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Posted in Animals, Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Science on Friday, 17 May 2013
Zoological Gardens, Regent's Park; note the addition of a baby elephant.
Like the great national museums, The Royal Zoological Society was started in the nineteenth century, eleven years before the long reign of Queen Victoria began, in 1826 during the reign of her uncle, George IV, who granted it a Royal Charter in 1829. Located in an expansive site north of the Regent’s Park, it was the first animal collection in the world assembled for scientific purposes, and the animal houses and insititution remained private until 1847, when the Regent’s Zoo was opened to the public. The Zoological Gardens were laid out by Decimus Burton, who was also commissioned to design several of the scattered animal buildings. Unfortunately, only two of his original architectural creations have survived: the elegant brick Buffalo and Giraffe Houses which overlook the Regent’s Canal.
Many more pictures of Regent’s Park can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Art, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Literature, London, Royalty, Science on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about the Royal Society originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 255 published on 3 December 1966.
Bust of Charles II, with Lord Brouncker (left), the first President of the Royal Society, and Francis Bacon (right); frontispiece to Bishop Sprat's History of the Royal Society, 1667, by Wenceslaus Hollar
So many things changed in England at the time of the Civil War of the 17th century, when a king was executed and the country was ruled for a time without a sovereign lord. Men were thinking out new ideas; new solutions were found to old problems. Men were engrossed in science and mathematics, and their discoveries laid down the foundations of our present knowledge.
In this quest for knowledge, it was not the universities that played the major part, but the Royal Society, which was founded in this century.
Although groups of learned men had been meeting quite regularly in both Oxford and London, it was not until the King, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660, bringing with him a more settled political atmosphere, that the group meetings blossomed into a society.
On 28th November, 1660, after a meeting at which Christopher Wren (then better known as an astronomer) had given a lecture, a suggestion was made for founding a society to promote inquiry into mathematics and science. A list was made of 40 people considered suitable for membership. They were to pay one shilling a week subscription.
King Charles II regarded the Society with interest. In 1662 he granted it a Royal Charter of privileges and became its patron. Since then the reigning monarch has always been a patron of the Society.
Specialised study of one subject was a thing unknown in the 17th century, and the early members of the Royal Society included men of widely differing talents: Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, whom we know through their diaries; John Locke, the political theorist, and John Dryden, the poet.
The Royal Society began to be a specifically scientific society from the time when Isaac Newton became a Fellow in 1671. Regarded by many people as the first ‘modern’ scientist, Newton did his greatest work on gravity, astronomy and light while he was a member of the Royal Society. He was its president from 1703-27 and, attracted by his fame, its membership and reputation grew.
In more recent times, the Royal Society has been active in the realms of scientific investigation. It played a large part in the founding of the National Physical Laboratory, which was opened in 1901 and has organised much of the work done there. Through a special committee, the Society assists the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The Royal Society has always been a source of encouragement to scientists. The aims of the Charter of 1662 have been faithfully observed, and the Fellows of today are as actively engaged in the pursuit of science as were its members in the 17th century.
Posted in Aerospace, Communism, Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, Science, Space, Technology on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about Sputnik originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
Hitler's V2 rocket
The Second World War accelerated interest in the development of rockets, and by 1945 the famous V2, forerunner of modern rocket systems, was a familiar phenomenon. Scientists and engineers, in both the Eastern and Western worlds, strove to perfect a rocket powerful enough to launch an artificial satellite.
These early satellites were needed to study the problems and dangers that faced Man when he ventured into the upper atmosphere and out into space.
On 4th October, 1957, the U.S.S.R. launched the world’s first artificial satellite. Called Sputnik I, this first explorer of the upper atmosphere weighed 184 pounds and was a polished metal sphere about 23 inches across. Travelling at a height which varied between 133 and 585 miles, it circled the Earth once every 95 minutes. Until the batteries powering the radio transmitter failed, it relayed back much information to the Russian scientists.
Posted in America, Astronomy, Historical articles, History, Philanthropy, Science, Space on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about astronomy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
Andrew Carnegie in 1913
There can be few people who have not heard of the Palomar Reflector, which has a mirror 200 inches across. It is much the most powerful telescope in the world, and it has allowed astronomers to look further into space than they would ever have been able to do without it. It is known as the Hale Reflector, in honour of the man who planned it, but who died before it was completed: George Ellery Hale.
