"Trailblazing" website reveals 350 years of science

LONDON Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:52am EST

Benjamin Franklin flies a kite in a storm (1752). Franklin's studies on flying a kite in an electrical storm from 1752 show the first time anyone had proposed that lightening is electricity and not a supernatural force. REUTERS/The Royal Society/Handout

Benjamin Franklin flies a kite in a storm (1752). Franklin's studies on flying a kite in an electrical storm from 1752 show the first time anyone had proposed that lightening is electricity and not a supernatural force.

Credit: Reuters/The Royal Society/Handout

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A gruesome account of a 1666 blood transfusion and amusing notes about how an 8-year-old Mozart responded to tests of his genius were published on Monday as part of an online history of scientific endeavor.

The "Trailblazing" website was created by Britain's influential science academy the Royal Society, and includes handwritten papers on some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past three and a half centuries.

Benjamin Franklin's studies on flying a kite in an electrical storm from 1752 show the first time anyone had proposed that lightning is electricity and not a supernatural force.

And Edward Stone's 1763 notes on the success of willow bark in treating fever document the beginnings of the discovery of salicylic acid and the production of aspirin -- now one of the world's most used medicines.

The creators of Trailblazing say it is a "go-at-your-own-pace" virtual journey through science which the Royal Society hopes will inspire members of the public to see science as part of everyday life and culture.

Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said the papers showed "a ceaseless quest by scientists over the centuries...to test and build on our knowledge of humankind and the universe."

"They represent those thrilling moments when science allows us to understand better and to see further," he added.

The papers, taken from past issues of the oldest scientific journal in the English-speaking world, Philosophical Transactions, also include documents from 1776 on how Captain James Cook saved his sailors from scurvy with pickled cabbage, lemons and malt -- long before ideas about nutrition developed.

They also include Stephen Hawking's early writing on black holes and Isaac Newton's 1672 landmark work on the nature of light and color and 1940 papers on the discovery of penicillin.

Daines Barrington, a skeptical scientist who wanted to test the claim that Mozart was a genius when he visited London in 1770 at the age of eight, notes the musician was as distracted and playful as any normal boy, but showed remarkable talent.

"The score was no sooner put upon his desk, than he began to play the symphony in a most masterly manner," he wrote.

And a 1755 edition has an account of early vaccinations, with Hans Sloane writing that is "performed by making a very slight incision in the skin of the arm" and putting into it "a dossil dipped in the ripe matter of a favorable kind of small-pox" to protect against later severe natural infection.

Sloane goes on to describes how the procedure was first tested on "six condemned criminals" and then on "half a dozen charity children."

To see the website, go to trailblazing.royalsociety.org

(Editing by Paul Casciato)