Robert Hooke, Christ Church, and chemical research in 17th Century Oxford

Dr Allan Chapman

4.00 pm, Thursday 7th January 2016

Blue Boar Lecture Theatre, Christ Church, Oxford OX1 1DP



The 17th century saw the beginnings of modern chemistry, as experimenters came increasingly to challenge the classical ideas of matter. For clearly, there was more involved than just the four elements inter-mixing when a chemical reaction occurred. Yet why should Oxford, and most notably, Christ Church, people have been so much at the forefront, especially as chemistry had no formal curricular standing in the University? Indeed, research was spearheaded by a group of private gentlemen, who were also friends and pupils of one another. Thomas Willis was fascinated by fermentation, its relation to medicine, and what we would now call organic chemistry. His pupil Robert Hooke, working also with the independent researcher Robert Boyle, would help lay the foundations of gas, combustion, and respiratory chemistry (along with Hooke's disciple, John Mayow of Wadham). John Locke would help to set up a laboratory, while John Dwight was to pioneer ceramic industrial chemistry. And these men would work closely with several enterprising Oxford City apothecaries, in whose labs many would learn their first practical skills. Yet why did all this research take place in Oxford; and why at Christ Church?

Members may be interested in "Robert Hooke's Micrographia and Christ Church Science, 1650-1670" an exhibition currently being held in the Upper Library curated by Allan Chapman. More details can be found on the library exhibitions website. Visiting hours on the day of the lecture will be 10.00 am – 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm – 4.00 pm.


Allan Chapman is a historian of science at Oxford University, based at Wadham College, and since 2009 a Member of Christ Church SCR, with special interests in the history of astronomy and of medicine and the relationship between science and Christianity. He is the author of 13 books, over 130 academic papers, and numerous popular articles, and has made several television programmes. He has been awarded honorary doctorates for his work in the history of astronomy by the University of Central Lancashire (2004) and Salford University (2010), and in 2014 received an 'Outstanding Alumnus' award from Lancaster University. This year, 2015, he was presented with the Jackson-Gwilt Medal by the Royal Astronomical Society - the first time since its inauguration in 1897 that the medal has been awarded to a historian of astronomy. His books include: Dividing the Circle: The History of Precise Angular Measurement in Astronomy, 1500-1850 (Ellis Horwood 1990, Wiley-Praxis 1995); The Victorian Amateur Astronomer: Independent Astronomical Research in Britain 1820-1920 (Wiley-Praxis 1998); England’s Leonardo. Robert Hooke and the Seventeenth-Century Scientific Revolution (Institute of Physics 2005); Robert Hooke and the English Renaissance (co-edited with Paul Kent, Gracewing 2005); and Stargazers: Copernicus, Galileo, the Telescope, and the Church. The Astronomical Renaissance, 1500-1700 (Lion Hudson 2014).

Sat, 01/09/2016 - 1:24pm