Scientists, Science, and Society

About Us

Scientists, Science, and Society:  
Seminar on History of Science and Technology

The dialogue between the present and the past of science and technology is intellectually fascinating; and it plays an influential role in the conduct of contemporary science and technology, and in speculations - and policy making - about the future. The College of Science has created this seminar to strengthen analysis and reflection of nature of science and technology.

The aims of the seminar series are:

(i) To bring together people with an interest in some aspect of the history of science and technology;
(ii) To encourage multidisciplinary approaches to scientific and technological themes;
(iii) To inform, educate and entertain.

The seminar is open to all - staff and students and interested members of the public. Suggestions for themes, topics, periods, approaches and speakers are welcome.

The history of science and technology requires a partnership and collaboration between three sorts of people with their characteristic expertise. First, there are the scientists and engineers who know about the theory and practice of their subject and are interested in its history. Scientists and engineers often seek the origins of contemporary topics, sometimes with an intention of using historical narratives to progress their science and its reception.  

Secondly, there are historians of science and technology whose intense engagement with their particular subjects and periods seek a proper foundation for us to try to understand the scientific and technological past as it was.

Thirdly, there are general scholars of history, literature, economy and sociology, who know about periods, places, events, people, networks, historical methods, literary genres, global markets, and social theories. They can help confirm, correct and expand our views of scientists, their science and its influence on society.

Organisers: Professor Niels Jacob (Mathematics) and Professor John V Tucker (Computer Science).

Events 2015

Prof Alan Champneys, Bristol University

Tuesday 13th January 2015, 5.00pm
Robert Recorde Room, Faraday Building

John Scott Russell and the history of the solitary wave

John Scott Russell was one of the great British engineers of the Victorian era a contemporary and an equal to other great Victorian civil engineers such as Robert Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, William Froude and John Rennie. He was instrumental in setting up the great exhibition of 1851,  revolutionised ship design, broke records and introduced many innovations. Yet why have you never heard of him? I will explain.

The main thrust of this talk is to describe the scientific discovery that has rescued the reputation of Scott Russell in recent years, that of the solitary wave; a isolated wall of water which he documented as travelling unaltered for several miles along a Scottish canal bank. A precursor to soliton theory that underlies much of mathematical physics, is pivotal to optical communications and helps explains many fluid effects from the Severn bore to tsunamis. Scott Russell himself researched many properties of solitary waves yet was largely shunned by the scientific establishment in his lifetime.  It is high time to return justice to his reputation.