More Great Scientists and their Discoveries

Ref: C2338035

For most of us what knowledge we have of matters scientific is likely to have been gained from school. It may seem dull - even boring - a collection of hazily recalled facts and tables. Yet all such knowledge was originally wrested from nature by real, live human beings, trying to live their lives amid times of change, war, death and hardship. This course aims to look behind the bare facts and figures into the times and lives of those involved. We get to see the social life of London at the time of Newton, to understand the hurdles to women following an academic career, to see the role of religion and persecution playing out by chance and to see how for many of these famous researchers, life was tinged with the deaths of children and loved ones. A similar course ‘Great Scientists’ ran successfully in the Spring, and the Student Feedback was that I managed to keep a good balance between the science and the biographical and social details.

Course aim

To set the lives and discoveries of 'Great Scientists' in the social, political and cultural context of their times, with special reference to the discrimination faced by women in science.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers
  • The interested lay-person; those who have done the earlier course are particularly welcome. A general knowledge would be helpful: terms like planet, star, galaxy: atom, element, molecule: velocity, acceleration, etc., will be more or less assumed.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Give a broad account of some major scientific figures and their discoveries over the last 500 years. Such figures to include Clerk Maxwell, Hooke, Humbolt, Newton and others.
  • Provide a description of the social, religious and political situation in which a variety of major figures worked.
  • Show an understanding of the motivation behind the different discoveries and how they fit into a broader social, cultural and historical perspective.
  • Show an understanding of what marks science as different from other human endeavours such as music, art or stamp collecting.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • A variety of teaching methods will be used. Role-play by the tutor: Handouts for further perusal at home. A ‘blind’ email group keep us in touch between sessions. Discussion & questions are integral to the course.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will be asked to complete a 'Session Evaluation Form' at the end of each Session. As well as rating the tutorial on various heads you are asked to note two things you have learnt in the session.

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed
  • An enquiring mind, a notepad and pen would certainly not go amiss. A folder to keep tutorial material in would also be useful.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading is required but research on the subject on the internet or in the library may be helpful
  • Bibliographies will be provided during the course. A general science account would be useful - atoms, planets, orbit, star, spectrum etc - a knowledge of such terms. Explanation will be given but prior acquaintance is better.

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • More than half of the students who completed the earlier course 'Great Scientists & Their Discoveries' indicated in their feedback a desire for a follow on course..

Download full Course information sheet

More Great Scientists and their Discoveries


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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