Hale was born in 1868, in Chicago. Astronomy was his boyhood interest, and at the early age of 23 he became famous for his invention of an instrument known as a spectroheliograph, used in studying the Sun. Even as a young man, Hale was far-sighted; he knew that if men were to probe into the depths of the universe, large telescopes would be needed. Unfortunately, such instruments are very expensive indeed. It did not seem likely that any Government would put up the money for a giant telescope, and so Hale looked around for someone who would be prepared to do so.
In 1892 he met Charles Yerkes, a millionaire who owned a large part of the city of Chicago. Yerkes could afford to pay for a large telescope, and he agreed to finance the project. It was decided that the telescope should be a refractor, collecting its light by means of a lens known as an object-glass; the optics were made by Alvan G. Clark, the world’s leading expert. Clark’s object-glass, 40 inches in diameter, turned out to be well-nigh perfect. The telescope was set up in a new observatory outside Chicago, named in honour of Yerkes – with Hale, naturally enough, as its first Director.
Within a few years the Yerkes 40-inch had more than justified the 34,900 dollars spent in building it, but Hale was not satisfied. His motto was ‘More light!’ and he knew that the essential thing was to collect the light from immensely faint, remote stars and star-systems. The 40-inch, powerful though it was, had its limitations, and Hale made up his mind to obtain something better.
There were hopeless difficulties in the way of making an object-glass more than 40 inches across. However, a reflecting telescope collects its light by means of a mirror instead of a lens, and there seemed every chance that a huge mirror could be made – if only the money could be found.
Again Hale was lucky. Andrew Carnegie, one of the few men as wealthy as Charles Yerkes, had set up a financial trust known as the Carnegie Foundation, and this trust agreed to finance a reflector with a 60-inch mirror. George Ritchey, at that time unrivalled as a mirror-maker, took charge of the optical work, and in 1908 the new telescope was ready. It was placed in an observatory on Mount Wilson, a peak in California, from which the observing conditions were particularly good.
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Posted in Astronomy, Historical articles, History, Science on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about astronomy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 245 published on 24 September 1966.
One of the most remarkable detective stories in real life was solved on 23rd September, 1846. The detectives were astronomers, and they were looking for a mystery planet.
Ever since the planet Uranus had been discovered by Sir Frederick Herschel in 1781, astronomers had been puzzled by its strange behaviour. Other planets travelled round the sun in a regular path. Uranus, however, was inclined to wander. A German astronomer put forward a theory that Uranus’s irregular path or orbit might be caused by the pull of gravity from an unknown planet farther away from the Sun.
In 1843, John Adams, a mathematics student at Cambridge, worked out where the mystery planet probably was, and what its orbit might be like. At the same time Urbain Leverrier, a young French astronomer, was trying to solve the problem in exactly the same way. Both Adams and Leverrier sent their calculations to John Galle, a German astronomer who had one of the most powerful telescopes in Europe.
On 23rd September, 1846, Galle turned his telescope in the direction suggested by the calculations and observed the planet just where the mathematicians had said it should be. Its discovery was one of the greatest achievements of human reasoning.
Astronomers christened the new planet Neptune. It is the eighth planet in order of distance from the Sun. Neptune is 27,700 miles in diameter and 2,800,000,000 miles away from the Sun, around which it revolves once in 165 years. It is 2,900,000,000 miles distant from the Earth.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Revolution, Science on Saturday, 4 May 2013
This edited article about Antoine Lavoisier originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 241 published on 27 August 1966.
In France, tables of weights and measures are based on the metric system which works in tens, so that many calculations can be done easily by moving a decimal point.
One of the scientists who helped to ‘invent’ the metric system was Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, who was born in Paris on 26th August, 1743. Lavoisier was interested in chemistry and made many notable discoveries.
In 1792, Lavoisier was appointed Director of the Academy of Sciences. He was a member of the committee which recommended the metric system.
In 1793, an unsuccessful scientist, a member of the French revolutionary tribunal, published a book on the nature of gases. It was full of elementary errors which the author claimed had been passed by the Academy of Science. Lavoisier immediately denied that the Academy had ever seen the manuscript, and went on to prove that the author knew nothing about the sciences.
Unfortunately for Lavoisier, the discredited author had powerful friends in the government and through them Lavoisier was arrested and put on trial.
