History of Science

The NLO History of Science Group

The History of Science Group holds informal meetings for talks and discussion about all topics related to the history of science and technology. The majority of talks relate to some aspect of astronomy or astrophysics, but since the first meeting of the Group in the autumn of 1999 there have been talks on a wider range of topics including meteorology, computing, lives of famous scientists, digital mapping, the electricity- supply industry, advances in electronic devices and smart materials. For each meeting there is usually one main talk, which is advertised in advance, and short discussions on other topics that have come to the attention of members. In other words the meeting format is quite variable.

The Group usually meets on the first Tuesday of each month from October to June at 2.30 pm. There is no formal membership and any member of the NLO is most welcome to attend (without notice) if a talk is likely to be of interest. The attendance of regular, occasional and one-off members fluctuates, and is around 15 members at present. Most of the talks are given by our regular members, but the Group would be pleased to welcome other NLO members, particularly those who would be willing to speak about their past work or special interests.

The monthly meetings are organised by Keith Orrell (korrell@uk2.net) and Alan Martin (martinsinvennottery@gmail.com). They are keen to increase the size of the Group somewhat and would be pleased to provide more information about any of the meetings.

Programme of Forthcoming Talks

Date Topic Speaker
7th Jan 2020 Sir Robert Stawell Ball, the Victorian Patrick Moore? John Chuter
4th Feb 2020 Understanding Gravity, and why we still don’t Richard Pinion
3rd Mar 2020 Lockyer’s Meteoritic Hypothesis Allan Jones
7th Apr 2020 150th Anniversary of Nature – The Lockyer Years David Strange  

Sir Robert Stawell Ball, the Victorian Patrick Moore?

For thirty-five years (1874-1909) Sir Robert Stawell Ball virtually personified astronomy to the English-speaking world. He wrote 13 books on popular astronomy, two of which were still in print in the 1940s, and more importantly had a career of extraordinary success as a public lecturer. His role, as one who communicated astronomy to the public and made it appear a valid pursuit, was important for scientists of other disciplines as well, at a time when the issue of endowed research was becoming important.

John will go into more detail about this and explain why he has chosen to place a ? into the title.

Understanding Gravity, and why we still Don’t

Gravity is an omnipresent effect taken for granted by many. Richard’s talk starts with a historical review of attempts to understand and define gravity and how it works. That will be followed by a look at the main contemporary theories with opposing and developing ideas on how it arises. The talk will finish with attempts, so far unsuccessful, to unite gravity with the other fundamental forces in our Universe and why this is proving so difficult.

Lockyer’s Meteoritic Hypothesis

Allan will tell us about Lockyer’s hypothesis on the evolution of stars. This was based on interstellar material (swarms of meteors or meteoritic vapour) condensing to form young stars whose temperatures increased as they contracted further. His ideas were based on the spectral characteristics of seven groups of stars. The theory was flawed in a number of ways but it was the forerunner of evolution according to the H-R diagram which is generally accepted today.

150th Anniversary of Nature – The Lockyer Years

David will offer an interesting insight into how Lockyer edited Nature for 50 years. Lockyer had many skirmishes with authors but his tough editorial policy established a science journal of the highest quality that has been maintained to this day.