconi also applied for a British patent on the device that was not his, in which he did not even mention Bose’s name. Marconi deliberately muddied the waters when presenting “his” invention at a lecture at the Royal Institution on 13 June 1902. As Probir K Bondyopadhyay writes: “By the time Marconi gave his lecture at the Royal Institution, he was already under attack by his own countryman, and Marconi, through his careful choice of words, caused deliberated confusions and, using clear diversionary tactics, shifted attention to works of Hughes, who was already dead at that time”.

Bondyopadhyay’s article was published in 1998. It took almost a century to unveil the true origins of the device that brought us wireless telegraphy and the radio and to give due credit to Bose. Like the astronomer in The Little Prince, Bose did not play by the rules of Western science, and therefore nobody listened. But also like his fictional counterpart, Bose changed garb. And suddenly, people did listen. 

Keen to learn more? Head over to part two!

Christin Hoene

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English Literature at the University of Kent, and Researcher in Residence at the British Library

Further reading:

Bose's legacy and his contributions to the invention of wireless telegraphy are still a contested issue. For a differing account on the “Boseian myth”, see Subrata Dasgupta's book Jagadis Chandra Bose and the Indian Response to Western science, particularly pages 76-83 and pages 250-254.

05 November 2017

Pyrotechnia: A ‘how-to’ guide for firework-makers

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Pyrotechnia, written by a gunner called John Babington, was the first English book about how to make recreational fireworks. It was printed in 1635, seven years before the Civil War. Gunpowder had long been used on the battlefield but, in England, it was only during Elizabeth I’s reign that this technology developed into something that would create fantastic aerial displays. Elizabeth I was famous for her love of fireworks; sumptuous displays were held in her honour and to celebrate military victories.

Pyrotechnia title page

Pyrotechnia told firework-makers all they needed to know about the chemical compounds and complex structural designs required for firework displays. Babington’s instructions are clear, easy to understand and are accompanied by labelled engravings, while the last two sections of the book are helpfully reserved for a treatise on geometry and logarithms respectively. Babington starts simply, with fireworks that are familiar to us today. His is the first printed reference to a roman candle, and there are descriptions of how to make rockets and ‘the best sort of starres’. For stars of a blue colour a combination of gunpowder, saltpetre and sulphur-vive did the trick. He then progresses to making “silver and gold raine”, firework wheels and “fisgigs”, a French firework that fizzed before it exploded.

This was all small fry though. Once a firework-maker had mastered the basics, he could recreate the type of spectacle enjoyed by Elizabeth I. One sight in particular was especially popular during this period: the dragon.

GeorgeAndDragon

It consisted of a huge wooden frame stuffed with spinners, fountains, firecrackers and rockets that ignited to give the effect of a huge fire-breathing creature. Often, a second dragon or St George would be pitched against it and a mock battle would take place. In Pyrotechnia, Babington instructs the reader to strap the dragon and St George together so that, when a wheel is turned, “[they] will runne furiously at each other”. They had to be well balanced as otherwise “they [would] turn their heeles upward, which would bee a great disgrace to the work and workman”. Babington also acknowledges that “much [has been] written upon this same subject”, confirming the dragon’s popularity.

Mermaid and Ship

 A large proportion of Pyrotechnia is also dedicated to creating fiery spectacles on water, a great skill indeed for any firework-maker. Babington reveals “many workes to be performed on the water”, from “how to make a water ball, which shall burn on the water, with great violence” to a “ship of fire workes” and sirens or mermaids “playing on the water”. 

ManuscriptNotesPyrotechnia

The British Library has three copies of Pyrotechnia. The copy in the photographs above has endpapers with a fantastic assortment of manuscript notes and inscriptions by the book’s 17th-century owner. On the first endpaper, most of an ownership inscription can just about be made out: “Edward Nowle[?] his booke bought…25th January …”. Written arithmetic, diagrams and sums are scrawled over the next two pages. It’s obvious that this book was well-used by its previous owner but were they a firework-maker themselves? Did they create a fire-breathing dragon? I suppose we’ll never know!