On 8th May, 1794, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. His defending lawyer submitted that Lavoisier was a scientist engaged in the important work of introducing the new metric system. To that, the Judge made what was to become a notorious statement: “La Republique n’a pas besoin des savants” (The Republic has no need of men of science). Next morning, Lavoisier was guillotined.
Posted in Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, London, Science on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about gas-lighting originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 240 published on 20 August 1966.
At ten o’clock on the evening of 17th August, 1807, crowds of Londoners were gazing in awe at a line of flickering gas-lights in Pall Mall. It was the first time that a street had been lit by gas.
The story of gas-lighting began in Redruth, Cornwall, in 1792. William Murdock, a Scottish engineer, was sitting in front of a coal fire in his lodgings when he noticed that, as the lumps of coal burned, little puffs of smoke would appear and burst into flame.
He decided to try an experiment. Filling a kettle with coal, Murdock fitted a tube to the spout. On the end of the tube he fixed a thimble through which he had drilled a tiny hole. When he placed the kettle on the fire, gas came out of the hole and when ignited, burned with a luminous flame. Next he built a proper retort outside his house and was able to produce enough gas to light his room. The result delighted him.
In 1804, Murdock came to London and tried to persuade the authorities to use gas-lighting for the streets. The proposal aroused a storm of protest, and even scientists like Sir Humphrey Davy said it was impossible.
Others called Murdock ‘a madman who wants to light London with smoke’. It was confidently predicted that, if the plan was attempted, London would be blown sky high.
Fortunately Murdock had some supporters, with the result that Pall Mall became the first street in the world to have gas-light.
Posted in America, Historical articles, History, London, Revolution, Science on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about Benjamin Franklin originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 224 published on 30 April 1966.
Franklin and his son demonstrating that lightning is simply electricity by Peter Jackson
Benjamin Franklin is commemorated by a square-looking red tablet with gilded lettering at No. 36 Craven Street, near Trafalgar Square, where he lived for a number of years when on official visits to England.
He liked London, in spite of his saying that “The whole town is one great smoaky house. . . .” In all he spent 16 years in England and might have settled here but for the War of Independence.
Franklin spent much time trying to avert this war, but this did not prevent him taking an active part in achieving his country’s independence once he realized that the struggle was inevitable.
He returned home to America in 1775, and was immediately appointed to the committee which was drawing up the Declaration of Independence. Afterwards he went to France to secure military aid, and remained there as his country’s representative throughout the war.
Franklin rendered almost his last public service when, as president of the Pennsylvania executive council, he played a leading role in drawing up the American Constitution. The final document was not entirely to his liking. Nevertheless, he thought it important that the final decision should be unanimous, a result he achieved by skilful diplomacy and goodwill.
The tenth son of a soap and candle maker who had emigrated from Banbury, Oxfordshire, in 1683, Benjamin joined his father’s business at ten years of age. This he did not like, so he became apprenticed to one of his elder brothers, who was a printer. At sixteen he ran his brother’s paper, the New England Courant, for a month while James served a jail sentence for being too outspoken about Massachusetts officials and their lack of speed in suppressing piracy.
Afterwards Benjamin quarrelled with his brother and set off for New York. He found no work there, so he again set off on a journey, this time to Philadelphia, where he arrived virtually penniless. He had a job there for a time in a local print shop, and then came to London, where he found similar work.
It was in London that he first showed his real mettle when he had to set up the type for a book containing theories he felt bound to refute, and proceeded to do so in a book of his own.
Returning to America in 1726, he set up his own business and made sufficient money to retire at an early age, with the intention of writing and studying science. He was responsible for a number of inventions, but he is particularly famous for his experiments with electricity. He was the first to link lightning with electricity, and he invented the lightning conductor. Many terms now commonly used in electrical work originated from him.
Benjamin Franklin’s ideas were very advanced for his time. “The rapid progress true science now makes,” he once wrote, “occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born too soon.”
Posted in Astronomy, Historical articles, History, Religion, Science on Thursday, 11 April 2013
This edited article about Galileo originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 222 published on 16 April 1966.
Galileo, now blind, lets a friend look at the stars through his telescope from the balcony of his study in Pisa, by Peter Jackson
Who first looked at the stars through a telescope? We cannot be sure; it may have been an Englishman named Thomas Harriott. Yet of the early telescopic astronomers, by far the greatest was an Italian mathematician named Galileo Galilei.
