Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the 18th Century

Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the 18th Century

Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the 18th Century

Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the 18th Century

Synopsis

In over 60 alphabetical entries, Shectman examines at the tremendous scientific discoveries, inventions, and inquiries of the period. Familiar topics such as the steam engine and hot air balloon are covered, along with lesser-known topics such as the Watt copy press and Newton's experimentum crucis. A thorough discussion of each entry's scientific impact provides readers with an understanding of the lasting social and political importance of these advancements.

Excerpt

Near the end of the eighteenth century, James Watt (1736–1819) wrote that “the very existence of Britain as a nation seems to me, in great measure, to depend upon her exertions in science….” When he wrote this, Watt was already a legendary figure in England. His steam engines powered nearly every factory in nearly every industry, surpassing all forms of energy that the world had ever seen. His name was, in the minds of scientists and commoners alike, very nearly synonymous with the industrial revolution. Many people even thought that the steam engine might one day carry them all the way to the moon.

By the end of the century, scientific research and its practical applications had become two sides of a golden coin. Science could not only remake the world, it could very well carry ordinary people to the far-flung reaches of their imagination. However, unity of science and practical application was a relatively new concept during the late eighteenth century.

In ancient Greece, Archimedes (ca. 287–212 B.C.) used principles of geometry to build ingenious war machines that effectively repelled invading Roman armies. Centuries later, Plutarch (ca. 46–120) admonished his predecessor for using mathematics for meekly practical purposes. Even the greatest of Archimedes' contemporaries never conceived of science in the enlightenment terms of practical application. In fact, a cornerstone of ancient philosophy was the distinction between knowledge and usefulness.

A millennium and a half later, Renaissance scholar Francis Bacon (1561–1626) began the arduous task of conceptually removing “philosophy”—and science—from the ivory tower and placing it at the service of ordinary people. The seventeenth century “age of genius” began delineating applied science for collective benefit, but individual reactions of philosopherscientists varied wildly. In the heavily chronicled life of Isaac Newton . . .

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