Monday, January 26, 2015

Royal Institution and Faraday Museum

by Daniel Farrell

Our class visited the Royal Institution January 21 to explore its contributions to the scientific community. The Royal Institution (or RI) was founded in 1799 by the leading British scientists of the time as a place to put into effect new ideas as well as teach science to the rest of the country. George Finch was elected the first president of the institution, and promptly used his influence with the crown to secure a Royal Charter in 1800, giving legitimacy to the organization. The Royal Institution soon became famous for its lectures on Chemistry. As it's reputation grew, great minds from all over began to flock to London to see the lectures and for an opportunity to use the materials and labs that were built at their headquarters. In the early years, much of the research involved isolation of previously discovered elements and discovery of new ones. Within 20 years of its founding members had isolated potassium, sodium, and calcium  and discovered many new elements including magnesium, boron, chlorine, and iodine. Surprisingly it wasn't till 1862 that research formally became a part of the mission of the RI. Through the rest of its history the RI has become famous for its Christmas Lectures as well as new discoveries that have changed the face of all branches of science like the existence of the electron, decay of atoms, nerve impulses, and uses of mature stem cells. 

Outside view of Royal Institution
Despite its regal reputation, the building itself seemed small and much less impressive than I expected. Upon entering we immediately went to the basement where the Faraday Museum is set up. Despite being only one hallway long, the museum is home to a plethora of world-changing experiments done by Faraday, for whom the museum is named, as well as many other influential members of the Royal Institution. After the class was able to tour the entirety of the museum, we all talked about the exhibits which interested us most. For me the most interesting parts of the museum were the experiments created by Faraday having to do with advancements in electromagnetism. 
Portrait of Faraday

Faraday is one of the most famous members of the RI.  His many discoveries helped helped the RI to emerge as a dominant player in the research community. He first came to the RI in 1813 as a research assistant, where promptly he and Davy were credited with inventing the first mining safety lamp that prevents explosions of flammable gases in the mines. In 1821 Faraday is credited, among other amazing discoveries, with building the first electromagnetic motor and generator, liquifying the first gas (chlorine), discovering Benzene, interpreting electromagnetism as a field, and inventing photography before his death in 1867. As Faraday showed his aptitude for research, he stepped up through the ranks of the RI. Faraday was first appointed Superintendent of the House in 1821, Director of the Laboratory in 1825, and finally in 1833 he was appointed as the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry (A special research position created just for him that continues today). In 1973 in honor of his contributions to the RI, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Faraday Museum, which displays examples of many of his experiments, as well as experiments conducted by other members of the RI.
Main Hallway of Faraday Museum

Coiled wire around a ring which was used to first observe electromagnetic induction. The magenta coloring is due to the lighting in the display case. 

First Electric Generator created by Faraday

First ever sample of Benzene

While Faraday was one of the most well known researchers at RI, the society was home to countless world changing scientists such as:

John Tyndall, who explained why the sky is blue due to the low wavelength of blue light, causing it to be scattered more easily. Below is the tube which he used to demonstrate this effect.
John Tyndall's Blue Sky Apparatus

One of the most Important discoveries to come from the Royal Institution was the X-ray spectrometer, created by William Bragg. He used his spectrometer to observe the cell structure of crystals. Today this technique  has been improved over the years and used to discover molecular and atomic structures as well as make discoveries about electronic energy levels.

William Bragg's X-ray Spectrometer 

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