3500 volunteers spent 4 years decoding scientist’s 200-year-old notes

3500 volunteers spent 4 years decoding scientist’s 200-year-old notes

3500 volunteers spent 4 years decoding scientist’s 200-year-old notes

Sir Humphry Davy, a name etched in scientific history for his discoveries, has been unearthed in a new light. Beyond his acclaimed achievements in chemistry and invention, a hidden treasure has emerged—poetry. Yes, poetry penned in secret, tucked within the same notebooks that documented his scientific marvels.

As reported by The Guardian, imagine the thrill when Lancaster University researchers stumbled upon this revelation. Hundreds of poems, veiled for over two centuries, are hidden amidst pages filled with revolutionary electrochemical experiments. It’s like uncovering a hidden compartment in history’s grand narrative.

The hidden poetry side

Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) discovered more chemical elements than any individual has before or since. His achievements saw him rise through society’s ranks from relatively modest origins to become the President of the Royal Society.

Sharon Ruston, an English professor leading this literary excavation, paints an intriguing picture. “The poetry is just everywhere,” Ruston told the Guardian. “You do get a real sense of the man himself and his thought processes as he’s working his way through things.”

Davy’s notebooks, faded with time, reveal a mesmerizing duality. Amidst chemical formulas and experimental accounts, verses sprout like wildflowers, showcasing the fusion of his scientific inquiries and poetic musings.

Ruston elaborated: “He’s writing about nitrous oxide or galvanism. But then there are lines of poetry as well. These two things are happening simultaneously for him.”

The most enchanting discovery? A poem is woven around Davy’s European tour intertwined with scientific observations about ancient ruins. It was during this journey that Davy, alongside protege Michael Faraday, unraveled mysteries about elements and substances that transformed scientific understanding.

Intriguingly, his scientific and poetic realms weren’t isolated islands. “They work with each other,” Ruston emphasizes. Davy’s poems often mirrored his scientific revelations—leaves changing color or chemical compositions morphing into lyrical verses.

Mark Miodownik, a materials and society professor, hails this revelation, challenging the connection between science and creativity. “You can’t be a great scientist and not be a creative person,” he insists. Davy’s private poetry was an overflow of wonder and amazement, a window into his creative process that transcended scientific inquiry.

Scientific discoveries between the pages of poetry

Over the past four years, a global team of 3,500 volunteers has dedicated their efforts to transcribing the extensive content of Davy’s numerous notebooks. Collectively, the notebooks span as many as 11,417 pages and are over 200 years old.

“We’ve got the pages where he actually isolates potassium using electrolysis. But in the middle of that, he mentioned this person and their address,” Ruston reveals. As academia dives deeper, an online course by Lancaster University promises to unveil Davy’s multidimensional legacy.

Transcribed poems, sketches, and firsthand laboratory accounts will illuminate the life and times of this scientific genius, connecting the dots between Romantic poets and Davy’s contributions.

The curtain rises on an exhibition at the Royal Institution, a tribute to Davy’s manuscripts, lectures, and profound impact on science and poetry. It’s a journey through history’s corridors, celebrating a mind that blurred the lines between scientific rigor and artistic eloquence.

Source: Interesting Engineering

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3500 volunteers spent 4 years decoding scientist’s 200-year-old notes

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