Story of Science

Pioneer Spacecraft Plaque

This LIFE course will consider how science has developed over the centuries. We have discovered much about how the world works, and we have learned many ways to control it. The illustrated plaque on the 1972 Pioneer spacecraft was meant to show to other intelligent life who we are, where we come from and what we have learned.

The plaque suggests the state of human knowledge – the fruits of a long history of science. By considering this history, we may understand more clearly what we now know, and we may discover how to learn new things. The course is in two parts: sessions 1-8 in the winter of 2019 and 9-16 in the spring. The second part considers some later developments, but it is not necessary to have taken the first part to appreciate the second.

The notes for the sessions are available in pdf format. These may be found by linking on the pdf link at the end of the session summary. The pdfs can then be downloaded to your computer or device. A list of books that you may want to look at is also available.

  1. Beginnings – control and use of fire, stone tools, cave painting, shamans and scientists, agriculture and urbanization, pottery, invention of the wheel, the Indo-Europeans and their language, smelting of metals – bronze and iron ages, history of glass, cuneiform writing, Code of Hammurabi, trade routes, steel technology from India and Sri Lanka, invention of paper in China, Gutenberg Press and printing. pdf
  2. Physiology – Prehistoric surgery and medicine, Enemas, soap, Aesculepius, Hippocrates, Galen and Humoral medicine, bloodletting, problems of doctrine, Leonardo da Vinci, Vesalius and human anatomy, resurrection of Anne Green, , Harvey and the circulation of blood, van Leeuwenhoek and his microscopes, Hooke and his Micrographia, Schwann and cell theory, Rudolf Virchow: histology and pathology. pdf
  3. Mathematics – Babylonian calculations, sexagesimal numbers, Pythagoras’ theorem, Euclid, Aristotle’s logic, Archimedes’ estimation of pi, Chinese surveying, Hipparchus – trigonometry, Diophantus – algebra, zero and decimals from India and Persia, algorithms al-Khwarizmi, number theory (Eratosthenes’ primes, Fermat), Descartes’ analytic geometry, calculus (Leibniz vs Newton), probability, Boolean logic, set theory, Gödel. pdf
  4. Cosmos – Earth as a Sphere, Aristotle’s theories, Eratosthenes and the measurement of the earth’s circumference, Ptolemy’s geocentrism, Aristarchus, Copernicus and heliocentrism, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Giordano Bruno, Galileo: his observations and his trial, Newton and gravity, discovery of Neptune, recession of the galaxies and current views of the Big Bang, life and death of stars, fate of planet Earth, Black Holes. pdf
  5. Chemistry – ancient elements, Democritus’ atomism, alchemy’s Philosophers’ Stone; Robert Boyle’s Skeptical Chemyst; resurrection, Priestley and Scheele: phlogiston and oxygen, Lavoisier, death of Napoleon, Dalton, Humphrey Davy – anesthetic gases and electrolysis, Avogadro’s molecules, Mendeleev’s Periodic Table, vitalism and organic chemistry, molecular bonds, Nobel’s dynamite, van’t Hoff, fertilizer – Fritz Haber.  pdf
  6. Infection – bubonic plague, syphilis, smallpox – innoculation (Lady Montague) and vaccination( Jenner); puerperal fever and disinfectants: Semmelweis, Lister, Pasteur; Robert Koch and germ theory, von Behring and diphtheria, Connaught Laboratories, Malaria, Yellow Fever, informed consent; Ehrlich’s magic bullet, Flu Pandemic, vaccines Polio vaccines (Salk, Sabin), controversies; HIV and AIDS – And the Band Played On. pdf
  7. Electricity –  Thales of Miletus, William Gilbert and magnetism, electrostatics, Leyden jar, Abbé Nollet’s “electric boy,” Franklin and lightning, Galvani’s animal electricity, Volta’s bimetallic electricity, electromagnetism – Oersted, Ampère, magnetic induction and motors – Faraday and Henry, electric generators, Tesla’s alternating current, telegraph, Morse code, Edison’s phonograph; Bell and the telephone, electric lighting. pdf
  8. Energy – water and wind power; weight of air; Boyle’s law, Charles’s law;  Newcomen and Watt steam engines; behavior of ideal gases; absolute zero; Joule’s equivalence of electrical and mechanical energy; Helmholtz and the conservation of energy, thermodynamics; blast furnace and Bessemer process; railways and steamships; internal combustion engine; turbojets; present day sources of energy – solar and wind power. pdf