Jenny Bulstrode

UCL Lecturer in History of Science and Technology

  • Jenny Bulstrode

    Jenny Bulstrode

Role

Jenny is UCL Lecturer in History of Science and Technology, seconded 50% to the Royal Institution to research its heritage.

About

Before joining UCL and the Royal Institution, Jenny began a Jesus College Junior Research Fellowship in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, carrying out postdoctoral research on the industrial origins of climate change with a particular focus on globalisation and fossil capital. During this period she was awarded a 2020 Maurice Daumas Prize for her paper Riotous Assemblage. In 2018 she was awarded the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Sarton Prize for the History of Science, which enabled her to develop new research on the debt of the British industrial revolution to the innovations of West African metallurgy in the Atlantic system, and using materials as instruments to exchange perspectives in the study of art, industry, and science. Prior to this award she held research fellowships at the Greenwich National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, respectively considering cultural and technical histories of metal. She has worked on a number of experimental reconstruction and analysis projects, winning grant funding to lead technical and archival research into glass balance-springs for 19th century precision timepieces, and magnetic instrumentation in the whaling industry, as well as the opportunity to act as technical assistant on the reverse-engineering of bronzes recently attributed to Michelangelo. In 2014, her research into flints and paper in the industrial origins of experimental archaeology won the British Society for the History of Science Singer Prize. In addition she has previously been employed as researcher for the Arctic Catalogue Project at the Polar Museum (Blogs 1-8), and a survey of early modern optical glass working hosted by the Whipple Museum. Her AHRC-funded doctoral research was completed at the University of Cambridge (Wolfson College) and charted the global role of geomagnetic research in the age of reform and Atlantic revolution.

Scientific inspiration

Sealing wax and string! The elegant simplicity of an experimental proof is often taken as a marker of its beauty and inspiration but take a closer look and it’s the duct tape and the broken biro - the ‘sealing wax and string’ - holding the apparatus together that is so eloquent of breath-taking ingenuity and the ability to work things out from first principles.

Favourite experiment or demo

I’m biased but it might have to be Faraday’s manipulation of copper wire to demonstrate the principles of electromagnetism. These experiments not only gave rise to Faraday’s ground-breaking articulation of field theory but also inspired Charles Dickens’s famous novel, David Copperfield, a connection I’ve written about here.

Best thing about the Ri

The Ri was founded to enhance the public understanding of science and pioneer new innovations that would improve society as a whole. For me, the best thing about the Ri is the potential to draw on the lessons of history to better understand and address the global challenges faced today and in the future.

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