Manchester’s Hidden Stories – Spectacular Scientists
Read on to find out more about Balloonist James Sadler, Physicist Professor Brian Cox, and Botanist Kathleen Drew-Baker.
A pastry chef from Oxford, James Sadler was a celebrity of 1780’s Britain, after he became the first ever Englishman to fly.
Inspired by Joseph and Etienne Mongolfier, the French brothers who first conquered flight, Sadler began experimenting with gas filled balloons and made his first flight in 1784. At a time when knowledge about our skies was lacking, people were concerned that Sadler may collide with Heaven, or be attacked by ‘sky dragons’. Thankfully this didn’t happen and he took off from Oxford, flying for 30 minutes, and covering six miles before landing in Wood Eaton.
Following his first flight, Sadler became a huge celebrity, with memorabilia from drawer knobs to bidet’s featuring his image. He became so famous in fact, that he, and three of his balloon’s, were given top billing at the 1814 jubilee at the personal request of the Royal family.
So, what connects Sadler to Manchester?
Two of Sadler’s further attempts at balloon flight took off in the city, with the first, from the garden of one John Howarth, in Long Millgate, watched by a crowd of over 5,000 people. The flight was a success and saw Sadler, with a cat for company, flying seven miles north to Radcliffe where he promptly landed in a reed bed.
Named after Sadler, you’ll find Manchester’s newest public square, Sadler’s Yard in the cities Northern Quarter as part of the NOMA Manchester neighbourhood.
Known for revitilising the British public’s interest in Physics, Professor Brian Cox credits his love of the subject to Carl Sagan’s book ‘Cosmos’.
Born in Oldham in 1968, Cox’s early years were spent dreaming of space travel, before his passion turned to music in his teens and saw him join a local band, Dare, as a keyboardist. He recorded music and toured with Dare in the late eighties returning to his love for Astronomy when the band split in 1991, completing a degree in Physics at the University of Manchester, followed by a PhD in particle physics.
Prior to his PhD, Cox was again a keyboardist for another music group, D:Ream, best known for their 1994 hit, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. Confronted with the choice of going on an international tour with the band or staying in Manchester to finish his PhD, Cox decided to stick to his first love, completing his doctorate with a thesis titled, ‘Double Diffraction Dissociation at Large Momentum Transfer.’
In 2005, he began working as a professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester and made his television presenting debut hosting episodes of BBC One’s Horizon programme, looking at topics such as ‘Can We Make A Star on Earth?’. Following this he presented a one-off show, The Big Bang Machine, which resulted in him being offered his own series, Wonders Of The Solar System.
Since then, Cox has hosted numerous science based shows including Stargazing: Live, Forces of Nature, and The Science of Doctor Who. He has also co-authored and written a number of books including, ‘Why Does E=mc2?’. Cox currently works on the ATLAS experiment, one of four major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, requiring him to spend time at CERN in Switzerland.
Born in Leigh in 1901, Kathleen Drew-Baker was a British botanist who’s research into edible seaweed, known as Nori, led to her being celebrated in Japan as the saviour of seaweed.
Drew studied Botany at the University of Manchester, graduating with first class honours, before going on to complete a Master’s degree in 1923. Kathleen also spent 2 years studying seaweed at Berkley College, California, which gave her the luxury of spending time in Hawaii, where she would collect samples for her research. On her return from the United States, she headed back to Manchester University and became a researcher and lecturer in Botany.
Following her marriage to fellow academic Henry Wright-Baker in 1928, Kathleen was removed from her lecturers position as the University had a policy of not employing married women. This wouldn’t stop her however, and she overcame this obstacle by becoming an honorary research fellow.
Drew’s research into the life cycle of the red algae Porphyra Umbilicalis, resulted in the discovery that in order to continue their growth cycle, the seaweed’s spores needed to be in old seashells to seed. This discovery was of great interest to scientists in Japan who had long been searching for the solution to devastating crop failures of Nori seaweed. Japanese Nori seaweed was, and still is, widely used in staples of Japanese cuisine such as Sushi and by using Drew’s findings, they developed new farming methods which lead to a resurgence in Nori crops.
When Dr Drew-Baker died in 1957, she was unaware of the impact her research had had on Japan’s seaweed industry. She became known as the ‘Mother of the Sea’ and every year on the 14th April, the annual Drew Festival is held in Kathleen’s memory n the city of Uto, Kumamoto.
Thanks goes to Skyliner Manchester for bringing Kathleen’s story to our attention.
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