Robert Boyle’s astonishing scientific wishlist

03 June 2010

Extraordinary 17th century predictions for the future of science, including flight, organ transplants, pinpointing geographic locations accurately, commercial agriculture and psychotropic drugs, will be displayed in public for the first time next week as part of a new Royal Society exhibition.  The list was written in the 1660s by Robert Boyle, a founding Fellow of the Royal Society, and outlines his hopes for what science would achieve.

Detailing 24 forecasts for the future of science, the document includes predictions ranging from ‘the art of flying’ to ‘the cure of diseases at a distance or at least by transplantation’.  Some predictions, such as ‘the recovery of youth, or at least some of the marks of it, as new teeth, new hair coloured as in youth’ are readily seen in society today, whereas some, such as ‘the transmutation of species in minerals, animals and vegetables’ remain at science’s cutting edge.  The manuscript forms part of the new exhibition The Royal Society: 350 Years of Science, opening on 7 June.

Jonathan Ashmore, Fellow of the Royal Society and spokesperson for the exhibition, commented on the Robert Boyle document:

“This document reveals just how forward-thinking the Society and its Fellows have been since the Society’s  inception 350 years ago.  Boyle’s predictions on the future of science are quite remarkable. His hopes for the cure of diseases by transplantation and drugs to appease pain and aid sleep have both become inherent features of contemporary medicine and yet these were predictions he was making over 300 years ago.  We have also seen numerous of his other predictions realized in various ways, including flight, modern healthcare prolonging life, Kevlar body armour, underwater exploration and GPS navigation.   This document provides us with an amazing window into one of the most extraordinary minds of the 17th Century and is one of the many fascinating artefacts on display at the exhibition.”

The exhibition is part of the Society's 350th anniversary year celebrations and displays material from the Society's foundation in 1660 to the present day. This is the first major exhibition of the Royal Society’s new Centre for History of Science.  The establishment of the Centre is just one of the highlights of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary year.