Golden Spacequakes

October 24, 2017

Long ago in the year 132 AD the Imperial Astronomer Zhang Heng designed an earthquake detector. The History of the Later Han Dynasty reports that his ingenious invention would alert the Chinese emperor to catastrophic seismic events in distant regions of the empire. Zhang Heng’s seismoscope is described as a bronze vessel two metres in diameter with […]

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The Path to Immortality

October 11, 2017

It is 1697, we enter a dimly lit tavern in one of the less inviting districts of London. Huddled in the shadows we see a man in a loose cloak sitting expectantly with his accomplice at a small table. He has long grey hair, a sharp nose and a determined look in his piercing eyes. […]

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The Googolplex

October 3, 2017

One million is a big number. To really comprehend numbers such as this we need some sort of scale. So, how big is a million? And what about even bigger numbers? Millions, billions, even trillions are thrown around in everyday conversation today without much thought about the differences in size of these huge numbers. Typically there are about […]

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The Harmony of the World

October 3, 2017

Johannes Kepler transformed astronomy in the early years of the 17th century. His revolution was built on accurate observations of the planets compiled over many years by Tycho Brahe. The New Astronomy Kepler published his findings in 1609 in a book called Astronomia Nova (The New Astronomy), which includes two laws describing how planets travel around […]

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Sieving for Numbers

October 1, 2017

Alexander’s general Ptolemy I Soter became the first pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt following Alexander’s death in 323 BC. Ptolemy founded the famous Library of Alexandria. Dedicated to the muses, the nine goddesses of the arts, it was the original museum. During the Ptolomaic era Alexandria would replace Athens as the leading cultural centre in […]

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The Oracle

October 1, 2017

Plato believed we have an innate knowledge of geometry and much else besides. While this might be true up to a point, his argument is not totally convincing. Plato presents the idea in his dialogue The Meno, which takes the form of a discussion between the philosopher Socrates and a slave-owning aristocrat called Meno. Socrates demonstrates […]

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The Laws of Thought

September 30, 2017

George Boole was the son of a cobbler. Born in 1815 in Lincoln, he was largely self-taught, with little more than a primary school education. Despite these humble beginnings, Boole would become one of the leading mathematicians of his day. He founded a school in Waddington near Lincoln when just 19. Soon he was exchanging letters […]

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The Alchemists’ Dream

September 23, 2017

The alchemists’ dream was to understand and control the structure of matter and to turn base metal into gold. Modern physicists are equally curious, but hopefully rather less avaricious. Four Forces The 20th century saw the development of machines to delve deep into the structure of matter. John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton constructed the first particle accelerator […]

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Alchemical Furnaces of the Cosmos

September 21, 2017

Arthur Eddington was raised in a Quaker family in northern England. After studying in Manchester, he won a scholarship to Cambridge University and by the 1920s he established himself as the world’s leading astrophysicist. Eddington developed models of the structure and evolution of stars that form the foundations of the subject even today. The key […]

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From the Leviathan to the Behemoth

September 19, 2017

The Leviathan William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, built a monster telescope with a six-foot or 1.8 metre mirror weighing almost three tons at his home in Birr Castle in county Offaly, Ireland. Construction was completed in 1845. The Leviathan of Parsonstown, as it is known, remained in use until the end of the […]

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