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Science and Mining in the North-East: George Stephenson, Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday

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18:00 – 19:00 5 Dec 2015
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Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle,
23 Westgate Rd,
Newcastle upon Tyne,
Tyne and Wear,
NE1 1SE

Speakers: Professor Frank James

The North-East in the late 18th and well into the 19th century contained the largest, most productive, coal field in the country. One consequence was that it also experienced the largest number of mining fatalities due to explosions caused by lighting mines using either candles or oil lamps. Much effort, both locally and nationally, was thus devoted to finding ways of preventing such disasters by developing a ‘safe’ lamp and various possible methods were explored. This talk will compare the ‘engineering’ solution pursued by George Stephenson and the ‘scientific’ followed by Humphry Davy, assisted by Michael Faraday. Both of these successful efforts took place during the closing months of 1815 and this simultaneity provoked a ferocious controversy between the main protagonists and their supporters over who had priority in the invention. The arguments were informed not only by the merits and precise chronologies of development, but also by business, class, political and regional rivalries. One consequence of the invention of the safety lamp was that it made Faraday into an expert on mining safety which was recognised when the Prime Minister Robert Peel appointed him to enquire into the 1844 explosion at Haswell colliery, County Durham, which killed 95 men and boys. The cause of the explosion was identified as a combination of a faulty safety lamp, lax safety procedures, poor ventilation and an uneducated workforce. The history of the use of scientific knowledge in mining safety illustrates that the application of science is not straightforward, and also shows that safety was not, is not, a stand-alone issue, but an integral part of culture and society.

Event type: Lecture/Talk
Sponsored by: Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle
Organised by: IOP North East
Contact details: Richard Hornby
r.j.l.hornby@physics.org

Booking is recommended and should be through the Lit. & Phil. (tel. 0191 232 0192)

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Location icon
Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle,
23 Westgate Rd,
Newcastle upon Tyne,
Tyne and Wear,
NE1 1SE
Clock icon
18:00 – 19:00 5 Dec 2015
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