Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

THE INGENIOUS TIMELINE

17TH CENTURY

Hale-Bopp Comet arcing through dark starry sky, bright fiery tail streaming

Halley makes remarkable discoveries about stars
and comets, while Newton reveals fundamental laws
about the earth and the universe, and the Royal Society - the invisible college for exploring scientific ideas - is formed.

The Hale Bopp Comet
Photo: tpuerzer@istockphoto.com

NEW VISIONS
OF THE UNIVERSE AND THE BODY

Model showing circulation of blood

William Harvey dissects the cadavers of animals and people to make a discovery fundamental to medical science.

Image created by: cornishman@istockphoto.com

1628 HARVEY DISCOVERS THAT BLOOD CIRCULATES THROUGH THE BODY

At a time when people still believe blood is consumed like fuel in the body, William Harvey discovers that blood circulates. His ideas are so controversial, patients desert him, but Harvey is not deterred.

His lectures convince his colleagues that his theory of circulation is correct: Blood is pumped from the heart throughout the body, then returns to the heart and is re-circulated. After intense years of study Harvey writes a classic, The Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals. As a physician to King Charles I, Harvey learns all too well how quickly blood flows at the Civil War battle of Edgehill.

Toward the end of his life, Harvey theorises that humans reproduce through the coupling of an egg and sperm. Two hundred years later his theory is proved correct.

Slide rule

No batteries are necessary.

Photo: Fotowinner@istockphoto.com

1630 OUGHTRED INVENTS SLIDE RULE

A small, dark-haired man who kept his ink-horn on his bedpost so he could write when inspired in the night, William Oughtred invents an early version of the slide rule. His portable, mechanical "analog computer" consists of three interlocking strips with logarithmic calibrations. (Marvellous Merchiston had invented logarithms a few decades earlier.) By moving the central strip relative to the other two, complex mathematical calculations could bemade. Used for designing and engineering buildings for more than 300 years, the slide rule has been replaced by electronic pocket calculators.

At almost the same time, Oughtred's pupil, Richard Delamain, also invents a slide rule, creating a somewhat competitive relationship between teacher and student.

1640 JOHN PARKINSON PUBLISHES FIRST GREAT BOOK ON PLANTS

John Parkinson is the first of the great English botanists. He has a botanical garden of two acres not far from present-day Trafalgar Square where he gardens and studies plants. In 1640, at the age of 73, he publishes The Botanical Theatre (Theatrum Botanicum), which he had been working on for years and which describes over 3800 plants. It is the most complete and beautifully presented English treatise on plants of the day.

1660-1662 BOYLE DISCOVERS THE RELATIONSHIP OF AIR TO LIFE AND PRESSURE; ESTABLISHES CHEMICAL ANALYSIS

The fourteenth child of the Anglo-Irish Earl of Coke, one of the richest men in the world, Robert Boyle is 13 when he has a religious conversion that resembles St. Paul’s. Seeing no conflict between religion and science, Boyle becomes both a devout and tolerant believer and a scientist who bases all his work on experiment and proof. Privately tutored, he is fascinated by the work of Francis Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo. He assembles a research group, performs controlled experiments, and publishes descriptions of his procedures, apparatus, and observations. Unusually for a scientist, he describes his failures as well as his successes.

With Robert Hooke’s help he constructs an improved air pump to create a vacuum, and proves that air is necessary for sound, fire, and life. He goes on to explain the inverse relationship between the volume of a gas and its pressure in Boyle’s Law. He is the first scientist to develop a method of chemical analysis, and is called the father of chemistry. Boyle never marries, and leaves his wealth to charity and science.

1660-1662 SCIENTISTS ESTABLISH ROYAL SOCIETY TO ENCOURAGE EXPERIMENTATION

Scientists start the Royal Society of London, the world’s oldest continuously operated scientific organisation. The twelve founders include Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, and Christopher Wren. Their motto is “Nulla in Verba” – base nothing on words. They base their science on proof. They tend to be loners, but weekly collegial meetings stimulate dialogue and discoveries. Within a few years Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton will be elected members.

Today the Royal Society continues to support scientists with research grants and fellowships. Fellows include mathematician and physicist Stephen Hawking; IVF and stem cell research pioneer Anne McLaren; and inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee.

The Royal Society's Library is a world-class resource for the study of the history of science. For more information

Test tubes in background as scientist and sponsor shake hands

A sickly child who liked to tinker with machines,
Robert Hooke becomes the single greatest experimental scientist of the 17th century, and the least known.
Helping many other scientists by constructing experiments,
Hooke tackles modern construction, biology, earthquakes, the theory of evolution, and the theory of light.

