To celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, Dr Haileigh Robertson takes an alternative look at the history of early gunpowder and explores how this explosive material inspired many scientific experiments in the 17th century.
  • Colour woodblock print showing summer fireworks above Ryogoku bridge in Tokyo: by Takahashi Hiroaki, 1921 - 1936. Museum reference: A.1990.105

    Colour woodblock print showing summer fireworks above Ryogoku bridge in Tokyo: by Takahashi Hiroaki, 1921 - 1936. Museum reference: A.1990.105
  • 'Philosophical Fireworks' demonstration apparatus consisting of an elaborate set of multiple gas jet burners in brass, in a fitted mahogany box, by W. & S. Jones, London, c. 1800

    'Philosophical Fireworks' demonstration apparatus consisting of an elaborate set of multiple gas jet burners in brass, in a fitted mahogany box, by W. & S. Jones, London, c. 1800
  • A double-barrelled air pump first made by Francis Hauksbee, with modified mechanism designed by Vream c.1720

    A double-barrelled air pump first made by Francis Hauksbee, with modified mechanism designed by Vream c.1720

The role of gunpowder as a military propellant has been widely studied. However, less well understood is its importance in the making of early modern science. For early modern scholars, gunpowder was to be studied and its explosive effects gave rise to the idea that the material was evidence of powerful but hidden processes happening beneath the surface of nature.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), called it ‘imitable thunder,’ a term indicative of its manifestation of nature’s hidden powers. Robert Boyle (1627-91), conducted chemical experiments with gunpowder in an attempt to ascertain the structures of matter. The Royal Society in its founding decades sought out new ways to quantify, harness and employ the energy given off by gunpowder on ignition.

Gunpowder was in effect transferred from the battlefield to the laboratory, where it could be made to perform a broad range of philosophical functions. In this talk, Dr Haleigh Roberston will explore employments of gunpowder conducted by early modern scholars, and situate these efforts within the context of the changing perceptions and practices of science from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Explore more

Feature
Science and Technology galleries

Communications, transport, industry, engineering, energy and medicine: how have scientific and technological inventions changed our lives? Explore the history of innovation in Scotland and across the world through interactive games and thought-provoking displays.
More
Event information

When

2 Nov 2017
14:00–15:00 (doors open 13:45)

Where

Auditorium, Level 1. Entry via Chambers Street.

How much

Free, booking required

Booking information

Book online or call 0300 123 6789

Book now
Back to top