Royal Society: Past, Present and Future

30 November 2009

The gruesome account of an early blood transfusion in 1666, Isaac Newton’s landmark paper on light and colour, Watson and Crick’s description of the evidence for the structure of DNA, and Stephen Hawking’s early writing on black holes in space are just some of the highlights of a new interactive timeline launched today (Monday 30 November) to celebrate the 350th anniversary year of the Royal Society.

Trailblazing will offer unprecedented public access to the most influential, inspiring and intriguing papers published by the Royal Society over the last 350 years including the world-famous Philosophical Transactions (Phil. Trans.), the oldest continuously published scientific journal in the world.
Leading scientists and historians have chosen 60 articles from amongst the 60,000 published since the journal first began in 1665. Trailblazing will make the original manuscripts available online for the first time alongside fascinating insights from modern-day experts who are continuing the work of scientific giants such as Newton, Hooke, Faraday and Franklin and making vital new breakthroughs of their own in areas such as genetics, physics, climate change and medicine.

Highlights include:

• The gruesome account of an early blood transfusion (1666)
• Captain James Cook’s explanation of how he protected his crew from scurvy aboard HMS Resolution (1776)
• Stephen Hawking’s early writing on black holes (1970)
• Benjamin Franklin’s account of flying a kite in a storm to identify the electrical nature of lightning – the Philadelphia Experiment (1752)
• Sir Isaac Newton’s landmark paper on the nature of light and colour (1672)
• A scientific study of a young Mozart confirming him as a musical child genius (1770)
• The Yorkshire cave discovery of the fossilized remains of elephant, tiger, bear and hyena heralding the study of deep time (1822)

Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, said:

“The scientific papers on Trailblazing represent a ceaseless quest by scientists over the centuries, many of them Fellows of the Royal Society, to test and build on our knowledge of humankind and the universe. Individually they represent those thrilling moments when science allows us to understand better and to see further.

“As it begins its 350th anniversary year, the Royal Society will not only be celebrating its proud history but looking to the future of science in the UK and in the rest of the world, as the great scientific questions that tested our predecessors are rapidly replaced by new and urgent scientific challenges. Throughout the year, the Royal Society will be running an exciting nationwide programme of events and activities, many in conjunction with other scientific and cultural institutions, to inspire scientists, families, young people and interested members of the public alike to see further into science.”

The anniversary year’s events will include a nine day science festival at Southbank Centre (incorporating the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition and the UK premiere of Brian Green and Philip Glass’s Icarus at the Edge of Time, as well as a variety of other cultural events integrating science and the arts). In addition, the Royal Society will also be working with museums, galleries and other institutions, both in London and throughout the UK, to celebrate science and scientists. Other elements of the anniversary programme will include the opening of the new Kavli Royal Society International Centre for the Advancement of Science, a book telling the story of science and the Royal Society, and cutting edge scientific meetings on the biggest challenges facing science in the future.

The daunting task of selecting the 60 Trailblazing papers was the work of a small group of scientists, communicators and historians chaired by Professor Michael Thompson FRS, who himself edited Phil. Trans. for many years. Professor Thompson said:

“It was a great thrill for all of us selecting articles for their novelty, pivotal science and often just plain fun. In doing so we had to maintain a balance between the disciplines (astronomy, biology, chemistry, Earth science, mathematics, physics and engineering), while stirring in a peppering of iconic names (Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, etc). The aim was to make an inspiring and tasty dish for today's scientists, for the public at large, and of course for the youngsters who will be the scientists of tomorrow.”

Trailblazing is online from today, 30 November, at