Science and Politics in 20th Century Ireland

The RDS Boyle Medal an an Indicator of Esteem

Roy H W Johnston

Notes and References

The following notes have been put in primarily as an aid to those who are unfamiliar with the scientific background, and may want to know more about an unfamiliar name mentioned in the text. They do however sometimes refer to original source-documents; also in some cases they present an opportunity to expand on personal reminiscences.

I have on occasion resorted to doing 'notes within notes', on the hypertext principle, as for example in the Bacon note. This seems to be necessary in areas where there is a substantial body of knowledge to be explored in depth by a motivated searcher.

1. Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was born in Lismore; has been described as 'the father of Chemistry and the brother of the Earl of Cork'; educated at Eton; did the Grand Tour 1638-44 during which he took the opportunity to study the papers of Galileo, then recently deceased; with Hookes' vacuum pump demonstrated Galileo's conjecture that all objects fall at an equal rate in a vacuum; his book the Skeptical Chymist (1661) pioneered the scientific approach to chemistry, breaking from the alchemy of the ancients and medievals.

2. Sir Francis Bacon (Lord Verulam, 1561-1626), generally considered in the West to be the father of the modern scientific method, but this view has been challenged by Needham (2.1) and others who have studied earlier Chinese and Islamic (2.2) scientific sources. The main contribution of Bacon in this context is in the development of the Royal Society model, for Scientific Academies (2.3) in the context of the main European States, and particularly in their imperial roles. This aspect of Bacon is treated positively in most histories of science, as a stepping-stone in the Enlightenment process; see for example P J Bowler (2.4). A more contemporary negative assessment however is given by Nandy (2.5) in a UNU evaluation of Indian science policy.
2.1 See Joseph Needham, the Great Titration; Allen & Unwin 1969; this is a preliminary overview of his magnum opus on science in China. Bacon admitted to the magnetic compass, gunpowder and the printing press as having originated in China. Needham adds a long list which includes clockwork, cast iron, stirrups, horse-harness, segmental-arch bridges, quantitative cartography, fore-and-aft sails and the stern-post rudder.
2.2 See for example Ahmad Y al-Hassan & Donald R Hill, Islamic Technology, Cambridge UP 1986; this important UNESCO publication develops the role of Islamic and Indian technological culture as the bridge between China and Europe.
2.3 Anyone who doubts the Baconian roots of the Royal Irish Academy should look up the Presidential Address of Humphrey Lloyd on April 13 1845. On the eve of the Famine the scientific elite of colonial Ireland was exuding forward-looking confidence.
2.4. P J Bowler, History of the Environmental Sciences; Fontana 1992. Bowler and the Queens University group in Belfast are currently the only Irish-based academic centre for the study of the history of science. The emphasis of Bowlers work is on environmental science, but a specific Irish dimension is being developed by his colleague Nick Whyte, whose thesis has analysed the history of the interactions between science and government in Ireland from 1900 to 1930.
2.5 Ashis Nandy (ed); Science Hegemony and Violence; UNU Tokyo; OUP Delhi, 1988. Nandy has scathing remarks about Bacon's 'putting Nature to the Question', given that Bacon's role was to preside over a legal system in which torture was the norm.

3. This aspect of the RS influence is treated by Ian Inkster; Science and Technology in History (MacMillan 1991), Ch 2.

4. John Joly (1857-1933); cf 'People and Places in Irish Science and Technology', Royal Irish Academy, 1985, p64. This publication, and its successor 'More People and Places etc', 1990, constitute steps in the direction of an Irish 'dictionary of national scientific biography'.

5. Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar, surgeon and archaeologist.

6. Mac Adamh, Belfast engineer, compiler of the Academy Irish dictionary; inventor and producer of the water-turbines which powered the Ulster linen-mills in their 19th century period of expansion. For biographical details cf Prof Annraoi de Paor, Electrical Engineering Dept, UCD.

7. Sir W R Hamilton (1805-1865), Astronomer Royal for Ireland from 1827; see 'People and Places' p36; see also a detailed biography by T L Hankins, Johns Hopkins UP, 1980.

8. Humphrey Lloyd (1800-1881), Provost of TCD from 1867; made major contributions to physical optics, in collaboration with Hamilton, and was a pioneer in the study of the details of the small variations in terrestrial magnetism, for which he devised sensitive instrumentation.

9. Nicholas Callan (1799-1864); Professor of Natural Philosophy in Maynooth from 1836; invented the induction coil and demonstrated it in 1837. cf 'People and Places' p30; see also the Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, Vol 132 (A), no 8, Dec 1985, a biographical paper by Rev M T Casey.

10. Callan tended to publish his early work in small specialist journals in London, like 'Sturgeon's Annals of Electricity', which seems to have flourished in the period 1836-38 when Callan was initially active. His work was however largely forgotten, with the result that the induction coil for a long time was attributed to Rhumkorff. A paper by Gallivan in Nature vol 180, 1957, which arose from the British Association meeting in Dublin of that year, established Callan's priority.

