Seven Ages Of Science


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Lisa Jardine explores the birth of modern science in Restoration England.

In the first of her Seven Ages of Science, Lisa Jardine explores the history of modern science from its birth in Restoration England.

It was an Age of Ingenuity: an age when hundreds of hard-working artisans in the City of London made clocks, watches, microscopes and spectacles; when Robert Hooke revealed an exquisite microscopic world; and when Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of giants. An Age when, Lisa argues, an ability to make things work was as important as a flair for mathematics.'

One giant telescope is now a familiar item on the London skyline: The Monument, built in memory of the Great Fire of London, by Robert Hooke. The ingenious Mr Hooke was a familiar figure on London's streets; helping to rebuild the city whilst bustling between the many of his projects. He worked on devices which are still familiar to us today - the microscope, springs, and Hooke's Joint - a universal joint, which is still used in our car transmissions.

Isaac Newton, now remembered as a lone mathematical genius, was very much part of all this ingenuity - although his animosity with Hooke is well-documented. Newton said he stood on the shoulders of giants: those shoulders belonged not to previous generations of philosophers, but rather to a host of ingenious mechanics.

Producer: Anna Buckley.

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Lisa Jardine describes how Britain's desire to build an empire promoted botany.

We're often told that science changed our world. In this series, Lisa Jardine explores how the world changed science, pushing it in new directions, creating new disciplines and pioneering new approaches to scientific understanding.

Lisa Jardine describes how the desire to build an empire promoted a keen scientific interest in plants, in this second of her Seven Ages of Science, exploring the history of modern science in Britain. We needed to understand what plants existed in the world and how they might be grown for profit elsewhere in the tropics. In the Age of Exploration, the early British Empire was an international botanical empire.

In the 1700s, scientifically-minded men devoured stories of exotic new worlds from the comfort of their London coffee houses. In the 1800s, an explosion in overseas trade allowed young men with an interest in the natural world to discover strange new species for themselves. The known world was expanding, science started to look outwards.

Ships returned loaded with all manner of strange and unexpected things. And, Lisa argues, it was this wealth of unfamiliar stuff flooding into England - from slave whips to giraffe heads, weird creatures and exotic plants - that encouraged a new interest in collecting and classifying. This was the Age when taxonomy was born.

Captain Cook's famous voyage of discovery on The Endeavour brought back thousands of new plant specimens, and exquisite drawings of thousands more; drawings that were both aesthetically beautiful and scientifically accurate. They made botany highly fashionable: women started to embroider new species, and playing cards advertised Linnaeus' new system for classifying them.

But, it was a desire to make money out of newly acquired lands in Australia, India and elsewhere that really drove a growing scientific interest in plants. How else could we make money out of these newly acquired lands? Botany Bay in Australia is so named for a reason: Joseph Banks - who travelled with Cook on The Endeavour - imported a host of different plants to Botany Bay so the convicts would be able to feed themselves. We have him to thank for introducing sheep to Australia. Later, experiments on indigo and cotton tested whether they might thrive elsewhere in our growing empire.

The networks that make botanical science are the networks of the slave trade. Plant specimens returned to England on the same boats that took slaves to the Caribbean. And many of the beautiful examples that we admire today were picked and pressed by slaves.

By the end of this Age of Exploration, botany has been promoted from a hobby to a well- established "scientific" activity (paving the way for later evolutionary theories), scientists have proved themselves useful to the Crown and adventure, wonder and discovery are now integral to what it means to "do science".

Producer: Anna Buckley.

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Lisa Jardine explores an Age in which scientists took leaps of faith.

At the start of the 19th century, fossils were a mystery. Mary Anning excavated the remains of huge and extraordinary creatures from the cliff face at Lyme Regis. Most men of science assumed she'd found a crocodile: she insisted her creature was entirely unknown. As other such mysterious monsters were unearthed, they represented a puzzle for established theology, but theology coped.

Electricity, "that imponderable fluid", was another mystery; as was magnetism, another weird and invisible force. Maxwell's Laws of electro-magnetism, lavishly praised by Einstein decades later, explained them both, and light as well. His four simple equations reduced mystery by unifying apparently disparate phenomena. A notion that pervades and drives much of physics to this day.

The way in which telegraph networks deliver messages might as well have been magic. And several well respected Victorian physicists believed that if voices can travel invisibly over hundreds of miles, then perhaps the laws of physics could help us communicate in séances with dead souls.

Perhaps the biggest mystery of all concerned the origin of life itself. We tend to imagine a great clash between science and religion in the middle of the 19th century but for most of the century there was little conflict. Theology was able to accommodate the fossil evidence, or not worry too much about it; and evolutionary ideas had been around since Charles Darwin's grandfather published his scientific poem, Zoonomia. And, when Darwin published On the Origin of Species many in the chattering classes remained light-hearted, with one notable woman of letters remarking that she didn't believe her grandfather was an oyster.

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Lisa Jardine explores how scientists became separated from wider society.

Until the end of the 18th century, most scientific endeavour took place in private houses or workshops, often done on a part-time basis by passionate enthusiasts. It was the poet Samuel Coleridge who suggested, in 1833, that men who were neither literary men nor philosophers might be called "scientists"; but still there were no public laboratories and certainly no white coats.

The idea that people could be trained in laboratories was pioneered in Germany and it was decades before Britain caught on.

In 1858, an expensive project to lay a telegraph cable under the Atlantic, failed; and an inquiry into the failure recommended that Britain needed more men who understood how telegraphy actually worked. Today, the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge is famous for a string of Nobel Prize winning discoveries into the nature of the atom and the structure of molecules including, famously, DNA. But it was set up to train more telegraph engineers.

As more purpose-built laboratories were established, complete with petri dishes, test tubes, and bunsen burners, scientists started to be perceived as somehow different from the rest of us. Trained in specialist techniques, they followed their own methods and rules. They became a separate tribe.


Lisa Jardine explores how the demands of war mobilised science long before WWII.

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Lisa Jardine explores how military demands mobilised science not in World War II, but in World War I.

The idea that Britain's scientific expertise and effort was mobilised from scratch on the eve of World War II is a myth. Long before 1939, Britain was ready to wage, and win, a scientific war.

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Lisa Jardine explores what's driving science in the 21st century.

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Lisa Jardine explores what's driving science in the 21st century: curiosity, politics, profit or PR?