Work on Tyndall from Ciaran Toal

Ciaran Toal has a forthcoming article that assesses the impact of Tyndall on the Association in the 1870s:

Toal, C. ‘Preaching at the British Association for the Advancement of Science: sermons, secularisation and the rhetoric of conflict in the 1870s,’ British Journal for the History of Science

He has also done work on Tyndall in Bristol 1875, one year after the “Belfast address,” which he will be presenting at the British Society for the History of Science conference this summer: “After Tyndall: Science, Religion and the Bristol Meeting of the British Association.”

Published in: on May 18, 2011 at 9:53 am  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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London Trip – Royal Institution

I am in London right now, on a research trip to the archives of the Royal Institution, for Tyndall material, and at Kew on Thursday for J.D. Hooker material. Today I held in my hand a letter from Darwin to Tyndall that was inserted into one of Tyndall’s journals, the subject being of a biological nature. I am specifically looking for references to Darwin/evolution in Tyndall’s journals, notes, etc. Today I found some. Hopefully more tomorrow and Wednesday. Snapped a bunch of pictures of various exhibits, portraits, and areas of the Royal Institution. Enjoy!

John Tyndall, Royal Institution of Great Britain

John Tyndall, Royal Institution of Great Britain

Wednesday night I plan to see Creation at a theatre near my lodgings (which is the home of Darwin groupie Karen, who has been an online friend and whom I met on my trip to Cambridge in July). Friday I spend my day at the Natural History Museum and Darwin Centre (George Beccaloni wants to show me some of the Wallace Collection), and Saturday down to Downe to see Darwin’s home and laboratory for four decades. Sunday I fly home.

If only my bag (and my clothes) could get delivered to me, because it wasn’t at Heathrow when I got there. I am tired of wearing what I wore on Saturday.

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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[Tyndall Blogged] Early Victorian Mountaineering and the Search for Scientific Knowledge

From the post “Early Victorian Mountaineering and the Search for Scientific Knowledge” on a blog called Victorian History (1 Nov. 2006):

The earliest mountaineers would not have thought of climbing without the encumbrance of scientific paraphenalia, particularly barometers, thermometers and theodolites. Imbued as they were with the Victorian middle-class work ethic, the scientists, amateur or professional, would have seen climbing for the sheer joy of the sport as a kind of moral failure. Pleasure could only be a by-product of the eternal search for knowledge.

Two of the greatest mountaineers of this early period were the scientists James D. Forbes and his great adversary, John Tyndall. Both saw the mountains as their laboratory and it was the scientific study of glaciers that brought both men to the Alps. Yet both were captured by the spell of the mountains albeit in different ways and at different times. For Forbes, the pleasure he experienced was “a satisfaction and freedom from restraint” which would “dispel anxiety and invite to sustained exertion.” Tyndall, whose theories were diametrically opposed to those of Forbes, nonetheless shared his predecessor’s pleasure in the Alps, writing that they “appealed at once to thought and feeling, offering their problems to one and their grandeur to the other, while conferring upon the body the soundness and the purity necessary to the healthful exercise of both.”

Read the entirety of this post here.

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Victorian Web: John Tyndall (1820-1893)

From Victorian Web:

John Tyndall (1820-1893)

John van Wyhe, Senior Fellow, National University of Singapore; Researcher, History & philosophy of science, Cambridge.

John Tyndall was born in Ireland as the son of a local constable. Tyndall attended a common primary school and joined the Irish Ordance Survey in 1839. Later he did surveying work in England and worked later worked on railway construction in the boom of the 1840s. In 1847 he began to teach mathematics at Queenwood College Hampshire. In 1848 Tyndall went to study in Germany where he was one of the first British subjects to receive the new PhD at Marburg. His years in Germany while still a young man turned Tyndall into something of a naturphilosophisch romantic pantheist. Tyndall’s major scientific work was in atmospheric gases. He also made many useful inventions. In the 1850s he succeeded Faraday in giving popular science lectures at the Royal Institution in London where Tyndall became a lecturer in physics. Tyndall became one of the leading figures in Victorian science; he was a member of the famous X Club along with other notables like T.H. Huxley and Herbert Spencer.

In 1874 Tyndall gave his famous Belfast Address before the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. It was one of the most prestigious places from which to pronounce on what men of science should be doing. Tyndall famously used his address to argue for the superior authority of science over religious or non-rationalist explanations. By the time of this address the Association had largely been taken over by the young guard, men like T.H. Huxley and Tyndall. Nevertheless, Tyndall’s bold statement for rationalism and natural law was made in Belfast, a stronghold of religious belief then as now and so it was taken as an aggressive attack on religion. The address was popularly believed to advocate materialism as the true philosophy of science. It remains a powerful call for rationalism, consistency, and scepticism.