Galileo was born in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare. His father was a cloth merchant, but was able to send the boy to university, and Galileo at first meant to study medicine. He soon gave up this idea, and became fascinated by what we now call experimental science. For instance, he designed a pendulum clock, though he was never able to build one.
He was an excellent mathematician, and in 1589 became a professor at the University of Pisa. At Pisa there is the famous Leaning Tower, which is conspicuously tilted. It has often been said that Galileo went to the top of the tower and dropped stones off it, to show that a large, heavy stone would fall at the same rate as a lighter stone, and would therefore hit the ground at the same time. Actually this is nothing more than a story, but it is quite true that Galileo was busy working at problems of force and motion.
In 1592 he moved to another Italian university, Padua. By now he had become extremely interested in astronomy, and was certain in his own mind that Copernicus had been right in saying that the Earth moves round the Sun. This was not the official church view, and to support the Copernican theory was dangerous. At first, then, Galileo was wise enough to keep silent.
While still at Padua, Galileo heard some remarkable news. In Holland, a spectacle-maker named Lippershey had invented an instrument which would make distant objects seem to be close. He had, in fact, made the first telescope, and Galileo lost no time in making one for himself.
It was very small by modern standards, but powerful enough for him to see the skies more clearly than before. During the winter of 1609-1610 he made a series of spectacular discoveries which were to alter the whole course of astronomical history – and which brought great misfortunes upon Galileo himself.
The telescope was of the kind known as a refractor. It collected its light by means of a special glass lens known as an object-glass, and the image was magnified by a second lens, the eyepiece. The object-glass in Galileo’s first telescope was only one inch in diameter, whereas the largest refractor in the world today (at the Yerkes Observatory, in America) has a lens forty inches across.
Yet even so, Galileo discovered the mountains and craters of the Moon, the phases of the planet Venus, spots on the Sun, and the four moons of the giant planet Jupiter. He also found that the Milky Way, which stretches across the sky as a luminous band, is made up of vast numbers of faint stars.
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Posted in Communications, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Science, Scotland on Wednesday, 10 April 2013
This edited article about John Logie Baird originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 221 published on 9 April 1966.
The pioneer of television is commemorated by a blue plaque above a famous Italian restaurant in Soho, the famous “bohemian” district of London.
The world’s first television demonstration was given in the two attic rooms of No. 22 Frith St., Soho, where about fifty scientists assembled to see the new marvel on January 26, 1926.
The apparatus used on that occasion can now be seen at the Science Museum, South Kensington, but if you go there, do not expect to see anything like the familiar set that graces so many living-rooms today. Baird’s equipment was made of a biscuit tin (which housed the projection lamp), cardboard scanning discs, and cheap cycle lenses. It was built on an old wash-stand, and the whole was held together with scrap wood, darning needles, string and sealing-wax.
The machine was actually built at Hastings, where Baird lived at the time of his earlier experiments, and it was there that he first obtained an image – a flickering shadow of a Maltese cross thrown over a distance of a few feet.
Not until he moved to London, dogged by ill-health and poverty, did he manage to transmit a recognizable picture of a person – the office-boy from the film company’s offices below his workroom.
Later in 1926, Baird developed Noctovision, or night vision, a process using infra-red rays.
In 1928 he arranged the world’s first transatlantic television transmission, both to New York and to the ship Berengaria in mid-ocean. In this year he also demonstrated natural-colour transmissions, and a form of stereoscopic television. In addition he experimented with large-screen television, once shown at the London Coliseum, and in 1931 he televised the Derby from Epsom. The following year he gave the first demonstrations of ultra-short wave transmission.
Despite physical and financial handicaps, Baird was the first practical exponent of every device associated with television. Fittingly, he also became the first Briton to be awarded the gold medal of the International Faculty of Science. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
After his success, Baird moved to Bexhill, Sussex, where he continued experimenting to solve television problems until his death on June 14, 1946.
The son of a parson, Baird was educated at the Royal Technical College, Glasgow, and the University of Glasgow. Rejected as unfit for military service in 1914, he spent some years as super-intendent-engineer of the Clyde Valley Electric Power Co. Afterwards he started several business ventures, successively marketing patent socks, jam, honey and soap. Each was brought to an end by ill-health, and a major physical and nervous breakdown compelled him to retire to Hastings in 1922.