Wellcome chemical images

The UK’s leading medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, have donated a treasure trove to the world; 100,000 images covering the history of all aspects of medicine, science and technology are now freely available to any and all.

The database contains pictures of weird and wonderful medical instruments, copies of historical documents and stunning examples of science related works of art from Van Goghs to cartoons. It’s a joy just to peruse the library jumping from one fascinating image to the next. But, being a chemist, I was of course, particularly drawn to the documents and apparatus depicting the history of my chosen field.

Take the paraphernalia of the great and the good which gives a wonderful insight into their lives, working habits and personalities.

Of course Watson and Crick are well represented. There’s the draft of their famous paper describing the double helix of DNA, complete with hand written notes and annotations. But a better testament to Crick’s temperament and modesty is a photo of some graffiti allegedly scrawled by him. It seems to be part of a exchange with Enoch [Powell?] whilst also suggesting Crick may have had ambitions beyond a mere Nobel Prize.

Francis Crick’s graffiti, date unknown

Francis Crick wall graffiti Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Francis Crick wall graffiti, Location and date unknown 'Keep the Lefties Out. Crick for God' Crick Papers Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK,

 

There’s plenty of material on double Nobel Laurette, Marie Curie. Images of her laboratory are fascinating insight into her practices.

However, it’s her scruffy laboratory notebook that I find most interesting. Madam Curie was certainly a genius but her notes probably won’t pass muster with most PhD supervisors today.

Pages from Marie Curie’s notebook 27 May 1899 – 4 December 1902 

redit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Page from notebook. 27 May 1899 - 4 December 1902 Holograph note-book containing notes of experiments, etc. on radio-active substances. Marie Curie Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK

 

Then there’s the equipment that highlights how science has progressed.

Take the X-ray spectrometer lovingly developed by the Leeds physicist William Henry Bragg. The 100 year old device is  the direct ancestor of equipment housed at synchrotron like the massive Diamond light source.

Bragg’s X-ray Spectrometer 1910-1926

Bragg X-ray spectrometer, England Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Bragg X-ray spectrometer, England, 1910-1926 Developed by William Henry Bragg (1862-1942), a professor of physics based in Leeds, England, this X-ray spectrometer was used by him and his son William Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971) to investigate the structure of crystals. The Braggs developed new tools and techniques to understand crystals. Their research was the basis of ¬X-ray crystallography, a technique that was used to advance chemistry, physics and biology. The Braggs won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915. 1910-1926 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK

Or the penicillin fermentation vessel, one of thousands originally used by Glaxo (now GlaxoSmithKline) to grow the penicillium mould from which the antibiotic was extracted. Later the mould was grown in fermentors. Now of course the antibiotics are made synthetically.

Penicillin fermentation vessel, 1940-45

Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Penicillin fermentation vessel, England, 1940-1945 Thousands of glass fermentation vessels like this one were used in Glaxo (now GlaxoSmithKline) laboratories to produce penicillin. The penicillium mould was grown on the surface of a liquid filled with all the nutrients it needed. This approach was superseded by the method of growing the mould within large industrial fermenters. The antibiotic was first used in the early 1940s and saved the lives of many soldiers during the Second World War. 1940-1945 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK

And there’s a wealth of early infographics, like this table of chemical characteristics from 1799, which predates the modern periodic table and chemical notation. Instead the elements (along with light and combustion) have been given symbols which are then combined to represent the compounds formed when these element are reacted together. The result is a beautiful if confusing representation of the state of chemistry in the 18th century.

 

Chemistry: symbols of elements and substances. Coloured engraving by H. Ashby, 1799, after W. Jackson. 

Chemistry: symbols of elements and substances. Coloured engr Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Chemistry: symbols of elements and substances. Coloured engraving by H. Ashby, 1799, after W. Jackson. 1799 By: William Jacksonafter: Henry AshbyPublished: 26 October 1799 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
. Coloured engraving by H. Ashby, 1799, after W. Jackson.
1799 By: William Jacksonafter: Henry AshbyPublished: 26 October 1799
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK

Finally the mundane but no less fascinating. How about a cunning 3D representation of the periodic table lovingly mounted in a jam jar!

L0002952 Model showing Periodic Elements of Chemistry Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Model showing Periodic Elements of Chemistry. From a model prepared at the Royal Institute of Chemistry Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images From a model prepared at the Royal Institute of ChemistryCopyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK 

 

This post originally appeared in the Guardian.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing the article. The picture looks so nice. Hope to hear more from you.

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