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

19 October 2017

Grimaldi family correspondence

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Louisa Edmeads was the wife of a curate at Over, Cheshire. We’ve recently catalogued a collection of her letters to her brother William in London, chiefly 1819 to 1829, dealing with domestic matters – health, clothing, family, neighbourhood gossip, work, and, above all, money. Money for goods from London, for cloth to make William shirts, for postage and transport by canal, for lodgings. This in itself provides a fascinating glimpse into the affairs of an early 19th-century family in straitened circumstances.

Grimaldi letters versos
Letters of Louisa Frances Edmeads (1785-1873) to her brother William Grimaldi (1786-1835). Add MS 89258

The family was, however, an unusual one. Louisa was the daughter of William Grimaldi (1751-1830), descendant of Alessandro Maria Grimaldi, head of the Genoese Grimaldi family, who left Italy for England in 1684. William senior was a renowned miniaturist whose customers included members of the aristocracy, but his finances were a continuing cause for concern to his children. Louisa was particularly anxious for him to leave his unsatisfactory lodgings and set up home with William, or their younger brother, Stacey Grimaldi (a successful barrister):

LFE to WG 9 June 1819 Merely to get rid of this rent
'Merely to get rid of this rent' (Letter from Louisa Edmeads to William Grimaldi, 9 June 1819)

There were other problems. William senior’s enthusiastic 'Methodising' and going out every evening caused friction with Stacey, but there was no hope of inducing him to change his habits. As Louisa writes: 'The arrangements between these two personages keep my mind in a constant state of anxiety & suspense, both by night & by day' (28 June 1819).

At one point Louisa even suggests a stealthy departure from his lodgings:

LFE to WG 17 Aug 1819 to abscond (2)
‘It would be a most unpleasant & painful thing for my Father to abscond but I do not really see any other means by which Mr W. can be brought to any kind of terms' (Letter from Louisa Edmeads to William Grimaldi, 17 August 1819)

There is affectionate exasperation over their father’s ways: 'As long as I can remember he has found occupation in arranging his Enamel Colors - & I doubt if he would ever complete that job if he had 50 years to do it in' (10 August 1822).

Despite tensions, the family worked together to try to solve problems. Louisa constantly urges William to find a better situation  than the one he held with Josiah Wedgwood, at St James’s Square, and issues frequent invitations to Over, and Cricklade, Wiltshire, their home from 1821. Though she writes only disparagingly of her own artistic efforts (she was herself a miniaturist of some ability), there is often a practical side to the letters. She asks William to admire her visiting card box and get his 'varnish person' to finish it; she draws a plan of her new house at Cricklade ('We hope to get in by Sept. – but workmen are great plagues' (9 June 1829)); and she describes in great detail the fabric, cut and style of the shirts she sews for him.

Tantalisingly, there are no letters at all from 1821, perhaps because of some disagreement with Stacey Grimaldi, into whose hands the letters later passed. In that year he published The Toilet, a significant early example of movable book publishing. Designed by William Grimaldi senior, each illustration showed an article from a lady’s dressing table or toilette (apparently sketched from Louisa’s dressing table), in the form of a flap, which the reader could lift to reveal a specific virtue. Despite the correspondence gap, earlier and later letters show that Louisa took a keen interest in The Toilet, which was a great success, even selling copies to local acquaintances.

A fine lip salve crop

A fine lip salve (open - cheerfulness) (3)
A fine lip salve – hand coloured illustration from The Toilet, by Stacey Grimaldi (2nd ed, 1821). When the flap is opened, we see 'cheerfulness' (British Library shelfmark: Cup.410.d.29).

Other highlights include a trip down the salt-mine in Winsford, treatment of her brother-in-law for lunacy, and the protracted process of finding a new curacy ('I write this from Salisbury – which is already swarming with clergymen on the watch for all the crumbs from the Bishop’s table … Edmeads is out for a long morning’s fishing' (30 July 1820)). The letters are a useful new source for local and social historians, and for anyone interested in the untold lives of women of the early 19th century.

Tabitha Driver
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

The Grimaldi family letters (Add MS 89258) are available to consult in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

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21 September 2017

Bevin Indian Trainees during the Second World War

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The exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage includes a number of items relating to the Bevin Trainees during the Second World War.  The Bevin Training Scheme was established in 1941 with the support of the British Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin.  There was a greatly increased demand for skilled engineers in the Indian industries engaged in war-related work.  The scheme aimed to provide practical training for young Indians who otherwise would not have had the means to travel to Britain.

