You can now book tickets for our one-day conference on 13 September, ‘Science and the First World War: the aftermath’.

The conference is the third and final event in a Europe-wide series on the history of science during WWI, organised by the Royal Society, the Leopoldina Academy and the Académie des Sciences. Our meeting is in partnership with the BSHS, who are then hosting the European Society for the History of Science’s biennial conference in London immediately afterwards, from 14 to 17 September.

The day at the Royal Society will focus on science and society towards the end of WWI, and the longer-term consequences of conflict into the 1920s. Our multi-national panel of speakers will examine how internationalism in scientific relationships revived – or perished – after the war, focusing on disciplines as diverse as psychology, astronomy and agricultural meteorology.

The archives of the Royal Society contain a great deal of material relating to WWI, from food policy to the reminiscences of survivors. This latter category features a letter from Francis Crew FRS to another Fellow, the splendidly-named Reginald Crundall Punnett, in which Crew recalls how he ‘first read J. Arthur Thomson’s Heredity in a deep German-built dugout in France in 1917, my studies being frequently interrupted and my attention inclined to wander.’

 

Henry Moseley, 1887-1915

 

Sadly, however, the soldier whose image we’ve used on our conference webpage didn’t live to see the return of peace and the gradual thawing in European scientific relations. Henry Moseley, who died aged 27 at Gallipoli in August 1915, was an atomic physicist who had volunteered for active service at the start of the war. Moseley’s work on x-ray spectra and atomic numbers, which would almost certainly have seen him elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, led Ernest Rutherford, his former supervisor, to say that Moseley completed ‘during two years at the outset of his career a set of researches that would surely have brought him a Nobel prize’.

Looking back on Moseley’s rich early promise, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov lamented what ‘might well have been the most costly single death of the War to mankind generally’ – a death that led the British government to bar prominent scientists from engaging in active combat duty. Moseley bequeathed his estate to the Royal Society in his will, and one of the beneficiaries was a future Society President, Patrick Blackett, who in 1924 was awarded a Moseley Research Studentship for X-ray research.

Blackett used the Moseley funding to spend time in Göttingen working with James Franck, an Anglo-German collaboration that would have been inconceivable only a few years earlier. To see how such scientific relations were gradually re-established after the terrible years of conflict, do come along to our conference in September – it promises to be a stimulating and enlightening day.

 

Henry Moseley’s (slightly fuzzy) ownership inscription on the half-title page of J.H. van’t Hoff’s ‘The arrangement of atoms in space’ (English ed., 1898). Moseley was at Trinity College, Oxford, from 1906 to 1910. The book was given to the Royal Society by Moseley’s mother in 1917.

 

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