Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gentlemen scientists and engineering professionals

The 19th century was the last period of time when educated amateurs had a chance to contribute real scientific insight or to make a breakthrough invention. So "gentlemen scientists", engineering academics and business professionals all had their share in the invention of television. How was their working environment? Laboratories at universities were completely new. That is why the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, founded in 1873, attracted the best young physicists from all over the world including, from 1882, women students. For the first time, students and teachers could build mechanisms and try out combinations of substances. No more learning by heart of unquestioned authorities, but fresh, empirical insight. Businessmen in the booming new industry of electricity built their own laboratories and workshops. Have a look at the picture below. These are the highly professional laboratories entrepreneur Thomas A. Edison set up for his numerous employees. The equipment was so excellent it would have made every "gentleman scientist" jealous. You wonder why Edison and his staff never invented a television device.

Exercise: Explain why it is important to have a huge laboratory in order to do good science. If you are unsure if women are allowed to study in your country look it up in the UNESCO global education digest. What do you think when Jewish and Muslim students were first allowed to attend Cambridge University? a) 1789 b) 1848 c) 1856. And the Berlin University? And the Sorbonne University in Paris? Look it up. You will be astonished.

Edison laboratory

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