24 Nov 2014
The SCI London Group was privileged to receive a guided tour of the Royal Institution (RI) by Professor Frank James, Professor of the History of Science and Head of Collections at the Institution. The tour took place on Thursday 18 November, starting with a lunch at the RI cafe, and was enjoyed by all.
Many of us associate the RI with their Christmas Lectures, but there is so much more. The tour began in the historic lecture theatre, with Professor James recounting the history of the building and the RI from it's beginnings in 1799, and the acquisition of the building at 21 Albemarle Street, London, where it remains today. We visited other parts of this building and were given a background to the iconic paintings. For example, the historic cartoon by James Gillray, of the 1802 lecture 'New Discoveries in Pneumaticks!' where breathing nitrous oxide was adopted by the upper British upper class in 1799, for 'laughing gas parties'. Moving forward 100 years we saw the 1904 painting by Henry Jamyn Brooks depicting 'Sir James Dewar Lecturing on Liquid Hydrogen' at the RI lecture theatre.
After wandering through other parts of the historic building we finally arrived at the RI Museum. At each display Professor James was able to give detailed background to the many original items. These included Alessandro Volta's voltaic pile, the first electrical battery, invented by Volta in 1800 and presented to Michael Faraday by Volta in 1814. We also visited the first ever prototype of Davy's miner's safety lamp, the first ionization spectrometer designed and constructed by William Henry Bragg in 1912-13, and George Porter's first ruby laser developed in 1964. The tour ended by viewing the reconstruction of Faraday's laboratory, and the sculpture bust of Faraday, borrowed by Margaret Thatcher to display at 10 Downing Street whilst she was Prime Minister.
The RI 'Faraday Museum' is open to the public Monday-Friday. There are many other activities organised at the RI, more information can be found on their website.
Dr Fred Parrett
SCI London Group