With all the concerted efforts into popularizing science that goes on these days, it is quite easy to forget that some of the best scientists throughout history put a lot of effort into making their knowledge accessible both to students of the arts and laypeople alike. Physicists in particular are often viewed as "keepers of secret knowledge" who study phenomena outside the ken of mortals and who are unwilling or unable to make this knowledge accessible to others.
A perfect counterexample to this perception is the great physicist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) , who over the course of many years presented the Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution, targeted at nonspecialists and young people. Two of these lectures, "The Forces of Matter" and "The Chemical History of a Candle", have been reprinted and are still available today; I will be blogging about them in detail in the near future (hopefully). Faraday in fact put much effort and thought into his public presentations; long before he was a recognized scientist and had any opportunity to speak to an audience, he observed other lecturers and took elaborate notes on the "do's" and "don't's" of lecturing.
Another example of a distinguished scientist working very hard on presentation is Robert Williams Wood (1868-1955). Wood is best known today for his work in optics, particularly in the study of infrared and ultraviolet light. As we have seen previously on this blog, however, Wood was also active in popularizing science: he co-authored two science fiction novels, The Man Who Rocked the Earth (1915) and The Moon Maker (1916). He also was quite skilled at setting up simple demonstrations of optical effects; I've previously discussed his 1902 illustration of a simple form of invisibility. Between the years 1897 and 1905, Wood in fact published a number of short articles suggesting simple lecture hall demonstrations of a variety of physical phenomena; in this post, we'll take a short look at these demonstrations.