Photo: dra_schwartz@istockphoto.com

1660S - 1700 ROBERT HOOKE REVEALS SECRETS OF PLANT CELLS AND LIGHT; INVENTS MODERN CONSTRUCTION METHODS AND UNIVERSAL JOINT

Hooke often had headaches, so his father let him stay home. When Hooke was a teenager his father died, and Hooke decided to get an education. The headaches disappeared.

The story is that he learned algebra in a week. Before he is 20 he is building equipment and conducting experiments for the scientific genius Robert Boyle. When he is 25 he becomes Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society, the world's first independent fellowship-based academy of science.

Hooke is fascinated by everything he touches. He develops the universal joint, which couples rotating shafts and is essential to a car’s drive shaft today. He formulates the basis for modern construction with his law of elasticity, which describes the stresses and strains of building materials. He invents the iris diaphragm later used in cameras, and improves the telescope and barometer.

Drawing of flea

A flea drawn by Hooke who looked at it under the compound microscope he invented. His microscope revealed a hidden world of biological and mineral structure.

Image: Wikipedia Commons

Hooke identifies and names the plant cell. He develops the wave theory of light, and theorises that gravity acts more powerfully when bodies are closer, an idea that may predate Newton's Inverse Square Law of Gravitational Attraction. Like a great force of nature, ideas fly off him like sparks from a fire. His stormy relationship with Newton has the unintended effect of inspiring them both.

Earth floating in space

The Earth viewed from the Moon.
Isaac Newton, a man “never at rest,” is one of
the greatest mathematicians and scientists of all time. He establishes the laws governing planetary motion and universal gravitation.

Photo: NASA

1666-1686 ISAAC NEWTON DISCOVERS CALCULUS, A THEORY OF LIGHT, THE THEORY OF GRAVITY, AND THE LAWS OF MOTION      

Left to grow up with his grandmother when he is two, described as “idle and inattentive” in school, Isaac Newton begins to show a passion for poetry and ideas when he is seventeen. He attends Cambridge University, studying Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and ancient history, and is said to be uninterested in mathematics until he is twenty, when he picks up a book on astrology at a fair, and tries to make sense of its math. His genius is quickly revealed, as well as his aptitude for hard work, but it is not until Cambridge closes due to the plague and he returns home that he makes the discoveries of his “miraculous year”.

In 1666, at the age of twenty-four, Newton laid the foundations for calculus, an indispensable tool that will allow him to calculate planetary motion and gravitational force over time. Calculus can be applied to any situation in which a summing process is used to approximate quantities for work, volume, motion, gravitation, or arc. It is indispensable for modern engineering and building. A reclusive man, Newton describes calculus in 1671, but does not publish his discovery, and Gottfried Liebniz, working and publishing nine years later, is also considered an inventor of calculus.

Not yet 25, Newton establishes a theory of light crucial to modern astronomers, and lays the groundwork for the fundamental law of of gravity. He calculates the force that holds the planets in their orbits as varying inversely with the square of their distance from the sun.

Newton’s genius in mathematics is matched, says Einstein, by his genius in mechanics. Believing that God designed the universe to have a mathematical structure, Newton explains the movements of the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, planetary orbits, and the trajectory of projectiles in one unified set of laws. In the most influential scientific book ever written, the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (the Principia), he describes terrestrial and celestial mechanics and the three Laws of Motion.   

1660s JAMES GREGORY MAKES BRILLIANT CONTRIBUTIONS TO MATHEMATICS AND ASTRONOMY

James Gregory learns geometry from his mother. He publishes the first proof of the fundamental theorem of calculus, and proposes using lenses and mirrors to make the first practical reflecting telescope, which is now known by his name. He dies suddenly at thirty-six after showing his students the moons of Jupiter. His brilliance is only discovered in 1930 when mathematicians read his papers and realize Gregory discovered Taylor’s theorem forty years before Taylor.

Beds in Chelsea Physic Garden

Image: Wikipedia Commons

1673 CHELSEA PHYSIC GARDEN IS FOUNDED

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries establishes Chelsea Physic Garden in the heart of London to grow and research medicinal plants. Today Chelsea researches the properties, origins and conservation of over 5000 species. And visitors are invited to explore the garden.

1670s - 1700 HALLEY MAPS THE STARS, THE WINDS, THE DEATH OF MEN AND THE ORBIT OF HIS COMET

The son of a soapmaker, Edmond Halley’s mind soars up to the stars and down into the depths of the sea. At seventeen and already an excellent astronomer, he heads to Oxford, but is too adventurous to stay in school. He sails off to St Helena to create the first accurate catalogue of stars in the southern hemisphere, improves the sextant while on board ship, and makes valuable oceanic observations.

