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Selected Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
November 30, 2009 3:05 AM   Subscribe

To celebrate the start of its 350th year, the Royal Society has put online 60 of its most memorable scientific papers.

The Royal Society's head of archives, Keith Moore, talks about some of them in an audio slideshow.

The papers (warning - they're all PDFs) include:

Isaac Newton's New Theory on Light And Colors. (1672)

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek's observations of Little Animals in Rainwater. (1677)

The Electrical Kite of Benjamin Franklin. (1752)

Thomas Young's Wave theory of light. (1802)

Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden's gold foil experiment which led to the nuclear model of the atom. (1909)
posted by Electric Dragon (28 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
You don't see those papers cited too often.

I would have preferred a freaking list of links (like the OP's) to that "artsy" nonsense they actually made. Good luck reading that site on a mobile browser.
posted by e.e. coli at 3:18 AM on November 30, 2009


It's great that they've put some of the most memorable papers online, but I'd like to see all of the early Transactions online. I don't know why they aren't already.

Some of the early Transactions tell us a lot about how science began. They'd have a paper like Newton's Theory of Light and Colors and then the next paper would be about a curious two-headed sheep or an amazingly talented dwarf... something like that. It was all one big wunderkammer in the 17th century.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:24 AM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


It was all one big wunderkammer in the 17th century.

Maybe that's why they don't put them all online. They have an image to preserve.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:55 AM on November 30, 2009


This is great. Thanks very much. I'm just now reading The Age of Wonder and this is a nice complement for my reading.
posted by loosemouth at 4:08 AM on November 30, 2009


Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden's gold foil experiment which led to the nuclear model of the atom. (1909)

What! I always thought this was Rutherford's experiment. I pictured him sitting there doing the work and everything. Memorable experiments indeed.
posted by DU at 4:27 AM on November 30, 2009


Most of the stuff from back then is no longer under copyright. Anyone should be able to scan them and put them online if they had access to them.
posted by delmoi at 4:50 AM on November 30, 2009


I always thought this was Rutherford's experiment.

Rutherford regarded it as a fairly routine experiment beforehand, suitable for teaching Marsden (who was an undergraduate at the time):
"I had observed the scattering of alpha-particles, and Dr. Geiger in my laboratory had examined it in detail. He found, in thin pieces of heavy metal, that the scattering was usually small, of the order of one degree. One day Geiger came to me and said, "Don't you think that young Marsden, whom I am training in radioactive methods, ought to begin a small research?" Now I had thought that, too, so I said, " Why not let him see if any alpha-particles can be scattered through a large angle?" I may tell you in confidence that I did not believe that they would be, since we knew the alpha-particle was a very fast, massive particle with a great deal of energy, and you could show that if the scattering was due to the accumulated effect of a number of small scatterings, the chance of an alpha-particle's being scattered backward was very small. Then I remember two or three days later Geiger coming to me in great excitement and saying "We have been able to get some of the alpha-particles coming backward …" It was quite the most incredible event that ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you."
Rutherford came up with the key insight to explain this: that nearly all of the atom's mass must be concentrated in a tiny nucleus.
posted by Electric Dragon at 4:58 AM on November 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


Most of the stuff from back then is no longer under copyright. Anyone should be able to scan them and put them online if they had access to them.

I figured they weren't, but couldn't find anything specific on the site about copyright. Man I would love to get some of those medical images. They're beautiful.
posted by gramcracker at 5:32 AM on November 30, 2009


e.e. coli: "You don't see those papers cited too often."

I tried to make a point of citing the original synthesis papers in my old OChem lab reports, many of which were in German. The TAs didn't like me too much.
posted by The White Hat at 7:28 AM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Hey loosemouth, thanks for turning me on to that Age of Wonder book. It looks great.

And count me among the "This is neat but why aren't all of the Royal Society's papers online?" folks.

They'd have a paper like Newton's Theory of Light and Colors and then the next paper would be about a curious two-headed sheep or an amazingly talented dwarf... something like that.