Engineering Bulletin  September 1941 IOR-L-I-1-978

Engineering Bulletin, September 1941. IOR/L/I/1/978.

In total, around 900 trainees travelled to Britain in 14 batches between 1941 and 1947 to receive practical training in engineering.  The first eight batches consisted of about 50 trainees each, which was later raised to 90 to include aircraft mechanics and ship repair.  The period of training was initially six months, later increased to eight months.  Trainees spent part of their time in a Government Training Centre at Letchworth, before being sent for practical work experience in industries around Britain.

Indian Trainees IOR_L_E_8_8112_f001r

List of trainees, IOR/L/E/8/8112 f001r

A file in the India Office Records at the British Library contains lists of the trainees from the first seven batches.  The lists give the names of the trainees, the British firms with whom they were placed, and the address of their lodging.  They show that the trainees were placed in a variety of firms engaged in a wide range of industrial activities, including shipbuilding, railways, car manufacture, steel production, tool manufacture, and aircraft production.  The exhibition highlights the many famous Birmingham companies the trainees were sent to, such as Austin Motors, BSA, W&T Avery, and the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.

Indian Trainees IOR_L_E_8_8112_f002r

In 1944, the Government of India produced a booklet, entitled Ambassadors of Goodwill, to stimulate public interest in the scheme.  The booklet contains eight essays written by trainees who had returned to India, which were submitted as part of an essay competition held by the Indian Labour Department.  The trainees described their experiences and their impressions of war time Britain.  One trainee, N Sankeramurthi, described asking a London policeman for directions with the request “Hullo Cop, nice day! If you don’t mind please direct me to Trafalgar Square”.   Another trainee, M G Kulkarni, wrote of the many friends he made in England.  Trainee M Muzaffar Beg was particularly impressed with the work women did in British industries during the war, commenting “Motor factories, aeroplane factories, ammunition factories, etc., were all run by women”.  

Ambassadors of Goodwill IOR-L-I-1-978

Ambassadors of Goodwill, IOR/L/I/1/978

The writer of the essay which won first prize, G Mustafa Mahmud, keenly felt the importance of the scheme, commenting that “I went to England thinking that on me and other Bevin Boys depended the great industrial development for which India hoped when normal times returned”.

Connecting Stories is at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.

John O’Brien

India Office Records

Further information:

Bevin Training Scheme: papers not transferred to the High Commissioner for India, including lists of Indian trainees showing firms with whom placed and lodging addresses, May 1941-Sep 1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/E/8/8112]

Indian workmen training in UK (Bevin Boys), 1940-1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/I/1/978]

 

#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

10 July 2017

Dame Anne McLaren: a noted career

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To publicise the upcoming event: Anne McLaren: Science, Ethics and the Archive, to be held at the British Library on 20 July, 6.30-8.00 pm, we are republishing this post examining the notable achievements of McLaren’s career. A longer article on McLaren by the biologist Marilyn Monk can be found on the BL Science blog along with this article on McLaren’s role on the Warnock Committee.

Dame Anne McLaren (1927–2007) was a developmental biologist who pioneered reproductive techniques that led to human in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Dame_Anne_McLaren_©_James_Brabazon Dame Anne McLaren. Copyright © James Brabazon.

McLaren studied Zoology at Oxford and received a DPhil in 1952. In the same year she moved to UCL and began research with her husband Donald Michie into the skeletal development of mice. In 1955 she and Michie moved to the Royal Veterinary College and it was in 1958, while working with John Biggers, that McLaren produced the first litter of mice grown from embryos that had been developed outside the uterus and then transferred to a surrogate mother. This work paved the way for the development of IVF technologies and the birth of the first IVF baby Louise Brown some 20 years later.
 

McLaren-2

Detail from McLaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1955-1959 recording her experiments concerning embryo transplants in mice. (Add MS 83844). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.
 

McLaren-3

Detail from Mclaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1968-1976. (Add MS 83854). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.