11. William Stokes (1804-1878); surgeon ('Cheyne-Stokes breathing'), father of Whitley Stokes the Celtic scholar; 'People and Places' p34.

12. Jarrell R A; The Dept of Science and Art and control of Irish Science, 1853-1905; Irish Historical Studies, XXIII, no 92 (Nov 1983)

13. G Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911) originated the concept of the electron in 1891, prior to its experimental discovery by J J Thompson in 1897 in Cambridge. See also J G O'Hara, Notes and Records of the RS, 29(2), p265, 1975. 'People and Places' p50.

14. James Emerson Reynolds (1844-1920); see 'People and Places' p58; first to synthesise thiourea in 1879, which he did in the RDS laboratories.

15. Sir Robert Kane (1809-1890); see 'More People and Places', p24. There was an RDS 'festschrift' published in 1945 on the occasion of the centenary of the publication by Kane of his classic 'Industrial Resources of Ireland'. Prof Colm O h-Eocha (deceased), late President of University College Galway, expressed strong views on the issue of the 'Godless Colleges' in conversation to the writer. He regards the failure of the Catholics to take up the opportunity presented by the Queens Colleges, despite Kane's Presidency, as one of the major national disasters of the 19th century.

16. William Higgins (1763-1825) was RDS Professor of Chemistry from 1791 until his death. He was probably a precursor of Dalton with the atomic theory of chemistry but never established credit. He was a contributor to the process of demolition of the 'phlogiston' theory of combustion, supporting Lavoisier against Priestly.

17. Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) was Professor of Chemistry at Giessen from 1825 where he set up what has become the classical model for the training of chemists, with emphasis on practical laboratory experimental techniques. It can perhaps be said that Kane was to Liebig as Walton was to Rutherford; in other words, the leading Irish scientist of the time directly linked to the prime world centre of excellence.

18. G F Fitzgerald (1851-1901); see 'People and Places' p62; the 'Fitzgerald-Lorentz Contraction' concept, as an explanation for the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment, is regarded as having been a significant stepping-stone to Einstein's Relativity. He was a pioneer of technical education in Dublin and is regarded by the Dublin Institute of Technology as being among their founding fathers.

19. See the Report of the Council as appended to the 1883 Minutes of the RIA to get the flavour of the then RIA view of the RDS, arising from the sequence of events which commenced in 1877.

20. HH Poole and many of the others named in this paper are not readily accessible as regards biographical details, institutional status etc. There is a need for a national dictionary of scientific biography; this could usefully be an Academy project, developing in more depth the 'People and Places' approach.

21. Elisabeth Crawford; Nationalism and Internationalism in Science, 1880-1939; Cambridge UP 1992; the key procedure in this book is the identification of the national scientific elites by reference to the Nobel Prize nomination process.

22. The Kinetic Theory of Gases, among other things, deduced Boyle's Law from a statistical analysis of the dynamics of molecular motion.

23. Clausius, Loschmidt, Maxwell, Joule, Faraday were all giants of 19th century science whose names are in all the text-books. Stoney regarded them as his peers, and was in frequent correspondence with these and others. The study of how scientists in Ireland networked among their European colleagues remains to be done; J G O'Hara in Hannover has made a start with the Fitzgerald-Hertz correspondence.

24. The Philosophical Magazine and the Proceedings of the Royal Society are global mainstream publications of the highest prestige.

25. Thomas Preston (1860-1900); 'More People and Places' p50.

26. John Coolahan; Irish Education, History and Structure (IPA, Dublin 1981) gives a good overview of the interaction between politics and religion on this issue.

27. HA Lorentz (1853-1928); Dutch physicist; shared the Nobel Prize in 1902 with Zeeman for the 'Zeeman Effect' which involved the splitting of spectral lines in a magnetic field.

28. Sir Joseph Larmor (1857-1942) born in Belfast; educated Queens Belfast, worked in Queens College Galway before ending up in Cambridge.

29. The Fitzgerald correspondence is accessible in the RDS library. See letter from J K Ingram dated 25/1/1895. Prof Denis Weaire in TCD is currently working on this I understand.

30. cf Seamus O Buachalla in TCD for insights into the complex politics of the gestation of the NUI.

31. Sir Howard Grubb FRS (1844-1931) see 'People and Places' p25.

32. ETS Walton; Nobel Prize 1953; physics professor TCD 1945-75; worked in Cambridge in the 1930s with Rutherford on basic nuclear physics which contributed to the subsequent development of nuclear weapons. He was subsequently a supporter of the Pugwash group and opposed the military use of his discoveries.

Copyright (c) Roy Johnston. Web version re-edited June 1999; further editing for printed publication is not excluded.

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