In 2012 the Science Museum acquired the archive of James Lovelock – the man behind the Gaia hypothesis that the earth is a self-regulating system, but a pioneer also in medicine and space exploration. This exhibition explores the discoveries and postulations of this unconventional thinker. His working notebooks will be displayed (and his school reports), alongside equipment from his back-garden laboratory and the tools he used, including a watchmaker's lathe, an electron capture detector and gas chromatography apparatus he made that was used at the North Pole to confirm levels of atmospheric pollution.
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A trawl through the archives of an elderly scientist might not sound like much fun but, thanks to the brilliant curation, this year-long display is more engaging than you might think. James Lovelock, now in his 90s, is something of a polymath. Despite solid job offers from the likes of the Medical Research Council and NASA, Lovelock opted to work as a freelance scientist, consulting for dozens of different institutions across a range of disciplines.
Lovelock is widely known as the man who ‘discovered’ CFCs (or, more accurately, found a way to measure them, and prove the harm they do to the atmosphere). It’s thanks to his pioneering research that these highly damaging chemicals (once thought to be harmless) have been banned worldwide.
He is also (in)famous for devising the Gaia Hypothesis. This suggests that the planet exists as a single, self-regulating organism. Despite years of research and dozens of books and research papers, the hypothesis remains controversial. Lovelocks (positive) views on nuclear power have also garnered criticism from within the scientific community.
The curators do not shy away from this controversy, instead presenting his ideas in straightforward terms with balanced views from his peers. Along with the collection of artefacts, simple diagrams and sparing use of text, this is an enjoyable and informative display.
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