In later years Anne’s career took her from Edinburgh to Cambridge via UCL where she continued her work into fertility and reproduction. As well as undertaking research she was a keen advocate of scientists explaining their work to the population at large and being involved in the formation of public policy. McLaren was a member of the Warnock committee whose advice led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 as well as the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulated in vitro fertilization and the use of human embryos, on which she served for over 10 years.
 

McLaren-4

Selection of lectures dating from 1977-78 including a ‘Lecture to girl’s school near York’ (Add MS 83835). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.

The Anne McLaren papers at the British Library consist of letters, notes, notebooks and offprints. These are currently available to readers through the British Library Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue at Add MS 83830-83981 and Add MS 89202.

Anne McLaren’s scientific publications and books, along with an oral history interview conducted in February 2007, are available to readers via the British Library Explore catalogue.

Jonathan Pledge
Curator of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts, Public and Political Life

 

22 June 2017

The King’s Architect and the ‘Architect King’

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n 1757 the Swedish-born Scot, William Chambers (1723–1796) was appointed as architectural tutor to the future king, George III. Chambers’ job was to teach the young heir the principles of classical architecture, but together they also designed and built several real buildings too. The King’s Topographical Collection, assembled by George and later given to the nation, now resides at the British Library and includes views of a number of the buildings born out of their partnership, many of which can now be seen at Picturing Places, the British Library’s brand new online encyclopaedia of all things topographical.

Maps_k_top_41_16_r
John Spyers’ view of Richmond Observatory. Maps K.Top.41.16.r. Noc

One of those views is featured in my article about the little-known draughtsman, John Spyers. For 20 years Spyers worked for the most famous of all British gardeners, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, before turning his hand to topographical art and selling two albums of his drawings to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great for a very large number of roubles. A handful of original views by Spyers are preserved in the King’s Topographical Collection. One shows the Royal Observatory in Richmond Gardens, which was designed by Chambers and completed in time for the King to observe the much-anticipated transit of Venus in 1769. While the view’s poorly-drawn sheep are clear evidence of Spyers’ authorship, the drawing was formerly unattributed until an exhibition and conference at Hampton Court Palace in 2016 drew attention to the overlooked draughtsman.

Maps_k_top_41_16_s
Design for a Register for the Weather by James Adam. Maps K.Top.41.16.s. Noc

The Royal Observatory is one of the many buildings that illustrate George III’s fervent interests in science and the arts. Another related building is encountered in Peter Barber’s article on the Scottish architect, Robert Adam. Like the Observatory, the design for a weather register by Robert’s partner and brother James was also intended for Richmond. But although it is undoubtedly very elegant, for unknown reasons it was never built – probably to the delight of William Chambers as Robert Adam was one of his great rivals, even though they shared the title of ‘Joint Architect to the King’.

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The Great Pagoda, from Chambers’ Plans, Elevations, Sections…56.i.3 Noc

Adam never completed any major works for the King, whereas Chambers was far more successful in this respect. The majority of his private royal commissions appeared at Richmond’s neighbour, Kew Gardens, between 1760 and 1763. (The present-day Kew Gardens encompasses both parts of the royal estate, although at the time the two gardens were separated by a thoroughfare known as ‘Love’s Lane’.) Chambers designed and built more than 20 follies and seats in a multitude of styles to ornament the gardens – a ‘Turkish’ Mosque, a ‘Moorish’ Alhambra, a ‘Chinese’ Pagoda and a ‘Gothic’ Temple among them. The full story is told in Jocelyn Anderson’s article, which looks at Chambers’ publication, Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew in Surry (1763). George III’s own copy of this book is today owned by the British Library.

Drysdale PagodaScaff1_2017
Restoration of the Great Pagoda begins… © Historic Royal Palaces

The Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens is currently being restored by Historic Royal Palaces, who are returning the building to its original appearance complete with 80 glowering dragons. The restored building will be open to the public from mid-2018. In much the same way Picturing Places brings into the open hundreds of items from George III’s personal collection of topographical art, with both projects offering further insights into the tastes and patronage of this fascinating and cultured monarch.

Tom Drysdale
Archivist (Curators' Team), Historic Royal Palaces