Ireland celebrates 350th anniversary of Boyle’s Law with summer school

12 Jul 2012

Pictured at Lismore Castle were Eoin Gill, director of CALMAST at Waterford Institute of Technology, with science scholars Anna Grey and David Boyd, in costume from the Boyle era

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the creation of Boyle’s Law by the Irish scientist Robert Boyle (1627-1691), often termed ‘the father of modern chemistry’. And to mark the occasion, the first ever Robert Boyle Summer School will be held in Lismore, Waterford, starting from 15 July.

Born in 1627 in Lismore Castle in Co Waterford, Boyle was a natural philosopher, chemist and physicist. He is widely regarded as one of the original modern chemists, and is most renowned for having come up with Boyle’s Law.

In the mid-1600s Boyle studied the relationship between the pressure p and the volume V of a confined gas held at a constant temperature.

His discovery that the product of the pressure and volume are observed to be nearly constant has proved to be fundamental to our understanding of gases and atmospheric pressure.

Boyle died in 1691 at the age of 64 in London.

Portrait of Robert Boyle, by Johann Kerseboom, c.1689. On display at Historical Portraits in Dover Street, London. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Robert Boyle, by Johann Kerseboom ( c.1689). On display at Historical Portraits, London. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The first-ever Robert Boyle Summer School will run 15-18 July.

In advance, the organisers surveyed 250 adults ahead of the summer school to test people’s knowledge of Boyle’s Law.

And the result? Apparently, 75pc of the respondents recalled the basic principles of Boyle’s Law that’s taught to school students.

Commenting on the results, Eoin Gill, director of CALMAST at Waterford Institute of Technology, said it was “fantastic” that so many of the respondents could recall the basic scientific principles associated with Boyle’s Law.

“It points to a huge interest in science and its everyday role in the world we live in,” said Gill. “The story of Boyle as an Irish scientist is rather amazing, from his childhood in an Irish castle to becoming the most celebrated scientist in London. Boyle first published the law that bears his name in 1662.”

Gill said Boyle’s Law is one of the fundamental laws that help us predict the behaviour of gases. He spoke about how the law is essential to work across all the sciences, from engineering and meteorology, to medicine.

“This discovery had a major impact on 17th-century thought as it supported the idea that the universe obeyed mathematical laws and could be understood through science. This was the beginning of the modern age,” he said.

According to the Robert Boyle Summer School, world-leading Boyle scholars and scientists will be coming to Lismore to discuss the life and works of Boyle, including Prof Michael Hunter from Birbeck College London, Prof Lawrence Principe from Johns Hopkins University; and Dr Michelle DiMeo from Georgia Tech.

For visitors to Lismore Castle, there will also be a costumed re-creation of Boyle’s experiment to confirm Boyle’s Law. People will also be able to take a tour of the Lismore Castle gardens, where Boyle played as a child.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic