Science

Explore the Library’s strong scientific holdings. These range from medieval times to the burgeoning developments in physics, chemistry and biology of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Our collections go right up to modern times and also include social science.

From medieval times to the present day, the British Library collection documents some of the most significant moments in the history of science and technology: the inventions of photography and computing; first editions by Copernicus and Newton, Plato and Archimedes; hand-written notes by Leonardo and Galileo.  The collection also includes the discoveries of British pioneers: Lyell, Darwin, Faraday, Lovelace and Fleming, whose impact can still be felt today. 

Letter from Alan Turing to W Ross Ashby

Alan Truing – Add_Ms_89153_26_0001

Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a mathematician and computer scientist. He is best known for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

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Anne McLaren’s Notebook

Anne McLaren note book_0006

Dame Anne McLaren (1927 – 2007) was a developmental biologist who pioneered techniques that led to human in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

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William Hamilton’s kin selection paper

William Hamilton ZIX74_1_19 0001

William D. Hamilton (1936–2000) was an evolutionary biologist who is best known for his equation explaining kin selection, an evolutionary strategy which favours the reproductive success of an individual’s relations at the cost of the individual’s own survival.

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Pages from W. Ross Ashby’s journal

William Ross Ashby – add 89154 41

William Ross Ashby (1903-1972) was a pioneer in cybernetics – the study of the control of human and animal systems by technology.

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Chinese star chart

Dunhuang Star Chart

The Chinese star chart is the earliest known manuscript atlas of the night sky.

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Usage terms: Public Domain

Leonardo da Vinci's notebook

Study for an underwater breathing apparatus, f.24v

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), painter, sculptor, architect and engineer, kept notes and drawings of his studies, ideas and inventions. Over 7,000 pages have survived, including this notebook known as Codex Arundel after its English collector Thomas Howard, 14th earl of Arundel.

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Copernicus' celestial spheres

Title page of Copernicus's Celestial Spheres

Copernicus was writing his main work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres from about 1515, and although by 1532 it was completed, he continued to revise it.

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Vesalius's Anatomy

Title page of Vesalius's On the Fabric of the Human Body

On the Fabric of the Human Body is one of the most influential works in the history of Western medicine.

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Held by: © British Library

Galileo's sunspot letters

Galileo Galilei's Letters of the Sunspots

These letters record astronomical observations made by the Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). Here, Galileo records sunspots which are dark areas of irregular shape seen periodically on the surface of the sun.

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Newton's Principia Mathematica

Title page of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica

Sir Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727) not only proposed the law of gravity and the three laws of motion, but he is also credited with creating calculus.

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John Ray's A Book of Fishes

Illustration from John Ray's Book of Fishes, f.5v-6

John Ray (1628-1705) was a naturalist, philosopher and theologian. Ray’s main innovation in the field of taxonomy was the description and classification of plants according to their observed similarities and differences.

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Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology

Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, f.1

In his three volume book Principles of Geology, Charles Lyell (1797 - 1875) argued for the gradual change of the earth and its climate over very long periods of time.

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Invention of photography – Talbot, 'An oak tree in winter'

Early calotype by Fox Talbot, 1842

The British inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), produced his first ‘photogenic drawings’ in 1834 and in the following year made his first camera negative. 

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Letter from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage

Ada Lovelace's letter to Charles Babbage

Ada Lovelace (1815-52) was the daughter of Lord Byron. She was educated to be a mathematician because her mother feared she might turn out to be a poet like her father.

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Faraday's telegraphy letter to William Thomson

Michael Faraday's letter to William Thomson, f.8

Michael Faraday (1791 - 1867) established the field of electromagnetism and invented the electric motor, transformer and generator.

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Held by: © British Library

Charles Darwin's natural selection letter

Darwin's letter to Wallace,f61

Charles Darwin (1809 - 82) was a naturalist who developed the theory of evolution by natural selection which was published in Origin of Species.

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Alexander Fleming's lab books

Sir Alexander Fleming's Lab Books

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George Price’s letter to William Hamilton

George Price’s letter to William Hamilton page one

George R. Price (1922-1975) was an American physical chemist turned evolutionary biologist who is best known for deriving the Price equation - a mathematical explanation for the genetic basis of altruistic behavior.

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Goodyear Patent, 1855

GB Patent 2567 of 1855 awarded to Charles Goodyear

This patent describes various methods of manufacturing the uppers of boots and shoes using combinations of materials including India-rubber and leather.

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