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Problems in the History of Science and Technology
Michaelmas Term 2005
The following seminars will be held on Wednesday at 5 p.m. (except in Week 6, when the seminar will begin at 4pm) in the History of Science and Technology Seminar Room, Modern History Faculty. They will be preceded by tea in the Faculty Common Room at 4.40 p.m. (except in Week 6, when the seminar will begin at 4pm, and tea will be available at 3.45pm) Week 1 (12 October)
cerned with a technological system - but, critically, it is a system created by the users, rather than by inventors or pro- Dr K. D. Watson (Oxford Brookes University):
ducers. The activities of the Chambers brothers thus allow The rise of the expert in trials for criminal poisoning us to reintroduce users in the history of nineteenth-century technology, and highlights t heir creativity and innovation. ABSTRACT : This paper uses a survey of 535 poisoning cases to examine the emergence of forensic toxicological expertise in English criminal trials. Who were the medical and scien- tific men who gave evidence in cases of criminal poisoning Week 3 (26 October)
in England and Wales between 1750 and the First World War? To what extent could they be considered to be ex- Dr J. R. Ravetz (Saïd Business School):
perts? How did their professional profile change over time? In answering this last question, the paper will argue that there were three periods of development, each of which cor- ABSTRACT : Galileo is remembered for several epochal responded to the appearance of a particular type of witness achievements, but he also had an extraordinarily fertile sci- in trials for criminal poisoning: local surgeon-apothecaries entific imagination. He was creating so much of modern were superseded by professional (mainly academic) che m- physical science as he went along, that the speculations and ists and toxicologists during the 1830s (when a confluence mistakes are inseparable from the permanent achievements. of related factors encouraged a mounting reliance by legal Here I can discuss only a few of the most significant. One officials on toxicological expertise), who in turn gave way was his theory of strength of materials, the other of the ‘two when the new role of the public analyst was created in the new sciences ’ of his masterpiece, which was to the founda- 1870s. The importance to analysts of the Marsh test (1836), tion of an anti-Platonic theory of architecture. This work the most reliable chemical test for arsenic (the main poison was itself based on a mistaken explanation of the phenome- used in criminal cases), will also be examined. non of the limited height of lift-pumps. Galileo produced a mathematical theory of fracture that was elegant and power-ful - and wrong. On the side of astronomy, there is the Week 2 (19 October)
strange circular feature in his moonscape, first remarked on Dr Aileen Fyfe (National University of Ireland, Galway):
by Paul Feyerabend - a reminder that ‘philosophy’ was never far from his practice. And finally there is the political ‘Creating a proper system of publishing’: information, tech- catastrophe of putting the Pope’s cautionary ideas into the nologies, and communications in the transatlantic world, mouth of Simplicio the pedant. How could he have blun- ABSTRACT : In the mid-nineteenth century, British publis h-
ing was undergoing a massive transformation, due to the combined effects of new technologies and expanding read-ing audiences. The Edinburgh firm of William & Robert Week 4 (2 November) NO SEMINAR
Chambers was one of the pioneers in producing very cheap instructive reading material, including a large quantity of popular science works and textbooks. Although the Cham- Week 5 (9 November)
bers brothers were ideologically committed to the project of popular education, their willingness to adopt new technolo- Anna Guagnini (University of Bologna):
gies was essential to their success. This paper focuses on Full-scale experiments and knowledge development in Mar- their use of technologies - from their rapid adoption of coni’s wireless telegraphy stations, 1897–1901 steam-powered printing and stereotyping, to the railways, steamships and postal service which helped them manage ABSTRACT : The paper explores the work carried out by their national and then international business. By 1835, the Guglielmo Marconi and his assistants in the period culmi- brothers believed that they had already created ‘a proper nating with the first transatlantic transmission in 1901. Their system of publishing’, but we will also examine the stresses efforts focused on two main objectives: first, long dis tance placed on that system by the late 1840s and 1850s as the communication, this being the trajectory chosen by Marconi British market changed, and as Chambers tried to expand for the development of the new technology he was pioneer- into the transatlantic market. This paper, therefore, is con- ing; secondly, the design and construction of commercially reliable apparatus in order to attract much needed custom- jor Westminster allies as Lord Thurlow who steered the 1888 legislation through the Lords. Thus, contrary to Martin Wiener’s infamous declinist claims, this paper suggests that By the end of the century electromagnetic theory was a the upper classes – even members of the Conservative party mature discipline, but it fell short of providing guidelines – were key agents in the technological innovations of late for the solution of the diverse problems encountered in the design of plants and apparatus for wireless telegraphy; at the same time, Marconi’s head-start was being challenged by rival system. Decisions could not be postponed awaiting Week 7 (23 November)
theoretically sound guidance: relevant knowledge had to be developed on site. The sites in this case were the numerous Dr Viviane Quirke (Oxford Brookes University):
