Steve Jones

Steve Jones

Revolutionary Science in the Age of the Guillotine

Bristol800/
Fri 22 April 2016

Steve Jones

Revolutionary Science in the Age of the Guillotine

Steve Jones
Fri 22 April 2016,

Paris at the time of the French Revolution was the world capital of science. Its scholars laid the foundations of today’s physics, chemistry and biology and were revolutionaries: agents of an upheaval both of understanding and of politics. Paris’ first mayor was an astronomer, the general who fought off invaders was a mathematician, while Marat, a major figure in the Terror, considered himself a leading physicist. Paris in the century around 1789 saw the first lightning conductor, the first flight, the first estimate of the speed of light and the invention of the tin can and the stethoscope. The metre replaced the yard and the theory of evolution came into being. The city was saturated in science and many of its monuments still are. The Eiffel Tower, built to celebrate the Revolution’s centennial, saw the world’s first wind-tunnel and first radio message, and first observation of cosmic rays.

Perhaps the greatest Revolutionary scientist of all, Antoine Lavoisier founded modern chemistry and physiology, transformed French farming, and much improved gunpowder manufacture. His political activities brought him a fortune, but in the end led to his execution. The judge who sentenced him – and many other researchers – claimed that ‘the Revolution has no need for geniuses’. In his new book, No Need for Geniuses, Steve Jones shows how wrong this was and takes a sideways look at the history of science in Paris, the City of Light.

This is one of the events in a special weekend of activity looking at Frankenstein, culture and science. It is part of Bristol800: a programme throughout 2016 marking significant anniversaries in the city and what they mean for Bristol now and into the future. Mary Shelley lived in Bristol in 1815. Bristol800 is an initiative of Bristol Cultural Development Partnership (Arts Council England, Bristol City Council and Business West).

In association with/

Share this/