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  • 5 years ago
Age of the Lab

Age of the Lab

Lisa Jardine explores how scientists became separated from wider society.

Until the end of the 18th century, most scientific endeavour took place in private houses or workshops, often done on a part-time basis by passionate enthusiasts. It was the poet Samuel Coleridge who suggested, in 1833, that men who were neither literary nor philosophers might be called "scientists"; but still there were no public laboratories and certainly no white coats.

The idea that people could be trained in laboratories was pioneered in Germany and it was decades before Britain caught on.

In 1858, an expensive project to lay a telegraph cable under the Atlantic failed; and an inquiry into the failure recommended that Britain needed more men who understood how telegraphy actually worked. Today, the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge is famous for a string of Nobel Prize winning discoveries into the nature of the atom and the structure of molecules including, famously, DNA. But it was set up to train more t