Halley publishes the first map of the winds on Earth’s surface; leads the earliest global magnetic survey; and improves the diving bell. On another front he establishes the first mortality tables (the foundation of actuarial tables in life insurance).

In 1705 he accurately predicts the orbit of Halley’s Comet, though he does not live to see its return, and discovers that stars have small motions of their own. He holds both the eccentric notion that the earth is made up of hollow spheres, and the sensible idea that Newton is a genius whose work should become known. He urges Newton to write the Principia, and makes sure it is published by paying the printing costs.

Golden autumn tree

John Ray discovers that the wood of living trees conducts water. Trees have a vascular system of long thin vertical tubes. This system takes water and nutrients up from the roots and distributes them. Exactly how a tree overcomes gravity and draws the water hundreds of feet up to its leaves remains unknown.

Photo: pirus01@istockphoto.com

1660s - 1700 JOHN RAY GRASPS THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE OF BIRDS, PLANTS, AND FISH

Ordained an Anglican priest, John Ray takes a keen interest in what he called ‘God’s creation’. He is sure there is an underlying order in what appears to be a chaotic plethora of species, and he pioneers the modern system of classifying plants, fish, and birds by their total physical structure. His orderly classifications will become powerful tools in the hands of biologists.

  Lost man looks at road atlas

For every man who doesn't want to ask for directions,
Ogilby and Morgan produce the first modern road map.

Photo: BelleMedia@istockphoto.com

1675 VERSATILE OGILBY CREATES FIRST ROAD MAP

John Ogilby survives an impoverished childhood to become a successful dancing master, soldier, and theatre producer in Ireland before he invents the road map. Ruined by England's Civil War, he returns to London, learns Greek and Latin and publishes translations of Homer and Vergil. He arranges the "poetical part" of Charles II's coronation, teaches himself surveying, and prints beautiful geographies. Just a year before he dies, at the age of 75, he teams with William Morgan to publish an atlas of all the roads in England and Wales. It is, drivers will be glad to know, accurate.

Dark-skinned woman in colourful field of flowers smiles down at bouquet of flowers

Nehemiah Grew looks at the microscopic structure of plants.

Photo by photosmurf03@istockphoto.com

1682 NEHEMIAH GREW REVEALS THE SECRETS OF PLANTS AND FLOWERS

A botanist and a physician, Nehemiah Grew uses Hooke’s compound microscope to study plant structure. He writes The Anatomy of Vegetables Begun, and gives science groundbreaking descriptions of plant anatomy. His Anatomy of Plants, published in 1682, includes engravings of the microscopic structure of plants.

At the suggestion of a Royal Society founder Thomas Millington, Grew investigates sexual reproduction in plants, and confirms that the stamen, with its pollen, is the flower's male sex organ and that the pistil is the flower's female sex organ.

1689 DR RICHARD MORTON DISCOVERS TUBERCULOSIS TUBERCULES

Almost 20 percent of Londoners were dying of tuberculosis. Dr Morton identifies the tubercules associated with the disease, from which TB gets its name. It would be 1882 before Robert Koch, a German physician, recognized the bacterial origins of TB.

1692-1694 CHARLES MONTAGU INVENTS BANK OF ENGLAND TO RESCUE NATION FROM BANKRUPTCY

Britain is going bankrupt defending herself against the French. To rescue the nation, Charles Montagu proposes the idea of a bank – the Bank of England – whose shareholders raise and loan money to the Government at interest. The Bank is established with the approval of Parliament, and the loan to the government becomes known as the National Debt. Like anyone who borrows money to buy a house, it is rational for a government to carry some debt. It is irrational when the debt becomes huge, and ballooning interest payments threaten the nation's well-being.

1698 THOMAS SAVERY INVENTS FIRST STEAM ENGINE; CALLS IT A 'FIRE ENGINE'

Not long after the Marquis of Worcester had experimented with designing a steam engine, Thomas Savery, a young man from Dorset, embarks on the challenge of engineering and building a steam engine that works. Many people had tried and failed to build a successful engine. Savery wants to create a pumping engine that could lift water out of the deep pits of Cornwall whose mines are filling with water.

The expense is enormous, but he manages to invent an engine that lifts water. He submits a working model to the Royal Society, and eventually receives a patent for the first engine ever actually employed in this work. The challenge, as suggested by its name – "fire engine" – is building an engine that will not explode. The engine uses fire to create the steam pressure that powers the the machinery that raises the water. Savery's first steam engine has some construction flaws, but he doesn't quit trying to improve it.

18th Century

 

When you contribute to this website,
you support Brits at their Best.

Join the Circle of Friends

English bulldog puppy

 

Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass