BSHS: Three graduate students at the MA level

From BSHS:

The Department of History, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario is seeking three graduate students at the MA level.

One successful candidate will work with Prof. Elizabeth Neswald in the project “Engineering the Body. Thermodynamics, Social Technologies and the Practice of Nutrition”, funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, and will develop a major paper research project on a topic in the history of nutrition or food history in North America or Europe in the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.

These Research assistantships would be for $3000 and $5000.  This funding would be on top of the department’s basic funding package.  Last year’s minimum entrance support was just over $13,000.  Additional monies can be provided in the form of Entrance Scholarships (as much as $2000).  Thus very high calibre applicants could obtain support of between $18,000 and $20,000.

Two graduate students will work with Prof. Elizabeth Neswald in the international “John Tyndall Correspondence Project”, funded by the National Science Foundation. Research interest or experience in 19c. history would be advantageous but is not required.

For further information, contact

Dr Daniel Samson:

Brock University

Dept of History

Graduate Programme Director

Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

News from the History of Science Society

From HSS (10 December 2009):

The John Tyndall Correspondence Project
Bernard Lightman, York University
Michael Reidy, Montana State University
James Elwick, York University

Last October we learned that our application for a three-year National Science Foundation grant had been successful. The NSF grant will enable us to take a major step forward in completing the goals of our project: first, to publish a one-volume calendar of the correspondence of the Victorian physicist John Tyndall (1820-1893) and to issue multiple volumes of his collected correspondence, both in print and, eventually, in an accessible, searchable, on-line format; and second, to galvanize a community of scholars at varied stages in their careers – from graduate students to postdoctoral researchers to senior personnel – around themes raised through an intense study of John Tyndall. Now the project will be able to draw on the expertise of scholars from fourteen universities located in four countries that specialize in the history and philosophy of Victorian science. Though the main intellectual merit of the project will be the publication of Tyndall’s correspondence, we are putting graduate students at its center, thereby relying on a cooperative model of graduate student training and research that can be used for other similar large-scale endeavors. What we are creating is a unique, international, collaborative project that will provide scholars with an important resource that is difficult to access.

Tyndall was one of the most influential British scientists of the second half of the nineteenth century. As the successor to Davy and Faraday at the Royal Institution, Tyndall enjoyed a prominent place within the scientific elite. Due to his flamboyant lecturing style, he became well known as an eloquent public speaker for fashionable audiences. He was a member of the powerful group of scientific naturalists that included T. H. Huxley, Herbert Spencer, and Joseph Dalton Hooker, and became a leading figure in the debates over evolution. With a vast international network of scientific allies and colleagues, Tyndall’s influence reached beyond Britain. Tyndall made contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge, though he is not known for making scientific discoveries of the highest order. He was among the first to explain the earth’s natural greenhouse effect and the role played in this process by gases such as carbon dioxide. He also undertook important research in electro-magnetism, thermodynamics, sound, glaciers, and spontaneous generation, among other subjects.

The first phase of the project — locating, collecting, and digitalizing all of the estimated 8,000 extant letters — is nearly complete. Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and from the Mellon Foundation funded the first phase of the project at York University and provided for the transcription of approximately 2,000 letters. The NSF grant will enable us to finish the second phase of the project, completing the transcription of the rest of the letters, in the next three years. The NSF grant establishes a second center for the project at Montana State University, directed by Michael Reidy, that will coordinate the work of twelve scholars and their students, in addition to those working at York and Montana State. The team will include: Ruth Barton (Auckland), Janet Browne (Harvard), Gowan Dawson (Leicester), Graeme Gooday (Leeds), Piers Hale (Oklahoma), John Lynch (Arizona State), Iwan Morus (Aberystwyth), Elizabeth Neswald (Brock), Richard Noakes (Exeter), Simon Schaffer (Cambridge), Matthew Stanley (NYU), and Jim Strick (Frankland and Marshall). Montana State University will also be hiring a two-year postdoctoral researcher to help run the project, and in 2012 will host a conference on Tyndall and the science of the Victorian age, combined with a workshop for those editing the volumes of correspondence. For more information on the project, go to:

Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tyndall Died Today in 1893

From Today in Science History:

John Tyndall (born 2 August 1820, died 4 December 1893). British physicist who demonstrated why the sky is blue. His initial scientific reputation was based on a study of diamagnetism. He carried out research on radiant heat, studied spontaneous generation and the germ theory of disease, glacier motion, sound, the diffusion of light in the atmosphere and a host of related topics. He showed that ozone was an oxygen cluster rather than a hydrogen compound, and invented the firemans respirator and made other less well-known inventions including better fog-horns. One of his most important inventions, the light pipe, has led to the development of fibre optics. The modern light instrument is known as the gastroscope, which enables internal observations of a patient’s stomach without surgery. Tyndall was a very popular lecturer.

TISH provides a quote:

Their business (those who believe in evolution) is not with the possible, but the actual – not with a world which mightbe, but with a world that is. This they explore with a courage not unmixed with reverance, and according to methods which, like the quality of a tree, are tested by their fruits. They have but one desire – to know the truth. They have but one fear – to believe a lie. (1870)

Does anyone know what this quote is from?

Published in: on December 5, 2009 at 9:17 am  Leave a Comment  

York prof looks at the correspondence of scientist John Tyndall

From York’s Daily Bulletin (November 26, 2009):

York prof looks at the correspondence of scientist John Tyndall

What do the colour of the sky, the greenhouse effect and mountaineering have in common? The answer: John Tyndall (1820-1893), a leading figure in the 19th-century debates over evolution and a celebrated Victorian physicist. His research was expansive: he was the first person to explain why the sky is blue and the first to prove the greenhouse effect in the earth’s atmosphere. He was also a pioneering mountain climber. York humanities Professor Bernard Lightman and his international team of collaborators are hoping to shed light on his thinking.

Tyndall was a huge figure in scientific circles during the 19th century, but we don’t know a great deal about him. He is best remembered today for his controversial Belfast Address in 1874 to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in which he advocated the supremacy of scientific thought over religious belief. After that, it is as if he dropped off of the historical record. This is due in part to the fact that his correspondence was not readily available to be studied. Lightman and company are remedying this by combining international collaboration and modern technology to resurrect Tyndall’s correspondence.

Lightman, based in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and his Montana State University co-applicant, Professor Michael Reidy, recently won US$580,000 in funding – to be disbursed over three years – from the United States National Science Foundation (similar to the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada). The pair are completing a research project titled “John Tyndall and Nineteenth-Century Science”, which involves locating, collecting, digitizing, transcribing, editing, annotating and eventually publishing John Tyndall’s correspondence, comprising more than 8,000 letters that are scattered throughout the world.

Lightman modelled this endeavour on the Darwin Correspondence Project, a similar but much larger UK-based undertaking involving the letters of Tyndall’s friend and contemporary, the famous naturalist Charles Darwin.

In preparing their grant application, Lightman and Reidy considered trying something unusual for humanities research, thinking it might
improve their chances of receiving the award. They proposed bringing the collaborative and organizational techniques of scientific research to humanities research – where researchers traditionally work alone, not in teams – and to see how education could benefit from new tools and practices. They also recognized it as an effective use of limited resources.

The Tyndall Correspondence Project, says Lightman, wouldn’t be possible without modern technology. “I wouldn’t have even conceived of doing this 10 or 15 years ago,” he says. The logistics would have been too overwhelming, says Lightman, and unlike the resources available to the Darwin Project’s researchers, the budget for Lightman’s project is comparatively small. So Lightman and his team – at universities in Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US – have leveraged the processing power of computers and the Internet to make the information-pooling of their decentralized operations more efficient.

The Royal Institution of Great Britain transferred most of the letters, about 6,000 of them, to microfilm. The remainder of the letters came from about 30 other archival locations. Lightman had them all digitized to TIFF format, allowing for electronic display and distribution. (The incongruity of sending 19th-century letters by e-mail doesn’t escape him.)

Transcriptions undergo a filtering process. Junior members of the team transcribe the letters, including annotations and palimpsests, and send the transcriptions to the more senior members – who are more familiar with the idiosyncrasies of Tyndall’s written words – for proofing. Senior members refine the transcription, eliminating errors and increasing accuracy.

A not-uncommon challenge that might be unfamiliar to contemporary writers is ink jar spills. Correspondents, not wishing to waste paper, frequently simply turned the page over and continued to write on the back. The team encountered many such problems, which took many forms.

Two of Lightman’s assistants are Bethune College academic adviser James Elwick, who is serving as the project coordinator, and York PhD candidate in history, Steve Bunn, who is working as the logistics coordinator. The pair have developed a number of techniques to facilitate transcription, a process based in trial and error. They started out thinking that optical character recognition technology – software that translates text on printed, typewritten or handwritten documents into electronically editable text – would be the perfect tool for them. However, they soon discovered it was only about 80 per cent accurate, creating more work as human transcribers were needed to verify the computer’s interpretation, and the technique was quickly abandoned. “You can’t divine the intention behind it, which is really the secret behind a lot of transcription,” says Elwick.

