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This content is taken from the Lancaster University & Royal Institution's online course, Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp . Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Welcome to the Royal Institution of Great Britain, I’m Professor Sharon Ruston from Lancaster University. I’m a specialist in 19th century poetry. I’ve edited Humphry Davy’s letters and I’ve written on Davy’s links with the Romantic poets. As this suggests, the course will consider the relationship between science, poetry, and politics, and the role of science in society in the early 19th century and today. We filmed the course in this beautiful building, where Davy lectured between 1801 and 1812, and made some of his most important chemical discoveries. Davy was one of the most famous scientists of his day. He isolated a number of chemical elements used in the new science of electrochemistry.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds He also invented a miners’ safety lamp, which became known as the Davy lamp, and for which he is now best remembered. This course is a collaboration between Lancaster University and the Royal Institution. The Royal Institution preserves Davy’s notebooks, many of his letters, and some of his chemical equipment. This means we’ll be able to show you these items, see Davy’s own handwriting, and the process he went through to achieve his major discoveries. We’re even going to recreate one of his experiments. I’ll be joined by an impressive team of experts, who each represent different facets of Davy’s life and career.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 seconds Professor Frank James is Head of Collections here at the Royal Institution, and also Professor of the History of Science at University College London. Frank is also editor of Michael Faraday’s letters. He’ll talk to us about the nitrous oxide experiments made before Davy arrived here, and guide us around the Royal Institution’s collection, including Davy’s manuscripts, chemical instruments, and the development of the Davy lamp. One of the most fascinating aspects of Davy’s career for me, is the fact that he wrote poetry throughout his life. Professor Richard Holmes, author of the 2008 book, Age of Wonder, which discussed Davy’s poetry and its relationship to his science, will be speaking to us about this.

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds Dr Peter Wothers, a chemist at the University of Cambridge, author of several popular textbooks, and self-confessed Davy fan, will attempt to recreate one of Davy’s experiments here in the Royal Institution. Hattie Lloyd, a PhD student at UCL, who is writing her thesis on Humphry Davy’s lectures at the Royal Institution, will speak to us about these lectures in the actual lecture theatre itself. The course is structured by the chronological events of Davy’s life and career. We’ll also hear from Lancaster University’s Professor Simon Bainbridge, on the historical context of the times in which Davy lived. And De Montfort University’s Professor Tim Fulford, editor of Davy’s letters, will tell us about some of the key events in Davy’s life.

Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds We’ll take a look at what a real chemical laboratory is like today, with Dr Rachel Platel giving us a tour of the chemistry department at Lancaster University. She will also discuss Davy’s legacy to chemists in the 21st century, in conversation with the material scientist, engineer, author, and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik from UCL. The key themes we will explore are the relationships between science and politics, and science and poetry, as well as the role of science in society. I hope you enjoy the course as much as we have enjoyed making it.

Introduction to the course and to Davy

Watch this video to find out a little about who Humphry Davy was, his achievements and his importance to us today.

Professor Sharon Ruston will also introduce the course, describing its structure and key themes.

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This video is from the free online course:

Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp

Lancaster University