Friday 12 November 2010

Science in the Archives

On Thursday 11 November Archive Services contributed to the Dundee Science Festival by offering a tour of the archive stores followed by the opportunity for people to look at a selection of items relating to science and technology. We had some fascinating material on display including the papers of famous scientists connected to the University of Dundee or its predecessor institutions, such as Robert Watson-Watt, the inventor of radar, and Walter Spear, part of the team that famously worked on amorphous semiconductors. During the tour itself the visitors were also told about other famous scientists, such as D’Arcy Thompson who taught natural history and zoology and Patrick Geddes who taught botany.

Among other items were examples of papers relating to James Ballantyne Hannay, the Scottish chemist who claimed to have created an artificial diamond in 1880, some civil defence training notes for medical professionals from the 1960s about what to do if there were mass casualties resulting from a nuclear attack, and an article on the University’s pioneering satellite receiving station.

One of the more amusing items was a journal of a Sandemanian from London who travelled to Dundee in 1881 to visit the Glasite churches in and around Dundee. He describes how, after descending the Auld Steeple he was introduced by a local businessman to 'the Telephone', adding that he did not 'say anything to it as they were too busy at the other end.' Just as amusing were some of Walter Spear’s straight and to the point responses to some unusual and unsolicited letters from somewhat eccentric self-proclaimed scientists.

The image above is from the collection of R.P. Cook who undertook groundbreaking research into cholesterol. His and the other papers described above are all available for consultation at the Archives.

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