Further reading

  • Tyndall. The Belfast Address.
  • Tyndall. Faraday as a Discoverer (html with formatting) & Gutenberg text; Making of America
  • Tyndall. Fragments of science for unscientific people: a series of detached essays, lectures, and reviews. Making of America
  • Tyndall. Heat considered as a mode of motion: being a course of twelve lectures delivered at the Royal institution of Great Britain in the season of 1862. Making of America
  • Tyndall. Hours of exercise in the Alps. Making of America
  • Tyndall. Light and electricity: notes of two courses of lectures before the Royal institution of Great Britain. Making of America
  • Tyndall. Scientific addresses. Making of America
  • Tyndall. Sound. A course of eight lectures delivered at the Royal institution of Great Britain Making of America
  • Burchfield, J. A. ‘John Tyndall – a biographical sketch’ In John Tyndall, Essays on a Natural Philosopher Royal Dublin Society. 1981.
  • Frank Turner and B. Lightman et al. Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on Continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Religious Belief. London, 1990.
  • Lightman, Bernard. The origins of Agnosticism: Victorian unbelief and the limits of knowledge. 1987.
  • The Athenæum: John Tyndall
Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Michael S. Reidy: “Mountaineering and Physics: Practicing Science Vertically”

My advisor and whom I will be working with on the John Tyndall Corresponce Project, Michael S. Reidy, gave a talk on Tyndall for MSU’s physics department (which I missed). Here is the abstract:

Mountaineering and Physics: Practicing Science Vertically

Through the work of the experimental physicist John Tyndall, I will analyze the close relationship formed in the mid nineteenth century between the rise of the physical sciences and the equally dramatic rise of mountaineering. John Tyndall is acknowledged as one of the premier physicists in the nineteenth century. He was director of the Royal Institution for over thirty years, and along with groundbreaking research in heat, electricity, and magnetism, he worked throughout his career to popularize the study of physics. He was also a pioneering mountaineer in the Swiss Alps. After receiving training in surveying and working as a railway engineer, Tyndall studied the magnetic properties of the earth’s rocks, particularly the cleavage planes of slate, which in turn led him to similar studies on the fracturing of glaciers, work that relied heavily on arguments in thermodynamics. His work on glaciers and thermodynamics led him to further study the topic of radiant heat, particularly the manner in which atmospheric gases absorb solar radiation. This led him to his next research topic, the scattering of light by particles in the atmosphere, and to his now famous explanation of global warming and his equally famous contributions to the spontaneous generation debate. Note that Tyndall’s scientific research programs took an obvious vertical orientation, from the ground up. As he practices his science, from rock quarries to glaciers to the study of the atmosphere, Tyndall’s interests in the fundamental forces of nature brought him to the summits of mountains. Or, perhaps, as he climbed mountains, he found that he could more readily answer questions concerned with the very nature of physics. In either case, his science and mountaineering were tellingly mixed. As one of the leading definers and popularizers of his discipline, Tyndall’s life and work suggest that physics was at least partly defined on the sides of mountains.

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Welcome to Transcribing Tyndall: Letters of a Victorian Scientist

Welcome to Transcribing Tyndall: Letters of a Victorian Scientist, my new blog to go along with a research project I will be working on at Montana State University-Bozeman starting in September 2008. Earlier this year, my undergraduate advisor approached me about joining him to work on the John Tyndall Correspondence Project, the objective being to transcribe and publish all the known correspondence of the nineteenth-century Irish physicist and popularizer of science, John Tyndall. Basically, he said he needed a graduate student (I am starting the history graduate program this fall) to work with him to type out a particular set of Tyndall’s correspondence from digital images of the actual letters previously prepared by historian of science Bernard Lightman, who studies Victorian science and has focused on Tyndall before.

I would like to use this blog to share items I came across about Tyndall’s life and work (online or elsewhere), the information about Tyndall and Victorian science gleaned from the letters I transcribe (which will mostly deal with Tyndall’s time mountaineering in the Alps, and will depend on the approval of those heading the project), and the experience of transcribing the letters itself. Through August I hope to read up on Tyndall a little, so that I am familiar with the man whose letters I will work with. My advisor is currently researching Tyndall himself (hence the reason for him being involved in the project), so I think I will be reading something of his, as well as publications of Tyndall’s, journal articles about him, etc. Hopefully I can post about some of the stuff I read.

A little about me: I am originally from southern California, where I did my general education at a community college, and was an intended biology major at San Diego State University before moving to Montana. I came to Montana State University thinking I was going to study paleontology, but before I even started my first semester I found out about the history of science option through the history department, met a professor who became my advisor, and changed my major. I generally focused on the life and work of Charles Darwin as an undergraduate student, and I also did a minor in Museum Studies, which brought me the opportunity to do a summer internship with a historian in Yellowstone National Park. The paper I wrote for that internship about religious language in descriptions of Yellowstone will be published as a shorter article in Yellowstone Science, I believe, later this summer. I keep a blog about Darwin and the history of natural history in general, called The Dispersal of Darwin. And I am married with a two-and-a-half year old son.

I will be pretty busy this fall, with 20 hours/week working on Tyndall and my three graduate classes. Fortunately the project comes with a stipend, so I won’t have to worry about working during the semester.