allan chapman

Date: Saturday 13th October | Time: 3.30pm – 4.30pm

Dr Allan Chapman


Allan Chapman was born in Swinton, Lancashire, England and grew up in the Pendlebury and Clifton districts, Having attended the local Cromwell Road Secondary Modern School for Boys, Sefton Road, Pendlebury (1957–1962), he then gained his first degree from the University of Lancaster. Subsequently he undertook a history of science DPhil at Wadham College, Oxford. He is a historian by training and his special interests are astronomy and scientific biography.

Chapman has been based at Oxford University for most of his career, as a member of the Faculty of History, He is an accomplished lecturer and public speaker (including as visiting professor at Gresham College in London). In January 1994, he delivered the Royal Society history of science Wilkins Lecture, on the subject of Edmund Halley.He is also a television presenter, notably Gods in the Sky, covering astronomical religion in early civilisations, and Great Scientists, presenting the lives of five of the greatest thinkers. Not averse to other forms of television, he also participated in the TV quiz university Challenge – The Professionals as part of the Royal Astronomical Society team.

He has written many books including biographies such as England’s Leonardo on Robert Hooke. Chapman is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He is a founder member and president of the Society for the History of Astronomy. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Central Lancashire in 2004. 


Lecture synopsis

 ‘The Wonderful Century; how the ‘modern’ universe was born, 1890-2000′

‘Astronomy has advanced rapidly since the invention of the telescope in 1609.  First came bigger telescopes, and in the early Victorian age, spectroscopy, photography, and early electrical physics. But it was after 1890 that a true a true sea-change in the sheer scope and scale of astronomy began, as there would also be in other sciences.  For new technologies now ‘cross pollinated’ across the whole range of the experimental sciences. X-Rays, atomic radiation, the electron, and new concepts of the atom heralded in the 20th Century. Then things flew thick and fast, with Einstein’s revolutionary concepts of ‘space-time’, and Eddington’s  and Chandrasakher’s models of stellar evolution. But a true watershed was crossed between 1924 and 1929, when Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the ‘nebulae’ were galaxies is their own right, rather than being parts of our own Milky Way, and were apparently receding into infinite space at enormous speeds. Then after 1927, the Belgian Roman Catholic Priest physicist, Father Georges Lemaitre demonstrated mathematically that everything was flying apart, apparently from an original ‘primal atom’;  a theory which Fred Hoyle later dismissed as a mere ‘Big Bang’. And flying thick and fast in ‘The Wonderful Century’ came radio astronomy, space travel, black holes, dark matter, and great communicators like Sir Stephen Hawking, Sir Patrick Moore and Carl Sagan, who took astronomy to the world.

And now we are 18 years into another century, which could well end up being even more wonderful than the 20th.   So be prepared to hold your breath !’