British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Enlightening Science

The Enlightening Science Project was established to create an educational resource to inform and engage users on the core concepts behind Isaac Newton’s scientific achievement. Professor Rob Iliffe provides an overview.

About the Author: Rob Iliffe is Professor of Intellectual History and the History of Science in the Department of History at the University of Sussex. He has published a number of articles on early modern history and the history of science, and has written the Very Short Introduction to Newton (Oxford University Press 2007). He has edited the Eighteenth Century Biographies of Newton (Pickering 2006). He is Editorial director of the online Newton Project, director of the AHRC Newton Theological Papers Project and is also editor of the journal History of Science. Prof. Iliffe’s main research interests include: the history of science 1550-1800; the role of science and technology in the ‘Rise of the West’; techno-scientific and other roots of the current environmental crisis; historical interactions between science and religion; the theological and scientific work of Isaac Newton; and the implications for academic work posed by the increasing digitisation of the scholarly infrastructure.

With the discovery of Universal Gravitation and calculus to his name, the scientific and mathematical achievements of Isaac Newton laid the foundations for the classical physics that was developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To this day they form the core of the science that is taught in schools and universities around the globe.  Funded by JISC, The Enlightening Science website offers readers different opportunities for understanding Newton’s achievements along with their impact on science and culture.  It builds on the success of the Newton Project, which makes freely available online high quality transcriptions of Newton’s personal, scientific and religious manuscripts.

Visitors to Enlightening Science can access all of Newton’s published scientific works, along with written introductions.  However, the resource is primarily built around filmed interviews with historians of science and curators of scientific instruments that allow both general and expert users to understand the central concepts of his scientific achievements.  There are also recreations of eighteenth century lecture courses in which Newton’s doctrines were explained for genteel and academic audiences, along with modern reproductions of the experiments that made up the core of these experiments.  The site is thus both a means of informing a number of audiences about Newton’s life and work, and also a way of teaching physics to schoolchildren and others.  A similar site aimed at informing audiences about Newton’s chemical interests (along with transcriptions of Newton’s writings) is currently housed at the University of Indiana.

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