Month: June 2017

ISAAC NEWTON, SIR

The English mathematician and natural philosopher Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) made many important contributions to the study of physics, even apart from his famous laws of motion and gravity.  It has been said that his studies in light alone would have placed him amongst the front rank of scientists. About 1666 he passed sunlight through…

ANTON VAN LEEUWENHOEK

Anton van Leeuwenhoek was born in the town of Delft, Holland, in 1632.  He had a rather unusual background for a scientist, beginning in the cloth trade in Amsterdam, and then becoming City Chamberlain of his native town.  He became interested in the making of microscopes, however, and used them enthusiastically in his studies almost…

AUGUSTE PICCARD

Few men of science have ventured so high into the atmosphere and so deep into the ocean as the late Professor Auguste Piccard.  Born in Switzerland in 1884 (the twin brother of Jean Félix, also a well-known scientist), Auguste first became one of the great exponents of ballooning.  By profession a physicist, Auguste Piccard was…

BLAISE PASCAL

Blaise Pascal Mechanical aids to calculating, such as the abacus or counting frame have been used for thousands of years.  The first real calculating machine (i.e. one where the result or total could be read off directly) was devised by Blaise Pascal in 1642.  Blaise Pascal originally designed it to help his father in his…

CHARLES DARWIN

It is probably true to say that no scientific publication during the nineteenth century started a bigger storm of general protest and argument than a book produced in 1859.  It was called The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by a biologist called Charles Darwin.  The book put forward the scientist’s ideas on…

JAMES HUTTON

In the year 1658 the Primate of Ireland, Archbishop Ussher, declared that the creation of the Earth took place in the year 4004 B.C., a date which was repeated as a note in later editions of the Authorized Version.  Thus it was deemed somewhat heretical to dispute the official age of the Earth.  At the…

JOSEPH PRIESTLEY

Joseph Priestley was born near Leeds in 1733 and worked in an era when alchemy was beginning to be discredited and replaced by logical scientific thought.  Previously, chemical enquiry had been prompted by the dream of making gold from substances of little value and very little true chemistry was known at the time. Joseph Priestley…

LOUIS DE BROGLIE

During the last three hundred years scientists have spent a great deal of time discussing and investigating the nature of light. In the seventeenth century Sir Isaac Newton believed that light rays consisted of streams of very small particles. This Corpuscular Theory persisted for many years through Christian Huygens, a contemporary of Newton, had the…

ROBERT KOCH

Alone, bearded figure sits at a bench in his laboratory, bent over a microscope, concentrating intensely on the specimen under view. On either side the bench is littered with flasks, pipettes, jars, beakers, test tubes, bottles containing brightly coloured stains and shallow glass dishes. Such are his tools. He has no books to refer to…

MARCELLO MALPIGHI

Marcello Malpighi was born in 1628, the son of a farmer, who lived in Bologna in Italy. At the age of 25 he was granted the degree of Doctor of Medicine at Bologna University. After teaching at Pisa and Messina, he returned to his old university where he carried out many of his studies. Marcello…

FREDERICK GOWLAND HOPKINS, SIR

By the end of the nineteenth century it was known that carbohydrates, fats, mineral salts and water are essential constituents of a healthy diet.  At that time these substances were thought to provide all that the body needs to remain healthy.  But Frederick Gowland Hopkins, working at Cambridge, showed that additional substances were necessary.  He…

HUMPHRY DAVY, SIR

The danger of fire and explosion in coal and other mines has always been present, though nowadays the problems have been considerable reduced.  Early in the last century, however, mine disasters caused by the accidental ignition of methane gas were far more common.  The invention of a safety lamp by Sir Humphry Davy about 1815…

JAMES DEWAR, SIR

Most homes possess a Thermos flask, used for keeping tea or coffee hot.  The flask, by providing the very best kind of insulation – a vacuum – around the liquid, keeps it warm even after several hours.  The strange fact is, however, that this kind of flask was originally designed, not to keep liquids warm…

NIELS BOHR

When a solid material is heated it becomes incandescent, that is, it emits light.  The same thing happens if gases and vapours are heated, or if their atoms or molecules are excited in an electrical discharge, but there is an important difference in the light produced in the two cases.  If light is passed through…

WILLIAM PERKIN

A Number of important discoveries have been made by accident. Many experiments must have been discarded when they went wrong, but a few apparent failures have become the starting points for major advances. Anyone can make a mistake, but it takes an exceptional mind to realize the full significance of an unusual result and to…

OTTO VON GUERICKE

Otto von Guericke was an amateur scientist. But for his experiments he would probably have gained only a small local reputation as Burgomaster (mayor) of the German town of Magdeburg. He was, however, destined to become far more famous as the creator of one o the most spectacular experiments in the early history of science.…

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

Although he is chiefly remembered as an American statesman, Benjamin Franklin also made several valuable contributions to scientific knowledge.  Born in 1706, the fifteenth child of a poor Boston family, he was mainly self taught, although he did attend the local grammar school for a while. At the age of 12 he was apprenticed to…

