NBIA Colloquium by Michael Nauenberg – Niels Bohr Institutet - Københavns Universitet

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NBIA Colloquium by Michael Nauenberg

(University of California Santa Cruz)

Teaching Natural Philosophy (Physics) in the  Age of Enlightenment

Starting in the 18-th century, there was a great deal of interest in learning Newton’s new methodology and practice of physics. For this purpose several prominent teachers, including s’Gravesande in Leiden and Desaguliers in Oxford, wrote textbooks on this subject. Even Voltaire, together with Emilie du Chatelet, contributed an enormously popular book on "the elements of Newton’s philosophy", and Algarotti wrote  a textbook on optics ``for the use of the ladies".  In this talk I will discuss some of these books, including one of a little known Irish mathematician, Robert Gibson, who later wrote the standard textbook at the time on surveying. It illustrates why learning optics, for example, was important to the practitioners. This history contains an important ingredient, recognized already by these old timers, of the importance of hands on experience in learning science.

Refreshments will be available in the NBIA lounge after the