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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
Contact Material World
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 4 January
Quentin Cooper
Thursday 4 January 2007
Quentin's route around Edinburgh
Quentin Cooper's scientific tour Edinburgh

Click here for an enlarged map of our Edinburgh Science Walk

Edinburgh's Scientific History

1) James Hutton at Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags and the James Hutton Memorial Garden
James Hutton (1726–1797), a Scottish farmer and naturalist, is known as the founder of modern geology. He was a great observer of the world around him. More importantly, he made carefully reasoned geological arguments. Hutton came to believe that the Earth was perpetually being formed; for example, molten material is forced up into mountains, eroded, and then eroded sediments are washed away. He recognized that the history of the Earth could be determined by understanding how processes such as erosion and sedimentation work in the present day. His ideas and approach to studying the Earth established geology as a proper science.

2) John Playfair at City Observatory, Calton Hill
John Playfair (1748 – 1819) Geologist, physicist and mathematician. He held the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh in 1785 and later moved to the Chair of Natural Philosophy (1805), which he held until his death. He is perhaps best known for his work in geomorphology, realising that large rock could be transported as part of the process of glaciation. Playfair popularised the work of James Hutton (1726-97) with his publication Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802). Playfair enthusiastically supported the extension of the Observatory on Edinburgh's Calton Hill and would undoubtedly have been Astronomer Royal for Scotland had the position existed when he was alive. He died before the Observatory, built by his nephew W.H. Playfair, was finished, but is commemorated there by a plaque in his memory

3) Robert Sibbald at Platform 11 Edinburgh Waverly Station
Robert Sibbald (1641–1722), Scottish physician and antiquary, was born in Edinburgh. And he took a leading part in establishing the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, of which he was elected president in 1684. In 1685 he was appointed the first professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He was also appointed Geographer Royal in 1682, and his numerous writings deal with historical and antiquarian as well as with botanical and medical subjects. In 1667 with Sir Andrew Balfour he started what was to become the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, 

4) Daniel Rutherford at Leith Walk
Daniel Rutherford (1749 – 1815) Scientist. Born in Edinburgh, Rutherford was educated at the University of Edinburgh. As a student of Joseph Black, he discovered the gas Nitrogen (1772) and described oxygen or Vital Air (1778). In 1786, he was appointed to the Regius Chair of Botany in Edinburgh and as Keeper of the Botanic Gardens (1786), following the death of Professor John Hope (1725-86). The house on Leith Walk marks the gatehouse to the Botanic Gardens as they were after moving from the Waverly Station site and before moving to Inverleith.

5) James Clerk Maxwell at 14 India Street
The Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) did revolutionary work in electromagnetism and the kinetic theory of gases. Maxwell was born and lived at 14 India Street as a child. The James Clerk Maxwell Foundation was formed in Scotland in 1977 to honour one of the greatest scientists who have ever lived: James Clerk Maxwell.  In 1993 the Foundation acquired James Clerk Maxwell's birthplace in Edinburgh. This elegant Georgian house, after period restoration, is now in use as an international centre for mathematical sciences. On display is a growing collection of heritage material associated with James Clerk Maxwell, his associates and family circle.

6) Sir David Brewster at the Northern Lighthouse Board, 84 George Street
David Brewster (1781-1868) was a key figure in Scottish science, although he started by studying theology. The reason we commemorate him at the Northern Lighthouse Board is that he was fascinated by the diffraction of light and invented dioptric apparatus - for light lenses in lighthouses and he campaigned for them to be introduced into British lighthouses. He is mistakenly credited with inventing the kaleidoscope, he didn’t, but he certainly popularised it and the stereoscope. He developed laws of polarization by reflection and refraction, and other quantitative laws of phenomena. And this is the same Sir David Brewster who was founder member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

7) James Simpson & Joseph Lister, Teviot Place, plaques on the east wall of the main entrance of the Medical School Building
Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870), discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform. Simpson, born in Bathgate near Edinburgh and educated at the University completed his final medical examination at the age of 18 but, as he was too young, had to wait two years before he got his license to practice medicine. He developed an interest in obstetrics, and became Chair of the Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh in 1840 at the age of 28.  He championed the use of chloroform against medical, moral and religious opposition.  But it was not until Queen Victoria used it during the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold, in 1853 that its use became generally accepted.

Lord Joseph Lister (1827-1912) came to Edinburgh in 1853 after graduating in medicine in London. He worked closely with James Syme, the celebrated Professor of Surgery in Edinburgh.  In 1860 he was appointed to the Chair of Surgery in Glasgow, and it was there that he first applied Louis Pasteur’s discoveries about the role of airborne bacteria in fermentation to the prevention of infection in surgery. In 1866 he introduced carbolic acid as an antiseptic, to kill airborne bacteria and prevent their transmission into wounds from the air of the operating theatre. In 1869 he returned to Edinburgh as successor to Syme as Professor of Surgery, and continued to develop improved methods of antisepsis and asepsis, with greatly reduced infection rates.  Lord Lister achieved international recognition but retained his affection for his old university, and at his death in 1912 bequeathed his portrait and collection of honours and medals to the University of Edinburgh.

8) Charles Darwin has a plaque at the Royal Museum of Scotland at the
University. It used to be 11 Lothian Street
In 1815, at the age of 16, Darwin studied medicine alongside his brother at Edinburgh University. The lodges in a house at 11 Lothian Street, which has now been knocked down to make way for the Royal Museum of Scotland. Although he didn’t enjoy medicine and left after 18 months, it is thought his interest in evolution captured his attention whilst at Edinburgh.
He became a friend of Dr. Robert Grant, a physician and lecturer at Edinburgh with a particular interest in marine biology. Grant took him to meetings of the Wernerian Society, where he heard lectures by the master bird-watcher John Audubon and others. During the two years at Edinburgh Darwin almost certainly heard about the idea of evolution for the first time.

9) The Oyster Club at The Caves,Niddry Street South, Edinburgh, EH1 1NS
In the 1770’s on this site stood The Oyster Club which was set up by Joseph Black, Adam Smith and David Hume where they used to meet to drink porter and shuck oysters and debate the great scientific and philosophical topics of their age. In 2002 the Lord Provost of Edinburgh decided to re-start this club with members meeting on the second Friday of every second month.

Q&A Special

Quentin will be presenting a special edition of Material World on Thursday 11th January where he'll be attempting to find answers to your burning scientific questions. If there is something you've always wanted to know about the world of science, please send us your question by following this link.

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