Colleagues and friends who will have seen David Haynes notification drawing attention to the new addition of historical photographic images to the Cambridge digital Library, might be unaware of the threat hanging over the Cavendish and Monde Laboratories where scientific research and experiments took place over a period of nearly 100 years by James Clark-Maxwell, JJ Thomson, Rutherford and others. The breadth and significance of the research undertaken on this site is without parallel in the history of science and what took place there is fundamental to our life today and for all advances in industry worldwide.
To summaries its importance and the achievements of the institution is best described by Boris Jardine in the article he wrote for the Guardian:
"To understand why the Cavendish Lab is so important, we only need enumerate the purpose-built research and teaching laboratories in Britain that pre-date it: none. Neither Newton, Priestley nor Darwin could boast that kind of institutional support, which was first given in brick-and-mortar form in the 1870s – at the Cavendish Lab in Cambridge, the Clarendon Lab in Oxford, and William Thomson’s lab in Glasgow”
"The Cavendish was designed and first headed up by Scottish mathematician, James Clerk Maxwell. Few people are qualified even to summarise the brilliance of Maxwell’s work, so I’ll leave that job to Albert Einstein, who said simply that ‘one scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell’. What we can say with certainty is that in addition to his mathematical insights, Maxwell was a visionary planner of scientific work."
We all are familiar with the circumstances surrounding the taking of the first colour photograph by Thomas Sutton working in collaboration with and under instruction from James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell was the first to discover and understand the essential difference between reflected and transmitted light in term of its colour content. In effect he discovered and defined the characteristics of RGB and CYMK which made possible the development of colour photography and colour printing. This was one of the myriad achievements of James Clerk-Maxwell.
Professor Malcolm Longair has announced the online launch of the first selection of 202 historic images from the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge. The photo archive is accommodated within the 'Cambridge Digital Library'.
Will all that we leave for future generations be what in effect will be a virtual archive, a ghostly echo of the activities which took place in the Cavendish and Monde Laboratories? I hope not.