The Poetry of Scientists

An interesting insight into a seldom-seen facet of Victorian Scientists. Who knew John Tyndall was a poet?

Gregory Tate

On shelf after shelf of carefully catalogued notebooks and sheets of paper, the archives of the Royal Institution in London store the voluminous manuscript writings of nineteenth-century scientific pioneers such as Humphry Davy and John Tyndall. Among these manuscripts are a surprising number of poems, painstakingly drafted, revised, copied out, and reworked. I’ve been working in the Royal Institution’s archives recently, researching both for my second academic monograph and for a documentary, ‘The Poetry of Science’, which will be broadcast as part of BBC Radio 3’s Sunday Feature on Sunday 2 November. I’ve been trying to figure out why nineteenth-century scientists (Davy, Tyndall, William Whewell, John Herschel, James Clerk Maxwell) were so interested in writing poetry. The copious crossings-out and emendations in the Royal Institution manuscripts indicate that Davy and Tyndall took care and time over their poems, editing and polishing them; poetry wasn’t simply a recreation. But why…

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The Berners Street Hoax

History tends to lack a sense of humor.  Rarely does one come across a real side-splitting tale amongst the social trends and political machinations that underlie the dates of important treaties and the names of the monarchs that signed them (usually Charles or Frederick, according to my son who studied European History last year).

"The Berners Street Hoax" from The Choice Humorous Works of Theodore Hook

“The Berners Street Hoax” from The Choice Humorous Works of Theodore Hook

In 1810, on November 26th to be exact, one singular event occurred in London which could win the award for funniest historical event (a low bar there…) Continue reading

The Art of Travel

A couple of years ago in a panel I did on Victorian Scientists at Clockwork Alchemy, the San Jose Steampunk con, I talked about Francis Galton. “Who?” you may ask. Francis Galton may be the most talented Victorian Scientist that no one has ever heard about today. The breadth of his work is jaw-droppingly astounding. Born in 1822 into the celebrated Wedgwood-Darwin clan (and half-cousin to Charles Darwin), he had all the advantages of a Victorian gentleman, including a wealthy father who died young leaving him with the means to be a gentleman-scientist for the rest of his life.

Young Francis was a child prodigy, reading by age two and knowing Greek and Latin by his fifth birthday. He was impatient with formal schooling, however, and bounced around aimlessly from school to school. He eventually earned an undistinguished degree from Cambridge, but only after suffering a nervous breakdown. Upon the death of his father, he left his studies and turned to travel, science, and invention.

Francis Galton in the 1850s

Francis Galton in the 1850s

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How to Build a World, (or at least how to keep track of it)

A reader entering the world you created.  (Source:Camille Flammarion's L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire (1888).)

A reader entering the world you created. (Source: Camille Flammarion’s L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (1888).)

Many articles and blogs have been written on Worldbuilding by writers far more experienced than I, such as here and here. Still, some lessons that I have learned may be helpful.

When I began writing my first steampunk novel To Rule the Skies, I had no idea that I was starting in the middle of Professor Nicodemus Boffin’s saga, but at some point I realized that Boffin’s back story would make a fine story in itself. Now that I’m deep into writing another book (the aforementioned prequel), I think a lot about the world I’ve created for my characters to live in (which I call the “Boffin-verse”), and spend a lot of time making sure that it’s all consistent. Continue reading

Quick DIY Plastic Steampunk Pistol Mod

Yikes!  Halloween is less than three weeks away and I haven’t even started on my steampunk costume yet.

If this is you, fear not.  It’s not impossible to make a passable steampunk pistol prop in only a couple of days.  A few years ago, my son wanted to dress steampunk for Maker Faire.  We put together a reasonable outfit (He already owned goggles…), but he wanted a pistol to top it off, and Maker Faire was only a few days away.

Fortunately, I had found this water pistol recently at a dollar store.

Water pistol before...

Water pistol before…

I know.  I’m sorry–the colors are not so tear-inducing in real life, but close. I will show you how to change this garish monstrosity into a steampunk pistol.  If you look past the eye-throbbing colors, you can see that this pistol actually has pretty good details molded into it–a water tank (the large red bit), fins, a smaller tank, tubing, rivets, etc.  So, I lucked out and found one that was easily adaptable to begin with. If you’ve got the time, look around at dollar stores, thrift shops, flea markets, second-rate toy stores, etc., for a pistol you can imagine as steampunk–with a little work.  If not, just about anything can be  made to look steampunk–or at least, more steampunk–with judicious application of paint. Continue reading

Tips for Makers: Taming Metal Part 2, “Treat and Heat”

Follow-up to the previous post with more information on soldering.

For Whom the Gear Turns

One of my very first sun-catchers. My favorite of the sun-catchers that I have made

Last time I covered some of the kinder, gentler ways to work with metal. In this post, I want to tell you about soldering. This is the metallurgical technique with which I have the most personal experience. I have used it to create silver jewelry and to attach transistors to electrical components like circuit boards, as well as making stained glass sun-catchers and sculptures.

Soldering

  • Solder, a metal alloy used to join other metals together, comes in different varieties that have different melting temperatures, and your solder must always have a melting temperature lower than that of what you are joining.
  • There is soft solder (melting between 190 to 840 °F) and hard solder (840 °F and above), which is sometimes called ‘silver solder‘. When working with high-temperature solder it is often referred to as ‘brazing.’ When a joint is particularly delicate (ie, joining two…

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