HENRI BECQUEREL

Antoine Henri Becquerel was born in Paris in 1852 into a family of great scientists. Both his grandfather and father were successively professors of physics at the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. When it was decided that Henri should also follow a scientific career it could not have imagined that a few weeks of his…

JOHN DALTON

The theory that all matter is made of very small particles called atoms which cannot (by chemical means) be broken down into smaller units is not well established. It is, however, little more than a hundred and ninety years since John Dalton first propped his atomic theory. Philosophers of former civilizations, in particular the Greek…

MICHAEL FARADAY

Michael Faraday is one of the great names of British scientific history, with notable achievements in the fields of physics and chemistry to his credit. Born at Newington Butts in Surrey in the year 1971, he had little in the way of formal education. His father was a blacksmith and by the time he was…

IVAN PETROVITCH PAVLOV

Human beings and other animals are born with certain abilities (e.g. sucking, crying etc.), but the vast number of techniques that they will later need have to be learned. On of the ways in which this is done is by building on the natural physical abilities (reflex actions) to produce new and different abilities (conditioned…

JOHANNES KEPLER

Johann Kepler (1571 – 1630) was a German astronomer and mathematician to whom scientists owe a great debt. It was he explained the way in which the planets move in our solar system. Earlier, Copernicus had shown that the planets travel around the Sun (and not, as thought, round the Earth) Galileo was able to…

JOSEPH BLACK

The difference between temperature and heat is now well established even though some students may be confused by these two related terms. Temperature (the intensity of heat) can be measures quiet easily using a thermometer. In contrast, the measurement of heat (quantify of energy) is rather more complicated. About 250 years ago Joseph Black carried…

ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL

One of the highest honours which can be conferred upon a scientist is to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, London. Although such recognition of major contributions to “natural knowledge” is usually accorded to those in middle or later life, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who subsequently gained fame as a pioneer of railway construction,…

ROBERT WILHELM BUNSEN

In the 19th – century Germany a kind of scientific aristocracy developed. At that time, chemists were very important people, held in great esteem by the rest of the population. Not only did they gain respect but the successful scientists were often very well paid and able to entertain on a lavish scale. The general…

LUIGI GALVANI

The best known scientists are usually the men who discover important natural laws. Newton, Darwin and Einstein are examples. But the humbler, rank-and-file workers who do more than amass new facts from their experiments are equally important for the advancement of science. Such a figure was Luigi Galvani. Luigi Galvani spent his life experimenting. He…

JOSEPH LOUIS GAY-LUSSAC

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac is best known for putting forward the law of gaseous volumes. Probably this is because it still bears his name, Gay-Lussacs law. He said that when gases combine together their volumes bear a simple ratio to one another if their temperatures and pressure are the same. These volumes also bear a simple…

WILLIAM HERSCHEL

William Herschel lived at a time when interest in astronomy was running high.  There was still very much to be learned about our vast universe, the positions and behaviour of its many stars, planets etc. and many astronomers were busily amassing information. At the time, there were available several excellent designs of telescopes, all theoretically…

THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY

Born in London in 1825, Thomas Henry Huxley was destined to become one of the great men of the nineteenth century. He embarked upon a medical career and, after qualifying at Charing Cross Hospital, he joined the Royal Navy. In 1846 Thomas Henry Huxley was appointed assistant surgeon aboard H.M.S. Rattlesnake. The ship had been…

ANTOINE LAVOISIER

Three Hundred years ago even the most learned of scientists had some strange ideas. Not the least of them were concerned with the chemical change we as burning. They believed (to put it simply) that a mysterious substance called phlogiston was mixed with wood, coal, paper and so on – in fact all substances which…

CARL LINNAEUS

As a naturalist Carl Linnaeus,  must rank second only to Charles Darwin. During his life he wrote several Natural history books of great value, the most important of which was Systema Naturae. This included a classification of every animal and plan known at the time. Although his classification has been modified considerably he established the…

PERCIVAL LOWELL

Percival Lowell firmly believed that life existed on the planet Mars. The Martian population, he thought, was a race of highly civilised beings. They had been responsible for the network of canals built to irrigate the otherwise dry and dusty planet. The canals could be seen through a telescope as faint lines criss-crossing the surface.…

Max Planck

By the end of the nineteenth century it was thought that all the basic laws of physics had been discovered and that from then on it would only be a question of filling in the details. A problem which was occupying the attention of scientists at the time was the distribution of energy in radiation […]

Carl Wilhelm Scheele

In the 44 years of Carl Wilhelm Scheeles (pronounced Shay-ler) lifetime he helped to lay the foundation of inorganic chemistry, gas preparation, organic chemistry, photography and heat physics. Many of his discoveries proved later to be very important although Carl Wilhelm Scheele himself could not be aware of the way in which they were to […]

Adam Sedgwick

For hundreds of millions of years the rocks of North Wales have been subjected to earth-movements, volcanic activity and erosion. They have altered and contorted so much by heat and pressure that it is difficult to make out their original form and structure. The credit for tracing the history of these rocks and unravelling their […]