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Alchemist Tendencies Transformed

November 10, 2010

Dr John Scott Haldane (1860-1936) carrying out diving experiments for the British Admiralty by an unknown photographer, photographed around 1906 (Scottish National Portrait Gallery)

 Having given up physics at school long before it was sensible to (my only recollections are a nasty laboratory accident involving a hot iron bar and an electronic circuit board which provoked tears of frustration), I now find myself in the position of writing about portraits of physicists, chemists, biologists and other scientific pioneers for our Portrait of the Nation exhibition Pioneers of Science

The exhibition will feature a variety of portraits including those in oil on canvas (where in one example, paint has been mixed with sand to represent particles whirling in space ) to a narrative scroll made in 2010 in the ancient Patua art tradition of Bengal.  Sir William Thomson, Baron Kelvin (1824-1907) and the creation of Dolly the Sheep by the Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh will start and finish the exhibition.  

James Clerk Maxwell by Alexander (Sandy) Stoddart, cast in 2009, Scottish National Portrait Gallery (smaller version of the statue, recently erected in George Street, Edinburgh) © Alexander and Catriona Stoddart

A further fifteen pioneers will feature.  Although this exhibition does not promise to explain why you never see the same bus driver twice, it will reveal the people whose theories, experiments, discoveries and inventions have helped shape the modern world and whose legacy continues to influence and inspire scientific and technological developments in the twenty-first century.

In order for all the Portrait of the Nation exhibition interpretation to be delivered on time and in an appropriate manner, a Text Strategy and Timetable has been established.  After some entertaining and disturbing dreams about noble gases, electric voice signals and bosons, I have finally arrived at a first draft of text for Pioneers of Science.  As scientific discoveries are liable to develop between now and when we open in November next year, (I’m thinking Higgs boson) there also has to be room for change. 

A Glass Vacuum Vessel containing Liquid Air (and other paraphernalia) from the Collected Papers of Sir James Dewar (1842-1923)

For all our exhibitions, we have had in place external advisors who, throughout the exhibition planning process, have helped us with various subject specialist information.  The nuance of vocabulary is especially pertinent in the scientific context.  I have been very grateful to our external science advisors and feel I can now put my alchemist tendencies to better use…. Physics or Chemistry Higher here I come (that is probably aiming too high, I think I’ll take up the violin instead, at least I can read music!).

One Comment leave one →
  1. Susan Diamond permalink
    November 13, 2010 10:38 am

    Love this – particularly the photo of Dr Haldane who looks like he is wearing a collar and tie under his diving suit!

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