As I write this I’m looking out of our office window onto a blizzard of snow blanketing St James’s Park – but spring is coming, and to prove it I’m unveiling our new series of Friday lunchtime lectures, starting on 22 February.

As always it’s an eclectic mix of history of science topics. This season we range back in time to the ancient Egyptians – what impact (excuse the pun) did the iron found in meteorites have on their culture? Dr Diane Johnson will explore this question. Skipping through the millennia, but remaining pre-Royal Society, Dr Neil Tarrant will discuss the 16th century church’s response to ‘science’ (did it require the assistance of demons?), and Dr Guido Giglioni will talk about how Francis Bacon’s work left an exciting but awkward legacy for the early Fellows of the Royal Society.

Portrait of Francis Bacon, ca. 1617-1620 (studio of Paulus van Somer I, 1576-1621) © The Royal Society

Moving into the period when the Society was still in its infancy, we will explore some of the ways in which the thing that we now call ‘science’ began to be formulated, through language and image-making – and also through satirical responses to the scientific enterprise. Professor Claire Preston will talk about how Sir Thomas Browne, author of the famous early ‘myth-busting’ text ‘Pseudodoxia Epidemica’, used scientific language. Dr Sachiko Kusukawa will show some of the beautiful and intricate drawings and engravings that helped to communicate early scientific ideas, and argue that they were a vital part of the Society’s early meetings and publications. And Dr Greg Lynall will argue that Swift’s ‘Voyage to Laputa’ in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ was inspired by his dislike of the Society’s President, Sir Isaac Newton.

Continuing the theme of scientific draughtsmanship, Professor Felix Driver will uncover some of the albums of sketches and notes made by John Linton Palmer RN, a naval surgeon who served in the Pacific in the 1850s and 1860s. Dr Katy Price will explore the impact of Einstein’s theory of relativity, not on the scientific community but on the general public – asking how it changed the way people perceived, and talked about, the universe. Dr Jenifer Glynn will discuss another key figure in 20th century science, giving a very personal account of her sister, Rosalind Franklin, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. And Neil Calver will bring us right up to the recent past, with a tale of controversy and division in the scientific community.

The lectures are free and all are welcome to attend. Doors open at 12:30pm for a 1:00pm start – we look forward to seeing you there!

Friday 22 February, Neil Calver, University of Kent: ‘The Royal Society and the Rothschild “Controversy” 1971-72’

Friday 1 March, Dr Greg Lynall, University of Liverpool: ‘Laputian Newtons: The Science and Politics of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels’

Friday 8 March, Professor Felix Driver, Royal Holloway, University of London: ‘Maritime science and the visual culture of exploration: the albums of a Victorian naval surgeon’

Friday 15 March, Professor Claire Preston, University of Birmingham: ”Dark, clowdy, and impertinent’: Thomas Browne’s scientific language’ 

Friday 22 March, Dr Sachiko Kusukawa, University of Cambridge: ‘Unsung heroes: artistic contributors to the early Royal Society’ 

Friday 5 April, Dr Jenifer Glynn: ‘My Sister Rosalind Franklin’

Friday 12 April, Dr Guido Giglioni, Warburg Institute: ‘Experimental misunderstandings: The precedent of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum and the beginnings of the Royal Society’

Friday 19 April, Dr Diane Johnson, Open University: ‘Iron from the sky: the potential influence of meteorites on ancient Egyptian culture’

Friday 26 April, Dr Katy Price, Queen Mary, University of London: ‘The Popular Reception of Relativity in Britain’

Friday 3 May, Dr Neil Tarrant, Imperial College, University of London: ‘Defining nature’s limits: Prosecuting magic in sixteenth-century Italy’

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