However, in the early to middle 19th century, the Royal Institute had as staff several of the most famous scientists and was doing world class research. This group included Michael Faraday and Humphry Davy as well as other excellent, but less well-known scientific luminaries. The equipment and journals from this time period has been retained. It can be seen in the Faraday museum. It will take about an hour for a visit of the museum.
The problems start with the explanations of the equipment. There are only a couple of explanations that have figures showing how equipment works. If the museum were really designed to teach, then there would be detailed explanations with visuals and perhaps sound. This is best illustrated by a single example to show the improvement that should take place.
I hadn't known that Faraday in 1845 conducted experiments with his giant (for the time) electromagnet. These experiments showed that the polarization of light by glass (think Polaroid sunglasses) can be changed by the application of a magnetic field. This may indicate that Faraday was thinking that magnetism and light were a single force. The museum stops here. It doesn't explain that Maxwell had the mathematics in the 1880s to unify electricity (including light) and magnetism, which is what Faraday's experiments suggested. The later development of the strong and weak nuclear force, and the combination of electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force led to the 20th century electroweak force, combining physics into just a few forces. The search for a grand unified theory of all of physics continues, the holy grail of physicists. That Faraday was performing experiments in 1845 that pointed toward that, or that Faraday even had a goal of a unified theory is fascinating. This context is not given in the museum nor how Faraday's work fits into modern science.
Further, this experiment could be developed so that a visitor could push a button, turning on an electromagnet. A piece of polarized glass in the stron part of the magnetic field would have its polarization characteristics changed, and this could be immediately seen by the visitor in the brightness of the light going through the glass, just as it is obvious when you rotate polaroid sunglasses against polarized light. Such an experiment development would not be expensive. It could be made as a challenge for UK high school students, and the museum exhibit could follow the winning student design.
Further, the museum needs to develop some graphics to explain these items, as the existing text will be incomprehensible to people who don't already understand the physics.
This is just one example of about 40 that could be produced. Faraday, Davy, and others of the Royal Institution in the early 19th century were great scientists, with their work now subsumed into modern theories that explain more. This is a great thing for the Faraday museum to show.
The Faraday museum should be so much more. Visitors shouldn't just see old glassware, they should understand what Faraday and Davy were doing and how things really work.
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