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Illustration of dragon firework (detail) from John Babington's 'Pyrotechnia' (1635)
Public history of science lecture by Dr Simon Werrett
Simon Werrett is Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Science, University College London.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, fireworks offered some intriguing possibilities for scientific research among the experimental philosophers of the Royal Society. What was the nature of fire? How did combustion work? Why did gunpowder explode? What made rockets ascend, how high could they go, and how far away was the flame of a rocket visible? Experimenters used fireworks to explore all of these questions, drawing on the skills and performances of London’s pyrotechnists to help them in their inquiries. This talk will explore the place of fireworks in early experimental science, and show how experimenters had to steer a careful path when using fireworks. Too much playing with fire could be construed as trivializing science or allied with dangerous religious fanaticism associated with fiery tempers and overheated imaginations. Studying “cooler” phenomena like phosphorus and the electric fire might help to avoid such problems.
This event is free to attend and open to all. No tickets are required. Doors open at 12.30pm and seats will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.
We have a limited number of spaces for wheelchair users and ten bookable seats for people with impaired mobility who are unable to queue. To book in advance, please contact the events team. Further information about accessibility is available.
Recorded audio will be available on this page a few days after the event.
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Book prize event 6 Mar
History of science lecture 7 Mar
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