Light, Colour, and the Cosmos in the Medieval and Modern Worlds

Geocentric Universe
©The Projection Studio

A little over a week ago the OxNet-Ordered Universe 2019 Easter School brought the 2019 cohort of school students aged 16-17 (Lower Sixth Form, Year 12) from the North-East, to a 2-day residential experience at Durham University. Students from Southmoor Academy, St Anthony’s, St Robert of Newminster, and Park View Academy, came together at venues around Durham including Collingwood College, Palace Green Libary, Durham Castle (University College Durham), the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology, and the Institute for Computational Cosmology to think about the topic of ‘Light, Colour, and the Cosmos: Exploring Themes in Medieval and Modern Science’.

OxNet North East co-ordinator, Claire Ungley shared the following thoughts on the Easter School in her report below:

Students experienced life at a Russell Group University by attending a two-day residential at Durham University as part of the OxNet programme, focusing around three key elements of Bishop Grosseteste’s treatises – colour, light, and cosmos. Their days were filled with lectures, group projects, and the opportunity to get a flavour of high-level academic study as well as the social activities on offer as an undergraduate.

Thursday’s schedule was centred around medieval thinking behind the universe, with students spending the majority of their day at Palace Green Library in Durham. The morning began with introductions by Giles Gasper, Claire Ungley and Sarah Gilbert to the themes of the Easter School. To prepare the students for the topics yet to come, Sarah Gilbert gave a lecture about the history of writing and the construction of medieval manuscripts. After attending a lecture from Andy Beeby of ‘Team Pigment’ regarding research methods into analysing medieval manuscripts, and an introduction to symbolism behind medieval manuscripts by Ana Dias, students grew in their holistic understanding of books in the medieval period. This was perfectly demonstrated in a hands-on manuscript class with Charlie Rozier, where students were able to (very carefully) handle manuscripts, from medieval medical treatises with advice on ‘how to make a fat man slender’ to illustrations of bloodletting. This jam-packed itinerary was completed with a private tour of Durham Castle, exploring its architectural and historical importance to the North East.

Friday took a leap into the future, as students spent the morning at Durham University’s Physics Department. They began by visiting the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (IPPP), and learned about the basics of particle physics through undergraduate-level lectures and experiments using cutting-edge technology, including a model of a dark matter detector. Students then moved to the Institute for Computation Cosmology (ICC) and tried their hand at three experiments – building their own universe, exploring the universe through a VR headset, and modelling how invisible mass can be measured through observing the stars. Students also had a tour of Durham’s super computer.

After lunch, students gathered thoughts and returned to the writings of Robert Grosseteste. With the help of Sigbjørn Sønnesyn, they collaboratively read ‘De Colore’, and discussed the deeper meaning behind the treatise. The residential was concluded with students designing their own presentations around the three key concepts – colour, light and cosmos. They showed great insight into their chosen area, and worked as a team to combine what they had learned with their own personal thoughts on the topic.

Below is a selection of images from the Easter School.


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