An illustration of bacteriophages with their distinctive capsid head. The bacteriophage inspired a very early scientist-hero novel, Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis, published in 1925

Phages were trialled as antimicrobial treatments in the 1920s against plague and cholera

Paeonia officinalis (1873), watercolour on paper by Lydia Shackleton, courtesy of the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin.

Collection commissioned in 19th century a notable moment for women’s opportunities

The MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, last month. Photograph: ©Maxar Technologies via AP

The man-made channel has enabled marine life to migrate from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean

By the early 20th century the syringe was in higher demand and eventually became a key tool of vaccine delivery

Before the arrival of the hypodermic syringe nearly all medicine had to arrive by mouth

As US first lady, Michelle Obama advocated for modernisation of the nutrition label. Under President Donald Trump, the FDA rolled back the new regulation. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The measure of heat energy was not translated to food until the end of the 19th century

Ireland has a strong history of support for vaccination, whether it has been voluntary or compulsory.  Photograph: AP/Hans Pennink

At least half the population will need vaccination to stop coronavirus spread

Prize Dogs at the Dublin Dog Show, an image of the first dog show in 1864, from the Illustrated London News. Image courtesy of the Board of Trinity College Dublin

The 19th century saw new breeding methods and growing enthusiasm for pets

Interior of a peasant family’s hut during the Great Famine, 1845-1849.  Illustration from The Life and Times of Queen Victoria, by Robert Wilson. Photograph:  The Print Collector/Getty Images

The Great Famine led to much soul searching about ‘good’ food versus ‘bad’

Charles Darwin, who published On the Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872,  dismissed the use of paintings and sculpture for studying emotion. Photograph: The Natural History Museum/PA

Converting emotions into quantifiable physical signs fascinated Darwin and it’s still a fascination for scientists

Simon Harris at the launch of the public awareness campaign about Covid-19 at Dublin Airport. File photograph: Alan Betson

Ireland’s approach to posters has changed a lot since 19th-century cholera outbreak

Charles Fort, Kinsale, Co Cork, where the tops of the walls are home to flowering grasses, mosses and heathers. File photograph: Paddy Whelan

The growth rate of this useful organism helps determine the age of the surface it grows on

A farmers’ market in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China. How we manage livestock may have a direct bearing on whether we can avoid future pandemics of zoonotic diseases.  Photograph: EPA/Alex Plavevski

If we crowd animals together in large numbers to feed ourselves we maintain a high risk from emergent zoonotic disease

A toast to ‘sweethearts and wives’ on board the Endurance, during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-17, led by Ernest Shackleton. Photograph: Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty

In order of importance: optimism, then patience, next idealism and lastly courage

Mary Mallon, known as ‘Typhoid Mary’ was the first person identified as a carrier of typhoid fever in the United States.

The danger is that, like in the past, the person will become a scapegoat for all our fears

A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with TCD shows a model structurally representative of a coronavirus which is the type of virus linked to Covid-19. Image: Nexu Science Communication/via Reuters

What will happen where trust in science is not a central part of wider culture?

 Ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.  Photograph:  Lizabeth Menzies/Centers for Disease Control and /AFP via Getty

Did practice of closing people into their houses or ‘shutting up’ work?

Surgical masks have continued to appear in public every time there is a serious outbreak of a respiratory disease. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

At the outbreak of a virus, masks may give a sense of comfort but there is debate over their efficacy, with some medical professio(...)

Irish stoats are stoatally different. Photograph: Dermot Breen

‘Museum collections are key to understanding biodiversity over the last few centuries’

It was not inevitable that the rat would receive such scientific favour. Photograph: iStock

Lab rats also probably led some scientists to accept heterosexuality was not universal

Waves crash agains the sea wall in Lahinch, Co Clare as thousands of homes and businesses were left without power as Storm Lorenzo passed across Ireland. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Weather predictions and folklore are probably as old as human society

The Bunsen burner is still ‘one of the most valuable inventions ever made’ as an obituary of its inventor claimed in 1899. File photograph: Ian Logan/Stone/Getty

German professor’s burner laid the basis for development of spectrum analysis

As Neil Armstrong stretched his moon boot towards the lunar surface he was not surprised to find it solid and irregular. Photograph: AP Photo/Neil Armstrong, NASA

Galileo risked ridicule when he suggested that the moon’s surface was not smooth

William Gilbert: his idea of the Earth as magnetic was widely accepted in scientific circles and had a great influence on navigation in particular

The poles switch every few hundred thousand years. Opinion is split on the significance of this

Alcock and Brown leaving Newfoundland.

