Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Science on the Underground

Communicate Science was on tour over the Easter break. For that reason, the next few posts will focus on science in London!

One of London's greatest achievements in my view is the excellent underground system which, despite inevitable 'glitches' manages to transport Londoners, commuters and tourists into, out of and around that great city everyday of the year. As much as the underground system is dependent on the sheer volume of passengers carried to make it viable, London as a city is dependent on the underground system (along with the rest of its public transport system) to make the city itself viable and able to grow in terms of its size and population. There is little doubt that the London Underground (LU) was a contributing factor in the decision to award the 2012 Olympics to the city.

While traveling underground recently, I noticed that the 'Poems on the Underground' series has taken a distinctly scientific diversion.

Poems on the Underground was launched in 1986 and has inspired similar programmes on public transport systems in Dublin, Paris, New York and Shanghai. The programme sees poems displayed in LU carriages in place of advertising and during the Spring of this year, six poems offering reflections on the subject of science were used to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of The Royal Society.

The extracts include one from William Blake, the great anti-science poet of the early Romanticism movement, who attacks what he saw as barren materialism with his own visionary powers.

The Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson is also featured with his poem 'In Memoriam' where he tries to come to terms with the new science of evolution and geological time.

Contemporary poems are also featured from Miroslav Holub, Anne Stevenson, David Morley and Jamie McKendrick.

Miroslav Holub, a Czech scientist and poet (he was an immunologist) proves that an in-depth scientific knowledge can inspire some successful writers. An extract from his poem 'In the Microscope' is used in the initiative which is supported by The British Council, London Underground, Arts Council England and the Royal Society.

Judith Chernaik, founder of Poems on the Underground said: "Many poets have been inspired by science and some scientists have also been successful poets.

"We hope these poems will entertain Londoners and visitors to the Capital, as they travel on the Tube - itself one of the great technological achievements of our times."


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