Discovering the world—what this theme is about

ThemeDOW-V01Making discoveries about the world and how it functions was the work of these scientists and discoverers.

Astronomy, Navigation and timekeeping

Francis Baily, Apart from an interest in working out how annuities and life insurance should work statistically, Francis Baily was an astronomer and was able to explain the bright spots around a total solar eclipse as the effects of the moons valleys and mountains.

With his very talented sister Caroline, William Herschel as an astronomer and discoverer of the planet Uranus as well (with Caroline) a cataloguer of stars.

William James Frodsham made accurate time-keepers for navigation at sea.

Joseph Huddart a notable hydrographer and sea captain whose accuracy and draftmanship of his charts and sailing directions saved lives at sea.

Henry Kater worked on the accuracy of clocks by establishing the correct pendulum length and methods for keeping the pendulum length constant in changing temperatures.

Nevil Maskelyn, was astronomer royal and responsible for introducing the Nautical Almanac that and a method of navigation that for the first time gave navigators their Latitude and Longitude.


Joseph Banks, was a rich gentleman scientist who travelled with Captain James Cook on his round the world voyage that discovered Australia. But more than that, he was instrumental is setting up one of the UKs premier science bodies serving as its President for many years.

Another traveller was Robert Brown, who, on a number of explorations served as botanist, collecting and naming a great number of plant specimens.

Elements, materials, process and apparatus

A Scottish nobleman, know by his family as “daft Dundonald”, Archibald Cochrane (3rd Earl Dundonald) exploited his estates natural resources of coal, and salt to form a chemical industry making salt and alkali.

Henry Cort Maker of Iron and Steel after his marriage to a iron makers daughter. Invented methods of making better iron with the right amount of carbon in it.

Charles Hatchett’s main interest was chemistry and minerals and in his home laboratory he isolated Lead Molybdate and an element he called Columbian and is now called Niobium. Thereafter he achieved very little, and in the end returned to the family coach-building business.

William Henry knew a lot about chemistry and wrote about apparatus and methods and established laws (named after him) about the way liquids absorb gases.

In the Georgian period the joys (as yet not the perils) of sugar had been discovered and although it was a popular product it was difficult to refine. Edward Howard invented the “vacuum pan” to improved the process. In the process he made his fortune by patenting his idea.

John Leslie knew about how heat was transmitted (radiated) by objects of various sorts and surface finishes which is why our homes are manly heated by white central heating radiators.

Because of his occupation as a canal surveyor, William Smith, became fascinated by the structure of the earth and its layers, he noticed that fossils of a particular type only appeared in the same layers, no matter where they occurred. This lead him to draw a map of the structure of the countries geology earning him the nickname “Strata Smith”.

This Scots scientist made science popular with his writing in magazines and encyclopaedias and Thomas Thompson did a lot to refine and define research techniques and apparatus. He set up laboratories at the University where he taught the subject.

Richard Watson had a practical slant on chemistry and was interested in how to apply chemistry to everyday manufacturing. Watson had a very ambitious and expedient streak in his nature and used the Professorship of Chemistry as a step up to the next big thing which was to become Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. With the help of his friends he advanced through the church to become Bishop of Landaff.

William Hyde Wollaston started life as a GP but gave up medicine to discover how to refine the precious metal Platinum used in all modern cars exhausts systems.

Experiments and polymaths

Although it seems on first inspection that John Dalton had a life as an academic, he did in fact set out the beginnings of an atomic theory, that in its basics still holds good today. He also investigated colour blindness.

A trip to the dentist became less painful after Humphry Davy created “laughing gas”. He went on to experiment with other gases and invented the miners safety lamp (at the same time as George Stephenson). He often tried out new gases on himself, eventually shortening his life.

Most notably know today for an optical novelty (the Stanhope) Charles Stanhope experimented with optics and mechanically propelled ships as well as establishing how lightning storms worked. He also invented an improved printing press.

Light and optics

If you have a camera, telescope or binoculars it will have a lens based on Peter Dollond’s design. Early lenses had a defect, they caused coloured fringes to appear around objects. Light passing through the lens got bent at different angles depending on the thickness of the glass.  Dollond got around this by using two lenses back to back so that all the image travelled through the same thickness of glass and eliminated the fringes.

Thomas Young had a preconscious talent for learning, which he later applied to the nature of light, he was the first to prove that it consisted of waves, and he investigated a number of common eye sight problems. Later he was to apply himself to measuring the strength of materials.

Mathematics and its application

James Ivory was a mathematician who investigated the higher forms of mathematics concerned with astronomy and gravity.

John Playfair started life as a church man, but the pull of mathematics and a lucky break allowed him to pursue his interest of maths and geology. He re-wrote Hutton’s hard-to-read book on geology and made it a best seller, he also wrote books on maths.






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