Makers of the Modern World
|256||TUTOR: Randal Richards (OBE DSc PhD)|
|COURSE No.||WEEK||AM||PM||FULL DAY||FEE||STATUS|
Our understanding of the organisation and behaviour of matter, and ability to manipulate matter for the benefit of humankind, is relatively recent given the age of the planet. This course is devoted to the life and times of a few individuals who made major contributions. Recognisable names include Newton, Rutherford, Curie and Einstein with a supporting cast of less well-known names such as Haber, Lewis, Meitner and Fermi. Your tutor will give an outline of their scientific contributions along with insights into their personalities and character. Unsurprisingly, some were not particularly pleasant people!
Isaac Newton embraced the whole of science of the 17th century from mathematics, through physics to alchemy and becoming master of the Royal Mint. The planetary motions were described by his gravitation law and systemised mechanics and optics which still prevails today. He was however slow to publish and often only when he became annoyed with someone who disagreed with him. Modern science rests greatly on Newton's contributions
Heat and Insight
Three personalities are covered here; Joule; Kelvin and Clausius.The fact that Joule and Kelvin are memorialised in energy and temperature units but Clausius has no such recognition understates his contribution. Joule was a Manchester brewer but from his spare time hobby he discovered the connection between work and heat. Lord Kelvin (born William Thomson) was a mathematical prodigy from Northern Ireland who laid the basis and defined what is known as thermodynamics now. Additionally, he was instrumental in the success of the first transatlantic cable.Little is known about Clausius's personality but his contribution was to define the quantity that perhaps more than any other defines the direction of change - entropy.
Saving the World From Starvation
Contributions to this theme come from very different characters; a reclusive American who was awarded the first PhD in the US; a German prima donna with a fondness for beer and money and a somewhat bumptious German who saved the world from starvation but ultimately killed a generation. The American is J Willard Gibbs who made the thermodynamics of Kelvin etc understandable to chemists and defined the quantity that determines whether a reaction will happen or not. Walther Nernst was the beer drinking German who overcame a problem in being able to calculate the reaction driving force just on the basis that it must be so. Fritz Haber used Nernst ideas to make ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen and fell out with Nernst who said it couldn't be done. Haber succeeded, enabled fertiliser production and became rich.
Quantum theory is populated with many beguiling characters but we restrict ourselves to two. Max Planck, the conservative German thermodynamic theoretician who wrestled with a problem from the Victorian era 'black body radiation', solved it by invoking discrete jumps in energy (quanta) but didn't really believe it for 10 years.The man who persuaded him of the fundamental truth of his hypothesis was Einstein. Although more often cited for his relativity theories, Einstein's Noble Prize was for explaining the photo electric effect which relied on Planck's quantum hypothesis. Planck's life was beset by tragedy; Einstein appears to have treated his first wife in a somewhat callous manner.
Atoms and Fission
Another heavily populated area so a selective approach is made.Rutherford is a big figure here both metaphorically and literally; a large man with a booming voice and sparks and ash trailing from his pipe but dominated by his mother and his wife.Perhaps after Faraday the most intuitive experimental scientist who inspired his students. His initial description of the internal structure of the atom led to a collaboration with Niels Bohr led to the description of atomic structure (old quantum theory) which is the basis of modern descriptions.At the same time Marie Curie was working on radioactive materials in Paris initially because it was a new area and she wouldn't have to do so much reading of the literature. Marie Curie is an example of the definition of genius '99% perspiration, 1% inspiration'. She worked incredibly hard (and with considerable help which she doesn't really acknowledge) but seemed never to be fully accepted by the French scientific establishment despite winning two Noble prizes, her affair with Langevin did not help.Lise Meitner is a little known person who either made the world unsafe or enabled the harnessing of great sources of energy. She explained the process of nuclear fission in 1939 such that 6 years later the energy that could be unleashed was made evident in the two atomic bomb attacks on Japan. She should have shared the Nobel Prize with her colleague and friend Otto Hahn who did the actual chemistry and was forced to leave Germany when the Austrian Anschluss happened being of Austrian nationality
Bondings and Fallings Out
Gilbert Newton Lewis was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry some 44 times but it was never awarded. He made major contributions to physical chemistry; wrote the first systematic text book on the area in 1923 (still in print although updated) invented the word photon to describe light quantum; defined a class of acids and bases that form the foundation of catalytic processes in organic chemistry today.Perhaps his major contribution was initiating insight into how atoms bond together to form molecules and compounds.His initial ideas were formed in about 1902 when all that was known about atomic structure was that atoms contained electrons. The seminal paper was published in 1916 and introduced the idea of sharing electrons between atoms. A disagreement with another US chemist led to Lewis leaving the field at exactly the wrong moment. Nonetheless his failure to be warded the Nobel Prize is a shadow on the Committee's past. The 1916 paper inspired a very young, bright chemist to take up further work. This was Linus Pauling, who had the insight to travel to Europe and work with quantum theoreticians after he gained his PhD.He learned sufficient to describe a whole new theory of bonding aspects of which are still used to day and made major contributions to protein structure.
Richard Feynman was a man of great genius and perhaps an undeveloped sense of awareness - on being invited to Brazil to give a lecture he learned Spanish!His Nobel prize was for quantum electrodynamics, he was a member of the atom bomb design team at Los Alamos; discussed possibility of H bomb with John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam; identified the fault that led to the Challenger disaster. His spare time was taken up with visiting topless bars or drawing the same in his home studio - tolerated by his Welsh third wife. The Feynman Lectures on Physics are still used in many universities today and he could be the source of the current enthusiasm for all things nano with his 1959 lecture 'There's plenty of room at the bottom'.
OBE DSc PhD
An academic for 30 years having held posts in Germany, the US, Imperial College, Strathclyde University and Durham University; researching in physical chemistry making use of neutron beams to investigate structure and thermodynamics of macromolecules resulting in over 150 publications. Randal is now retired, after the last five years of working life at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as Research Director and Chief Executive.
- Adult Courses
- Young People's Courses
Course Dates for 2020
|WEEK 1:||13th July - 17th July|
|WEEK 2:||20th July - 24th July|
|WEEK 3:||27th July - 31st July|
|WEEK 4:||3rd August - 7th August|
|Morning Courses:||9.15am to 12.15pm|
|Afternoon Courses:||1.45pm to 4.30pm|
|Full Day Courses:||9.15am to 4.30pm|