Fifty years of St Catz

Science and Technology
Sir Humphry Davy/Thomas Phillips

Whilst most of us expect the average college at Oxford to be pushing at least 500 years of age, one of the youngest amongst our ivory towers is celebrating the big five zero. St Catherine’s College, which was founded in 1962 from the St Catherine’s Society, opened its doors to visitors this weekend to mark its fiftieth birthday with a series of talks by several respected speakers, including Sir John Meurig Thomas.

Sir John Meurig Thomas FRS is an honorary Professor of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge, and was once master of its oldest college, Peterhouse. He is also the recipient of several prestigious international awards and holds twenty honorary degrees from Australian, American, British, Canadian, Chinese, Dutch, Egyptian, French, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish universities.

Last Saturday, Sir Thomas recounted the life of Sir Humphry Davy, a renowned chemist, whose most notable discoveries include the alkali metals. Sir Humphry Davy was born in Penzance, Cornwall, and rose to the pinnacles of international fame; his lectures at the Royal Institution were immensely popular, with his audiences numbering over five hundred. Sir Thomas presented an engaging and informative talk on the teen Davy’s discovery of the anaesthetic properties of nitrous oxide, which is commonly known as laughing gas, his contributions to research on chlorine and iodine and how Sir Humphry later went on to invent the Davy lamp by applying the fact that sulphur changes colour in the presence of methane.

Later on, St Catherine’s hosted a panel on Renewable Energies in a Green Economy. The panel included Steve Groves, a developer of the world’s first mass-market electric car, the Nissan Leaf; Vivienne Cox, who managed BP’s renewable energy activities as its Executive Vice President; internationally-acclaimed economist Baron Stern of Brentford, author of the seminal Stern Report on the Economics of Climate Change and Erica Hope, Senior Policy Officer at Climate Action Network Europe. Each member addressed the scientific challenges faced by today’s world and assessed the future of green energy, where the advantages of solar, wind and nuclear technologies was discussed.


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