Nevertheless, Elwick and Bunn continued to explore different techniques to optimize the transcription process. For instance, they discovered the benefits of computer-voice playback. After researchers have transcribed a letter to a Microsoft Word document, they get a computer voice to read it back aloud as they review the original text of the letter. This allows them to proof the transcription without having to resort to moving their eyes back and forth between the original and the copy. To increase legibility, they often magnify and stretch the digitized images. To remove visual background clutter, they illuminate, darken or increase the contrast as required.

To enable international collaboration, the team started out trying to e-mail files to one another. However, the files were huge and file-size limits on e-mail constrained them. They tried Web-based e-mail systems like Google but, at 25 megabytes, they too were limiting. They tried using FTP sites, but they found them to be user-unfriendly. They then tried a service similar to York’s Dropbox, but it removed message attachments if not retrieved within seven days. They finally settled on a Web-based service that allows them to store information online and affords access to the information by various subscribers.

Complementing this, the pair discovered an inexpensive file management program that allows them to preview the contents of files before opening them, an hour-saving boon when exploring numerous files. It also tracks the accessing of files – who, when, what changes were made etc. – and allows researchers to leave messages for one another. It’s a virtual laboratory occupied by international collaborators.

Elwick is always on the lookout for extra tools and has discovered that new accessories often beget new capabilities. Recent additions to their collection include a Webcam, which he subsequently realized would come in very handy when training new and remote transcribers. They plan to use it for video-conferencing too. They also discovered some Web-based polling software that eases the task of scheduling meetings by removing the need for endless e-mailing back and forth.

Not all of the group’s activities occur remotely. In the summer of 2010, some members of the team will meet at a conference in Leeds, UK, followed by a conference on evolutionary naturalism at York in the spring of 2011. Lightman plans to have all the transcribing done in about three and a half more years. “The hope is that, by then, we’ll have people lined up to edit each volume of the correspondence,” says Lightman. A year later, he hopes to have the correspondence available to researchers both in hard-copy format and in a text-searchable version on the Web.

“We hope, in the end, to galvanize a community of scholars around themes raised through an intense study of John Tyndall,” said Lightman. “These themes include the relationship between science and religion, the popularization and professionalization of science, and advances in physics, glaciology, climatology and spontaneous generation, each of which individually and collectively played fundamental roles in the development of modern science.” In the end, his goal is to make the 19th-century figure of John Tyndall better known.

For more information on the Tyndall Correspondence Project, visit it online. For more on Lightman’s work as it relates to John Tyndall, see YFile, July 31, 2008.

Submitted by David Wallace, communications coordinator, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

Published in: on December 4, 2009 at 10:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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Tyndall in the News


John Tyndall, Royal Institution of Great Britain, London (Photo by Michael D. Barton)

From Project Syndicate: The World of Ideas:

The Scientific Road to Copenhagen
Stephan Ramstorf

BERLIN – On June 10, 1859, six months before Charles Darwin published hisOrigin of Species , the physicist John Tyndall demonstrated a remarkable series of experiments at the Royal Institution in London. The meeting was chaired by Prince Albert. But neither he, nor Tyndall, nor anyone in their distinguished audience could possibly have anticipated the extent to which the experiments’ results would preoccupy the world 150 years later.

This month, thousands of people from all over the world, including many heads of state, will gather in Copenhagen to try to forge an agreement to drastically cut atmospheric emissions of an invisible, odorless gas: carbon dioxide.  Despite efforts by some leading countries to lower expectations ahead of the conference about what can and will be achieved, the meeting is still being called the most important conference since World War II.  And at the conference’s heart are the results of Tyndall’s experiments.

But the story starts even before Tyndall, with the French genius Joseph Fourier. An orphan who was educated by monks, Fourier was a professor at the age of 18, and became Napoleon’s governor in Egypt before returning to a career in science. In 1824, Fourier discovered why our planet’s climate is so warm – tens of degrees warmer than a simple calculation of its energy balance would suggest. The sun brings heat, and earth radiates heat back into space – but the numbers did not balance. Fourier realized that gases in our atmosphere trap heat. He called his discovery l’effet de serre – the greenhouse effect.

Read the rest of the piece here.

From the radio program Science Spin (Dubline City FM 103.2 FM):

Can incineration provide the answer to our waste disposal problems? Jackie Keaney of Indaver Ireland, and Ollan Herr, of the Zero Waste Alliance go head to head on the issue. Plate Tectonics is the concept up for explanation and discussion this week, with the help of John Gamble, Professor of Geology at University College Cork. This week we profile the life and scientific legacy of Carlow-born John Tyndall, in conversation with Roger Whatmore, Chief Executive Officer with the Tyndall National Institute, which was named in Tyndall’s honour.

Listen to the half-hour program here.

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 9:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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