Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.


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“No Need for Geniuses”. A rather surprising book about history and science.

I interviewed Steve Jones at the Write on Kew literary festival on Sunday. He is Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London and from the evidence of his books a very curious author.  

He’s written extensively on evolution and genetics – how did we come to be who we are? – and this book No Need For Geniuses: Revolutionary Science in the Age of the Guillotine  – sweeps through a series of fantastic stories about an extraordinary moment in history, a time and a place, revolutionary France, when a host of academic explorers made tremendous strides – across scientific fields from biology, chemistry and physics to astronomy, meteorology, and ologies I didn’t know existed (like metrology, which has literally changed our world).

When we think about Paris we often think about the arts. That is literally only half the story. As Jones put it, “The scientific landscape of the French capital is, without doubt, the richest in the world”. Continue reading


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MIT celebrates 150 years of being “brilliant”, “bold” and “ridiculous”

 

The words of MIT president Susan Hockfield at this morning’s launch of the 150th anniversary celebration. We got a sneak preview of a dazzling exhibition which, it’s fair to say, has something for everyone. The world’s first ‘bionic’ arm? artificial skin? a wheelchair that can climb stairs? students earning credits for racecar design? The motto for this 150 years is “inventional wisdom”. I like it.

It’s also very much in the spirit of MIT culture that this is the result of open source curation – the entire MIT community was invited to nominate objects for inclusion. They say the real difficulty was deciding what to leave out since – as one of the professors put it – the intellectual experience here “is like drinking from a firehose”.  The Nieman experience feels that way too, for which I’m eternally grateful. I’ve put more photos up on my twitter feed. Continue reading