Ha. Oh, ok, I guess that answers my question.
posted by mediareport at 7:42 AM on November 30, 2009


twoleftfeet and others: if you follow the links direct to rstl. in the FPP you will be able to navigate tables of contents for entire issues. I can read things like: An Intimation of Divers Philosophical Particulars, Now Undertaken and Consider'd by Several Ingenious and Learned Men; Here Inserted to Excite Others to Joyn with Them in the Same or the Like Attempts and Observations by Signior Cassini all day long.
posted by cgk at 7:51 AM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's something very weird about reading Ben Franklin's paper on electricity and the first thing on the page is a statement about how I can get e-mail alerts delivered to me.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:59 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


There's something very weird about reading Ben Franklin's paper on electricity and he first thing on the page is a statement about how I can get e-mail alerts delivered to me.

GOOGLE POOR RICHARD
posted by DU at 8:14 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


this is really cool. Thanks.
posted by ServSci at 8:26 AM on November 30, 2009


While this is all fine and good, the Royal Society continues to degrade the integrity of science and enforce the orthodoxy of its constituent hidebound reactionaries by suppressing the publication of papers proving my quadratic-quantum theory of free-vacuum energy.
posted by [citation needed] at 8:57 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is the coolest thing EVAR on the 'nets. Holy cow. What gets me is exactly how *easy* the letters are to read!
posted by notsnot at 9:10 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is awesome, and their site is beautiful and really fun to navigate! Also, science!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:14 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


This will be a fantastic appendix to The Invention of Air (which excerpts many of these).
posted by djb at 9:50 AM on November 30, 2009


...suppressing the publication of papers proving my quadratic-quantum theory of free-vacuum energy.
posted by [citation needed]


Yes.
posted by DU at 9:50 AM on November 30, 2009


I would have preferred a freaking list of links (like the OP's) to that "artsy" nonsense they actually made. Good luck reading that site on a mobile browser.

This isn't much better, but they do have a PDF version of the site, which lists the articles with commentaries and also provides links to the original articles [warning: HUGE file].
posted by tickingclock at 11:31 AM on November 30, 2009


Good luck reading that site on a mobile browser.
Mobile browsers do not have the correct ratio of the four humours needed to penetrate the aether. The site is best viewed with Netscape Navigator on a CRT mounted on a frame sextant.

Seriously, E. Dragon (may I call you El?), thanks for posting this. There is something about seeing a paper in the author's own hand that lends an immediacy and intimacy to the topic -- I can almost feel the wonder readers would have experienced upon seeing these ideas for the first time.
posted by joaquim at 12:21 PM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ive never heard of some of the articles they include, and they look beautiful. I can imagine that it would be worthwhile for me to find a day to just go through most of these articles.
posted by painquale at 2:28 PM on November 30, 2009


This is the best Metafilter post I've seen in a long time. Thank you.
posted by Ouisch at 4:49 PM on November 30, 2009


In my cell neuro class this term, we did Hodgkin & Huxley (1952). It was the first time a professor made me go all the way back to the source, and it hurt my brain like fire, but it was totally worth it. When I thanked him, he told me "There's no point in learning results without knowing how they got them. You have to learn the process." I wish I had been taught this earlier, but I feel fortunate to have learned it now.

This is a great post. Thanks.

I guess if you want to be super-pedantic, the source is Boyle (1666) (at least according to the Royal Society), but I think it's fair to call Hodgkin & Huxley (1952) the source for contemporary neuroscience.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 4:54 PM on November 30, 2009


Maybe that's why they don't put them all online. They have an image to preserve.

I don't know, "Keeping a dog alive by blowing through its lungs with bellows" sort of makes me question that. They managed to take something totally obvious to anyone living today (we survive by breathing oxygen!) and make it less ridiculous than I thought it would be.
posted by autoclavicle at 9:11 PM on November 30, 2009


Great post- thanks! I especially liked the van leeuwenhoek paper and hope to use a phrase like "Also in Water Wherein Pepper Had Lain" in a manuscript title someday.
posted by emd3737 at 10:01 PM on November 30, 2009


Marvelous.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:52 PM on November 30, 2009


Amazing and fantastic.

Primary text FTW.
posted by variella at 8:08 AM on December 1, 2009


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