stations that were set up by the Wireless Telegraph and Sig- Pharmaceutical innovation and technological path- nal Company (Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company from dependence: ICI in comparative perspective, ca. 1935–75 1900) for demonstrations to potential customers; they were used as the stage for full-scale experiments in the course of ABSTRACT : From relative newcomers in the pharmaceutical which new apparatus and arrangements were tested and im- field, between 1935 and 1975 ICI’s Pharmaceutical Division provements were introduced. By 1898 two permanent sta- became one of the most innovative British pharmaceutical tions were in operation at the Needles (Isle of Wight) and companies, developing drugs such as the sulphonamide Su l- Bournemouth; two more stations on unprecedented size and phamezathine, the anti-malarial Paludrine, the halogenated comple xity were established in 1899, in preparation for the anaesthetic Fluothane, the beta-blockers Inderal and transatlantic trial. These installations were described by Tenormin, and the anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen. However, Marconi as his laboratories: here he carried out research ICI could also be said to have ‘missed’ a number of drugs, work with his team of engineers and advisors. such as the corticosteroids developed in the 1950s and 1960s. While technological path-dependence goes a long The aim of the paper is to examine the climate that per- way to explaining this, the concept does not account for meated these establishments: it will analyse the criteria by other missed opportunities, such as the synthetic anti- which technical agendas were identified, the attitude to- histamines. These involved the ‘same sort of chemistry’ as wards problem-solving and the research pra ctices that were anti-malarials, were developed by the French chemical implemented; the implications of full-scale experimenting group Rhône-Poulenc during World War Two, and led it to will also be discussed. Finally, special attention will be paid drugs for diseases of the central nervous system, an area in to the tension that was engendered by the simultaneous pu r- which ICI remained weak. Similarly, ICI ‘missed’ the H suit of commercial and technological objectives. blockers (against gastric ulcers) developed by the British subsidiary of SmithKline & French in the 1970s, and Glaxo in the 1980s. This paper examines some of the factors be- Week 6 (16 November) NB: 4pm start
hind such successes and failures, which only remotely in- Dr G. J. N. Gooday (University of Leeds)
volve Britain ’s changing regulatory environment. These factors include technological path-dependence, ICI’s wa r- Electrifying the House: the Marquis of Salisbury illuminates time role as the British government’s largest industrial Hatfield, Westminster and the world agent, its ‘Blue Sky’-like R&D programme in the 1950s, ABSTRACT : Awarded Fourth Class Honours in the Oxford and – last but not least – the part played by individual scien- Mathematics School in 1849, Robert Arthur Talbot Ga s- coyne-Cecil’s career took a new turn twenty years later when he became not only Third Marquis of Salisbury, but Week 8 (30 November)
was elected Chancellor of the University and Fellow of the Professor J. A. Secord (University of Cambridge).
Royal Society too. While his dominance as Prime Minister for most of 1885–1902 is well documented, biographers A Planet in Print: Rethinking the Discovery of Neptune have only managed to reconcile his ultra-conservative poli- ABSTRACT : The discovery of Neptune in September 1846 is tics with his radical experiments in telephony and electric probably the nineteenth century ’s most celebrated scientific lighting by treating the latter as eccentric hobbies. I argue, event. It involved an unprecedented form of scientific however, that Salisbury played a key role in the electrifica- prophecy, combining high drama with mathematical exper- tion not just of Hatfield House but of the rest of Britain. tise; and it was quickly enveloped in a bitter public contro- Notwithstanding the suffering of Hatfield diners under glar- versy. Examining evidence from England, France and the ing arc lights in 1879; the accidental electrocution of a gar- United States, this paper argues that the problems surround- den labourer in 1881, and then his precariously fallible in- ing the discovery of Neptune were not specific to this single stallation of Swan filament lamps, by 1885 Salisbury had case, but reveal something fundamental about procedures demonstrated to key politicians and financiers both the vi- for defining discovery more generally in this period. Con- ability and dazzling brilliance of the new electric light. flicts about nationalism, local pride and individual accom- Salisbury’s sympathy for commercial electrical interests plishment were real enough, but they were underpinned by was crucial to the House of Lords 1888 amendment of the deep disagreements about the role of publication in the re- 1882 Electric Lighting Act, remo ving thereby (gas -friendly) search process. At stake was not just a question of priority, restrictions, and stimulating the investment of aristocratic but what discovery was, and where, when and how it should capital in new electrical enterprises that burgeoned thereaf- be made public. What was the appropriate time -frame for ter. Rather than indulging in hagiography, however, this announcing new findings, and how did the schedules of ob- paper will explain the important supportive roles played by servatories, scientific societies and individual researchers his Lady Salisbury and the children Jem and Gwendolyn; relate to the needs of journalists and editors eager for the the hunting parties who quenched the spark-induced confla- grations that threatened the Salisbury’s home, and such ma-

Source: http://www.history.ox.ac.uk/hsmt/pdf/summaries.pdf

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