The Wellcome Trust's treasure trove of chemical images

Wellcome has made more than 100,000 images freely available, and it is the chemistry paraphernalia that catches my eye

The UK's leading medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, has donated a treasure trove to the world: more than 100,000 images covering the history of all aspects of medicine, science and technology are now freely available to any and all.

The database contains pictures of weird and wonderful medical instruments, copies of historical documents and stunning examples of science-related works of art, from Van Goghs to cartoons. It's a joy just to peruse the library, jumping from one fascinating image to the next. But, being a chemist, I was of course particularly drawn to the documents and apparatus depicting the history of my chosen field. Take the paraphernalia of the great and the good, which gives a wonderful insight into their lives, working habits and personalities.

Of course Watson and Crick are well represented. There's the draft of their famous paper describing the double helix of DNA, complete with handwritten notes and annotations. But a better testament to Crick's temperament and modesty is a photo of some graffiti allegedly scrawled by him. It seems to be part of a exchange with Enoch [Powell?] while also suggesting Crick may have had ambitions beyond a mere Nobel Prize.

There's plenty of material on double Nobel laureate Marie Curie. Images of her laboratory are fascinating insights into her practices. However, it's her scruffy laboratory notebook that I find most interesting. Madam Curie was certainly a genius but her notes probably wouldn't pass muster with most PhD supervisors today.

Then there's the equipment that highlights how science has progressed. Take the x-ray spectrometer lovingly developed by the Leeds physicist William Henry Bragg. The 100-year-old device may have been used by Bragg and his son to work out the chemical structure of salt. The Braggs' work might not sound much but it grew into x-ray crystallography, arguably the most powerful analytical technique available to chemists today. In fact, Bragg's pioneering work led to no fewer than 28 Nobel prizes including work on penicillin, DNA and proteins. This instrument is also the direct ancestor of equipment housed at the massive Diamond light source now used to determine structures of biological molecules, so giving insights into the workings of life.

Or the penicillin fermentation vessel, one of thousands originally used by Glaxo (now GlaxoSmithKline) to grow the penicillium mould from whichthe antibiotic was extracted. Later the mould was grown in fermenters. Now antibiotics are made synthetically.

And there's a wealth of early infographics, like this table of chemical characteristics from 1799, which predates the modern periodic table and chemical notation. Instead, the elements (along with light and combustion) have been given symbols which are then combined to represent the compounds formed when these element are reacted together. The result is a beautiful if confusing representation of the state of chemistry in the 18th century.

Finally, the mundane but no less fascinating. How about a cunning 3D representation of the periodic table lovingly mounted in a jam jar!

Source: TheGuardian