Great Scientists and their Discoveries

Ref: C2339379

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 Faraday, to understand the hurdles to women following an academic career both in the UK and on the Continent, and to see how for many of these famous researches, life was tinged with the deaths of children and loved ones. This course ran successfully in Nottingham, and the Student Feedback was that I managed to keep a good baIance between the science and the biographical 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
  • This course is intended for the interested lay-person. Whilst no specific science back-ground is necessary, a general thematic familiarity would undoubtedly be helpful. Terms like planet, star, atom and velocity 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, such figures to include faraday, Darwin, Curie, Einstein and others.
  • Provide a description of the social, religious and political situation in which some major scientists worked.
  • Show an understanding of the motivation behind the different discoveries and how they fit into a broader social, cultural and historical perspective.
  • List features that mark science as different from other human activities 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
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support 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?

  • It would be helpful if you had access to the internet (Mobile phone, tablet or computer at home or through a library etc.)
  • Clearly a notebook and pen would be useful.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required
  • No pre reading is required but research on the subject on the internet or in the library may be helpful
  • A general acquaintance with terms such as atoms, planets, orbit, star, spectrum etc - would be useful but I will endeavour to give explanations where students indicate one may be required.

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • More than half of the students who have recently completed the Nottingham course indicated in their feedback a desire for a follow on course.

Download full Course information sheet

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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