From Alcock and Brown’s transatlantic crossing to global commercial flights, the 20th century saw astonishing developments in avia(...)

The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica on October 2nd, 2015, which appears to be healing. Photograph: Nasa/Goddard Space Flight Center/PA Wire

The ozone hole presents a compelling, simple narrative. We need more of these

The ability to alter DNA using CRISPR technology and insert genes into species may not be indication of Haldane’s world becoming reality, but it raises issues about the direction in which science is heading

CRISPR and genome editing raises issues that can no longer be ignored

A gallery assistant at the Royal Observatory, adjusts the minute hand of a turret clock inside the observatory, in Greenwich,  London. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA.

The European Parliament is considering doing away with daylight savings time in 2021

A reconstruction of a Neanderthal man at a museum in Halle, Germany. We now know that Neanderthals are our closest ancestor and probably interbred with humans. File photograph: Sebastian Willnow/AFP/Getty Images

William King was first to decipher that ancestors were different species to modern humans

John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown’s transatlantic aircraft crossed the Atlantic between St John’s, Newfoundland and Clifden, Ireland on June 15th, 1919. (Photograph: SSPL/Getty Images

This June, it will be 100 years since world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight took place

We are inundated with advice about the importance of a good night’s sleep and how to get it. Photyograph: iStock

The definition of ‘a good sleep’ is not the same at every time, in every place and for every person

Braces no longer a familiar aspect of adolescence as dentists and orthodontists see the adult’s mouth as just as malleable as the child’s

The Irish have been gripped by the American beauty ideal of even, straight, white teeth

Galileo has long held a central place in the history of “the conflict” between science and religion.

The discovery of a letter shines new light on Galileo’s battles with the Catholic Church

A car under  debris  after an earthquake off the island of Kos, Greece, in July  2017. Photograph: Reuters/Costas Baltas

In 1846 Robert Mallet delivered a paper on a machine to register seismic motion

An electric kettle changes electrical energy into heat, which is just another form of energy; the heat then boils the water. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

From ‘booby trap for old ladies’ to efficient maker of heatwave-defying pot of tea

Someone diagnosed with HIV at age 20 is, with treatment, expected to live to 73.

How can we treat people fairly while reducing risk to others of contracting the disease?

 Vicky Phelan arriving at the Dáil. She succesfully sued a US laboratory after she received incorrect results from a cervical cancer test. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Women should be trusted to understand the difficulties and told when mistakes happen

In Alfred Crosby’s ‘The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492’, published in 1972, he argued for a different way of looking at the impact of the voyages of discovery on both the Americas and Europe

In the ‘Columbian exchange’, plants, livestock and diseases have as much impact as people

Many women reacted strongly to Anton Mesmer’s magnetic therapies; some of them convulsing or falling unconscious.

Anton Mesmer combined his ideas with a flair for the dramatic that orthodox medicine found distasteful and the public found intrig(...)

Pie chart: One of William Playfair’s designs, representing the extent, population and revenue of the principal nations of Europe in 1804

Ever wondered how pie and bar charts came to be? A single Scot, William Playfair, invented them

Some of the elephant herd  at the Kaziranga Forest Trail, Dublin Zoo: Upali,   Berrnhardine, Yasmin, Anak and Asha. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

A 19th-century zoological garden was an educational display for the pleasure of humans with only limited obligations to animal wel(...)

Members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition  1914-17, led by Ernest Shackleton, drink a toast to ‘sweethearts and wives’ on board the Endurance. Photograph: Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images

Shackleton, Crean, Crozier, Hart: Irish names are all over the North and South poles

Image: iStock/Getty Images

The marvel of the pacing industry is the speed with which creating a human-machine hybrid has come from the extraordinary to the c(...)

A woman wearing a mask reacts at her garden which is located next to the chimneys of a coal-fired power plant in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China. Photograph: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Are we now condemning large parts of the world to more profound legacies of poverty linked to past and present pollution?

