Great Scientists and their Discoveries

Ref: C2342737

Due to face to face teaching being suspended unfortunately this course is not currently available for enrolment.

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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 people, 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. I have previously presented similar courses (‘Great Scientists and their Discoveries’) and the Student Feedback was that I managed to keep a good balance between the scientific, biographical, historical and social aspects.

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
  • These sessions are aimed at the interested lay-person; those who have done the earlier course are particularly welcome. Some science knowledge would be helpful but is not absolutely essential.

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 2500 years (This time span includes Archimedes - all the other folk are taken from 1500 AD onwards.)
  • 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 to 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 Slip' at the end of each Session. As well as rating the tutorial on various heads ('pace, detail, discussion, etc.) you are asked to note two things you have learnt in the session.

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed
  • It would be helpful if you had access to the internet (Mobile phone, tablet or computer at home or through a library etc.)
  • An enquiring mind, a notepad and pen would certainly not go amiss. A folder to keep tutorial material in would also be useful. Internet access (at home) is useful for further research on a particular topic which you may wish to undertake, but the Tutorial material provided stands on its own.

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
  • Not really - an open and enquiring mind is much to be preferred. However some books will be suggest at appropriate points in the course.

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • More than half of the students who completed their earlier course of 'Great Scientists & Their Discoveries' returned to attend this follow up course.

Download full course information sheet

Great Scientists and their Discoveries

Is this course right for me? Request more information

Due to face to face teaching being suspended unfortunately this course is not currently available for enrolment.

We are launching a range of online courses shortly that may be of interest to you so sign up here to hear more.


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you book. Please could we ask that you check the list below to ensure you meet our basic criteria:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2019
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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