Monday, November 30, 2009

Royal Society: 60 historical papers online

The Royal Society was founded in 1660 so it is going to celebrate its 350th birthday next year. One of its new gifts to the public is their new server
Trailblazing (click)
with 60 of their most famous historical papers. For example, I am just looking at an Isaac Newton's letter about light and colors sent to the editor of Cambridge University Press ;-) in February 1671/72. It describes some Newton's basic but fun diffraction experiments and his conclusions.

You must surely be distracted by the strange year 1671/72, too. ;-) So let me clarify. The Gregorian calendar was already being used (since February 1582) and it only differed by 10 days from the Julian calendar, anyway. So what does the strange ambiguous year mean? Well, from the 12th century until 1751, the legal year in England ended on March 25th (Lady Day) of the following year. So they would call the beginning of the year 1671 (or 1671/72) although we call it 1672 today. ;-)

James Joule described the equivalence of heat and mechanical work in 1849 and the paper almost looks like a newly written preprint in LaTeX. He has done lots of experiments and wrote lots of tables.

And we're getting to the unification of gravity and electricity and experiments to study it. ;-) If you expect a brand new research or a research by a crank, you're wrong. I am talking about the 1850 paper by Michael Faraday. If you can summarize what he actually did and found, it could be appreciated. A summary suggests that he wanted to "induce" the electric field by a changing gravity (much like it works for his electromagnetic induction) but he correctly found the effect to be zero.

If we skip 15 years, James Clerk Maxwell gives us his theory of electrodynamics in 1865. This is a fun 55-page preprint with lots of equations. They begin with simple, "integral" forms of his effects. Only the last 15 pages or so discuss the "curl" and similar stuff (in components!). He also believed experiments that the speed of light was 310,000 km/s (3% above the right value).

Fingerprints, hormones, life in the mountains. Geiger and Marsden find the hard scattering of alpha-particles (under Rutherford) and hide the insight in their obscure paper that it becomes almost invisible.

And here, Arthur Eddington describes his expedition to confirm general relativity. It should be possible to see - by analyzing the figures in the paper - whether he was cheating. However, it does look like 45 pages of serious stuff.

Paul Dirac describes his equation and electron's spin here, in 1928. Pretty much readable by modern readers.

Add penicillin, lower stratosphere, the structure of DNA, nervous impulse, natural selection in moth, continental drift in 1965. In 1970, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose prove their singularity theorem. Black holes have to exist in reality. Gould and Lewontin point out that it's wrong to think that if natural selection could have developed body parts for their present purpose, it means that it had to be this way. In fact, it doesn't mean that. Fossil, protein pores, human brain, diet, solar flares and anti-global warming geoengineering appear at the end.

No comments:

Post a Comment