Monday, June 18, 2012

First Robert Boyle Summer School announced

Do you know Robert Boyle?

Perhaps you know him as one of Ireland’s greatest ever scientists, as the ‘Father of Modern Chemistry, as a Waterford Man or as the author of Boyle’s Law the bane of your schooldays.

You may not know Boyle as an alchemist, a medical man, a clairvoyant, a brother and a tortured soul.

Robert Boyle was an extraordinary man living in extraordinary times. Recent study has revealed him as a character far more complex than previously perceived and this summer, 15th-18th July, world leading scientists and scholars will gather in Boyle’s birthplace of Lismore, Co Waterford to honour and celebrate Boyle, the man, and Boyle, the scientist, at the first Robert Boyle Summer School.

The three day summer school is envisaged as a common ground where scientists, historians, students and educators; the knowledgeable, the uninitiated and the merely curious can come together in a relaxed atmosphere to learn, to discuss, to socialise and to enjoy the legacy of an exceptional man.

Science may be considered the scourge of all hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo; be that as it may Boyle’s predictions for the future and his work on alchemy are two of the topics for discussion at the inaugural summer school. Professor Lawrence M Principe of John Hopkins University will dispel Boyle’s reputation as the chemist who broke away from misguided alchemy showing instead that Boyle pursued the Philosopher’s Stone and the transmutation of metals throughout his life. Professor Johnathan Ashmore FRS will discuss a document in which Boyle laid out 24 predictions of scientific achievement, all but a few of which have been realised. High on this ‘wish list’ of 24 were cures for diseases, drugs to appease pain and organ transplantation.

These desires for medical advancement were hardly surprising since it was Boyle’s own fragile and often failing health that inspired his interest in medicine, particularly natural medicine and home remedies. Dr Michelle DiMeo of Georgia Institute of Technology will give a fascinating talk on early household medicine and on how Boyle practiced medicine with his sister, Lady Ranelagh, and together the pair circulated their remedies among family and friends. “The Scientific Justification for Robert Boyle’s Herbal Remedies” will be the topic taken by Ingrid Hook at the summer school. Ingrid lectures in Pharmacognosy, the study of medicines and substances obtained from natural sources, at Trinity College Dublin. A special guided tour of Lismore Castle Gardens will examine the plants and herbs grown for the household including those that may still be grown for medicinal reasons.

Described as “having done more for Boyle studies than anyone before him” the lecture by Professor Michael Hunter FBA, Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London on “The Reinterpretation of Robert Boyle” is a must for anyone with a historic, scientific or human interest in the man. The author of “Boyle: Between God and Science” will discuss research that has revealed Boyle as a far more convoluted and interesting person that tradition has painted him as.

For a true sense of Robert Boyle’s work and the conditions in which he operated costumed recreations of some of his most famous experiments will be staged.

A BBQ in the courtyard of Lismore Castle on 15th July will mark the opening celebrations of the Robert Boyle Science School and the 350th anniversary of the presentation of the Royal Seal to the Royal Society on that exact date in 1662. Boyle’s role in founding that venerable institution will be the subject of a talk by Dr Keith Moore, Librarian at The Royal Society later in the programme.

Full programme details for the Robert Boyle Summer School may be found at Booking for summer school events may be made through Lismore Heritage Centre on 058-54975 or

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