It is appropriate that the Wilkins Medawar Bernal lecture should have been delivered, in this of all years, in Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre, within sight of the college, Wadham, in which the Royal Society had some of its earliest promoters. In the lecture, which appears in this issue of Notes and Records of the Royal Society, Melvin Bragg uses the colourful metaphor of multiple universes of knowledge to convey the diversity of scientific activity that has always characterized the Society. Among the marks of diversity to which he refers is the mix that between 1750 and 1830 allowed leading instrument-makers—Edward Troughton, Jesse Ramsden, John Smeaton and James Short among them—to be elected as Fellows, along with the most sophisticated theorists and experimenters of the day. As he observes, this permeable interface between the worlds of doing and knowing was characteristic of the Royal Society from its beginning, and it has its counterparts in our own day. Witness Tim Berners-Lee with his global hypertext project of 1989 and the legacy it has left in our World Wide Web. If along the way the Society has descended at times into ‘the leather armchairs of unearned privilege’ (as Bragg expresses it), such phases of lethargy have been overcome and they certainly do not characterize today's 1400-strong Fellowship.
Beryl Hartley's argument points in a similar direction with reference to investigations of trees from the time of John Evelyn's Sylva (the first book to receive the Society's imprimatur, in 1664) to that of studies of the movement of the sap by Stephen Hales, Richard Bradley and Philip Miller in the eighteenth century. The work of these and other Fellows on the anatomy and physiology of trees and the classification and acclimatization of foreign species was undertaken from motives of scientific interest but also with a view to the improvement of techniques in agriculture and gardening. And that expectation became an enduring reality in a tradition of scientifically based advice of the kind perpetuated in the work of Alexander Hunter, the eighteenth-century founder of the York Agricultural Society, and some early initiatives of the Society of Arts, which began to promote the planting of timber trees soon after its establishment in 1754.
Bragg's reference to the adage, first stated by the American physiologist and biochemist L. J. Henderson in 1917, that science owed more to the steam engine than the steam engine owed to science points to the important conclusion that the interaction between the pure and the applied has not always been one way. Leslie Tomory's paper on the study on fire-damps by the Whitehaven doctor William Brownrigg traces the path that led from a concern with the practical problem of explosions in Cumbrian mines to ideas about the existence of different types of elastic fluid and a suggestion that air was a mixture of an unspecified number of such fluids rather than a single Aristotelian element. Brownrigg prepared five papers on these subjects for transmission to the Royal Society in 1741–42, some two decades before pneumatic chemistry may be said to have begun with the work of Joseph Black in Britain and Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier in France. Although the Society did not publish the papers, their contents may well have been known to Henry Cavendish, another of the British pioneers. Despite inevitable uncertainty about their precise influence, the papers, still available as manuscripts in the Society's archives, provide a fascinating insight into the prehistory of the chemical revolution of the eighteenth century.
Science and its applications are the theme of the study of the Tube Investments (TI) Group Laboratory at Hinxton Hall by David Melford, Peter Duncumb, Mike Stowell and Bill Graham. Using personal reminiscences as well as published sources, the authors follow the laboratory's transition from an ‘ivory tower’ phase, following its inauguration in 1954, to one in which, from the early 1960s, research was increasingly guided by the priorities of the numerous manufacturing companies that made up the TI Group. As their account shows, the transition did not entail the abandonment of the laboratory's involvement in basic research. In its specialist areas of metal physics and physical metallurgy, Hinxton Hall remained at the international cutting edge, drawing on the resources of its own staff (well represented in the Fellowships of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering) and working closely with academic scientists in Cambridge. It was only the restructuring of the Group and the tendency for the Group's constituent companies to establish their own laboratories that ended a brief but distinguished history. The laboratory, a fine example of the ‘Cambridge phenomenon’ of the interplay between university and industry, closed in 1988.
War has long been a stimulus to the engagement of scientists in public affairs. William Van der Kloot's article on the contributions of William Maddox Bayliss, Ernest Henry Starling and others to the understanding and treatment of wound shock, a condition in which a drop in blood pressure resulting from a wound can lead to death, provides a striking example of this in World War I. Bayliss, in particular, emerges from Van der Kloot's discussion as a modest, kindly man whose work has never received the recognition it deserves. As Van der Kloot shows, however, Bayliss was also a man of action. It was typical of him that he drew inspiration and a wealth of case histories from the period he spent with the war-wounded and their surgeons in France in 1917.
It is fitting that Fellows of the Royal Society should occupy such a prominent place in an issue of Notes and Records published in this 350th anniversary year. In the commemorations, Robert Hooke is one early Fellow who has attracted particular attention. As a result, he is no longer the rather neglected contemporary whose star was eclipsed by Newton. Yet there is still much to say about him, as Matthew Hunter shows in his article on Hooke's graphic work. Since Hooke was apprenticed to the painter Peter Lely on his arrival in London in the 1640s, his skill in drawing should not surprise us. But Hunter's ascription to Hooke of a figural drawing now in the Tate Britain collection is novel and convincing. It reinforces our appreciation of Hooke's many-faceted genius and invites further examination of the interaction between the scientific and the artistic communities of the Restoration and early Enlightenment. Science was not a remote cultural island in Hooke's day. And it is not so, or should not be so, in our own twenty-first century.
Finally, I am pleased that Notes and Records should have the opportunity of chronicling two highlights of this summer's anniversary celebrations: the special evensong in St Paul's Cathedral on 9 June and the Convocation of the Fellowship that took place at the Royal Festival Hall two weeks later in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen. From that evensong, we publish the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon, and we record the Convocation (the first for 50 years) and associated Summer Science Exhibition with photographs and the addresses by HRH Prince William, who was admitted during the Convocation as the Society's newest Fellow, the President of the Society Lord Rees, and Professor C. N. R. Rao FRS, who responded on behalf of the Fellowship. Both evensong and Convocation were events that memorably conveyed the Society's will to remain a forceful presence in fashioning the public face of science and promoting science's engagement with the environmental and other challenges that we face in societies, developed and developing alike, throughout the world.
- © 2010 The Royal Society