Einstein And Newton In Swindon For Science Library Reopening

By Narelle Doe | 14 March 2008
Cover page of a medieval book with an engraving of three Renaissance scientists under a banner held by cherubs

Galileo's De Systemate Mundi. © Science Museum

Science books that changed the world have gone on display to celebrate the reopening of the Science Museum Library and Archives in state-of-the-art facilities near Swindon and at Imperial College in London.

The new library at Swindon holds the Science Museum's collection of original works by great scientists and engineers from the 15th century to the present day, while the library at South Kensington's Imperial College, also revamped, is the centre for its biographical collection and works on the history of science and technology.

All these are now available for the public and researchers to consult, with an incredible exhibition of treasures on show at the Swindon site to celebrate the relaunch, which follows a £2.5million overhaul.

Oil painting of a man with long hair in a voluminous shirt and an image of a book titlepage

Sir Isaac Newton and his work, Opticks. © Science Museum

Treasures on show include a signed copy of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, and the first Latin translation of Ptolemy’s Amalgest, which reintroduced theories of astronomy and planetary motion in a geocentric system to 15th century Europe.

For the first month after opening (until April 10 2008) visitors will have the chance of seeing these iconic works first hand as well as taking tours of the whole collection.

“This collection is truly world-class and we are pleased these great works have now got a permanent home,” said Rupert Williams, Head of Science Museum Library and Archives. “Academics and enthusiasts can be sure that our staff will help them get the most out of this outstanding resource.”

Another great in the library's collection is the only known copy in the world of 17th century vet Andrew Snape’s curious tome, Snape’s Purging Pill for Horses: with his Cordial Pouder, and Ointments… (London, 1692).

Book title page bearing the author's name, A Einstein

Einstein's famous Theory of Relativity. © Science Museum

More delights are James Watt’s archive on subjects from chemistry to Christianity; laboratory notebooks of the 19th century mathematician Sir John Herschel; Sir Frank Whittle’s original thesis on the gas turbine; and original drawings by the 19th century mathematician and grandfather of modern computing, Charles Babbage.

The Barnes Wallis papers, with bouncing bomb material, are also on display and space enthusiasts can see Nasa’s final Apollo 11 flight plan, signed by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

The reopening of the world-class collections on two sites secures the library and archives' long-term future. Founded in 1883, it contains more than 500,000 items.

Coloured illustration of a man and a woman in Renaissance clothes in a landscape, looking at the moon

An artist's impression of ancient astronomer Ptolemy, whose theories were reintroduced to 15th-century Europe. © Science Museum

The library is also a rich resource for family history enthusiasts, with London directories dating from 1776, while those interested in the history of invention can consult the 1.25 million British patents from 1617-1992. Its journals are also unmatched for a free-to-enter library, and can boast information on almost any area of science and technology from the past 400 years.

A full library and archives service will be available both in Swindon and Imperial College, South Kensington. Academics will be able to order texts from the last 100 years and receive them within a working day. The general public on appointment can view rare and unique items at the Swindon library.

Funding for the £2.5m project came from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

For more information about the collections and accessing them, see the Science Museum Library and Archives website.

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