The Marvelous Marriage of History and Science

BY Allison Loudermilk / POSTED December 3, 2009

Long before John Collins Warren, M.D., thought up The New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery and the Collateral Branches of Science in 1812 or, more recently, PLoS One revolutionized top-tier peer-reviewed journals by becoming open access, a bunch of scientists were building much of the foundation for science across its myriad disciplines at the Royal Society of London. Three-hundred-and-fifty year’s worth of foundation in fact.

And now, to celebrate its steadfast roots in science, the society is offering 60 historic papers online, as blogger Sarah Zielinski at reports. And they are truly awesome. In fact, don’t haul your butt to that tedious 9 a.m. Friday intro biology lecture. Just shuffle over to your laptop and visit the Trailblazing Web site where the papers are offered and bone up on canine blood transfusions. Or read about the father of microscopy’s, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s observations of “little animals,” some of which we now call bacteria and protozoa. Here’s van Leeuwenhoek reporting on his discovery:

In the year 1675, I discovered living creatures in Rain water, which had stood but few days in a new earthen pot…. This invited me to view this water with great attention, especially those little animals appearing to me ten thousand times less than those represented by Monf. Swamerdam…

Take that Monf. Swamerdam! But seriously, this image is likely to stick with me — any maybe you? – far longer than some rote description of said little animals in the second edition of Campbell’s Biology weighing down my desk. (No offense, Campbell. It’s me, not you.)

Or read about the 1775 adventures of Charles Blagden, then intrepid Secretary of the Royal Society, who hung out in a sweltering 260 degree Fahrenheit room unscathed for eight minutes, thanks to the cooling power of sweat. He also took a dog with him. There seems to be a recurring canine theme here.

Women scientists, such as astronomer Caroline Herschel and her sighting of multiple comets, are also featured. And lest you think the Royal Society is stuck back in the days of funny powdered wigs, the collection of historic papers also includes some modern classics, like that of Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose pondering black holes and singularities or scientist James Lovelock thinking about grand geoengineering ideas to reverse global warming.

Enough gushing. Go check it out and report back on your faves. Or read more about the marvelous marriage of science and history with a few of these classics:

How Charles Darwin Worked
How Isaac Newton Worked
10 Science Experiments That Changed the World
10 of the Biggest Lies in History

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