Bright Lights in the Borders May 2017

The aim of this project was to high light the work of scientists connected to Berwick upon Tweed and the surrounding area covering both sides of the border. The project was funded by the Royal Society Local Heroes Award.

Growing up in Northumberland I often thought all the exciting moments of history and science had happened somewhere else. As I have grown up I realised that isn’t quite true and I really wanted to tell children in this area about the scientists that have a connection to the area.

I started this project with a trip down to the The Royal Society, I wanted to take a look in the archives to checkout some documents from my favourite scientists. It was really exciting to read letters from Mary Sommerville in her small neat writing on light blue paper. I read letters between Mary and John Herschel that spanned 40 years. Mostly they discussed their scientific work but they also mentioned the small personal details of life. The final letters from Mary were written by her daughter as her health failed.


I was also keen to find out more about Sir David Brewster, inventor of the kaleidoscope. The archives contain manuscripts that he submitted for publication. Unfortunately his writing was very difficult to read and I couldn’t gain much insight from them. The manuscripts were filthy! It seemed to me that he wrote them on a fireplace. However he had also submitted many watercolour diagrams of the effects of polarised light on different materials and these were beautiful and it was a magic moment to see them with my own eyes.


For this project we decided to concentrate on James Hutton, James Veitch, Sir David Brewster, Mary Sommerville and Dr. George Johnston. Twelve classes of school children took part in the project by visiting the museum or by the museum coming out to their school. We talked about tectonic plates using sponges to represent the plates, made models of our own Solar System and of another planetary system,  we made kaieldoscopes and we wrote letters to Dr George Johnston the naturalist whose collection became the basis for Berwick Museum.  W had lots of fun too.



We held two events for the public too. A stargazing evening and a family day. Dr Tom Challands of Edinburgh University brought a fossil preparation kit along to allow people to remove some local marine fossils from the stone they were trapped in. To complement the project Anne Moore and the team at Berwick Museum made an amazing display in the museum using their Natural History collections. The Royal Observatory in Edinburgh Kindly lent some microscopes that may have been made by James Veitch or his son. Many of the children’s letters to Dr George Johnston were also included in the exhibition.


letter to George Johston


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