 Christy Moore entertains some of the protesters at an Anti-Nuclear protest at Carnsore Point, Co Wexford, in August 1978. Photograph: Eddie Kelly

When Carnsore Point was proposed as the site for Ireland’s first nuclear power plant

The emerging threat of peanut allergy.

The rise of the peanut allergy suggests there are others out there that we cannot yet explain

 The Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Torino, Italy

Why not enhance your summer travels with a visit to a history of science museum? Last month’s column had suggestions in Ireland an(...)

 Inside Howth Martello tower – home of Ye Olde Hurdy-Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio

From the Leviathan telescope in Birr Castle to the former ‘Bedlam’ in London, many museums in Ireland and England offer unique ins(...)

Gregor Mendel

Solving the mystery of traits that disappear only to return in a future generation

Modern exhibitions of human bodies have been accused of using Chinese criminals in a striking parallel to their 16th-century predecessors

The ethics of publicly displaying or dissecting human corpses have always been grey

The lunar months that “lost” a day became 29 days rather than 30, and were known as occasions of “saltus” or jumps

Ireland and Britain had their own way of calculating the date of Easter

A child is vaccinated against yellow fever in a hospital in Brasilia, Brazil. So far this year, Brazil has had 234 confirmed cases of yellow fever and 79 deaths from the mosquito-borne disease. Photograph: Joedson Alves/EPA

Since the first vaccination – against smallpox – debate about vaccine safety has raged

Sir Francis Galton: The Victorian scientist proposed a system of selective breeding of Britons in order to improve the human stock of the nation. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It hasn’t gone away, you know: Victorian junk science has its race-baiting adherents

Photograph: iStock

Governments have a long history of interest in their citizens’ diets

Dry flesh or food poisoning are the potential risks of turkey roasting but can be avoided by the use of a good thermometer. Photograph: iStock

A string of less successful devices came before the hermetically sealed thermometer we know today

The Martin Jetpack is envisioned for emergency response situations and requires considerable technical knowledge to fly, but the manufacture promises a move to personal jetpacks if those used for rescue prove successful.

HSTM Network Ireland is holding a conference at DCU on the history of the future

US space shuttle Challenger lifts off on January 28th 1986 from Kennedy Space Center. Challenger was 72 seconds into its flight, travelling at nearly 2,000mph at a height of10 miles, when it was  enveloped in a red, orange and white fireball as thousands of tons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel exploded. Photograph: Bob Pearson/AFP/Getty Images

When Nasa’s shuttle exploded in 1986, killing seven, it put manned space travel in doubt

Channel Tunnel: at its deepest point it is 76.2m underwater. The shortest proposed Irish tunnel route required traversing an underwater gulch about 274m deep. Photograph: Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

Various schemes were drafted in the 19th century to build a tunnel, but insurmountable obstacles scuppered each

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen inside Oxitec laboratory in Campinas, Brazil. Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

The chequered history of chemical quick fixes suggests that extreme caution should be taken

Pedestrians in Dublin during a heavy downpour recently. Photograph: Eric Luke

Old theories that hot climates make people weak and fearful have proven remarkably durable

The image on the annual report of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland for 1899, of an Irish red setter nursing the zoo’s three new lion cubs

The Royal Zoological Society of Ireland bred lions from the 1850s, principally for zoos and circuses abroad

Frederick G Donnan: during the first World War he assisted in improving the production of chemicals needed for manufacturing explosives and mustard gas. Photograph: SSPL/Getty Images

Several Irish scientists contributed to explosive research during the first World War

Illustration: Thinkstock

The image people have of a ‘scientist’ has changed since the 1950s, but some stereotypes are stubbornly persistent

William Wilde: Oscar’s father set about classifying the diseases of Ireland in 1851

You probably think you know what a disease is: it makes you sick. But that’s not exactly how it works

Nikola Tesla (blurred at centre) performs an electrical experiment for writer Samuel Clemens (left), aka Mark Twain, and actor Joseph Jefferson in 1894

FRIENDSHIP WEEK: Twain was hugely interested in technology and struck up a friendship with the scientist

Flooding in Athlone. Photograph: Alan Betson

At least as far back as the 17th century, Europeans believed that they could change climates

Photograph: Thinkstock

When a plan to run a cable linking Europe and North America hit trouble, Thomson stepped in

Next year will mark the fifth anniversary of the declaration by the World Organisation for Animal Health that the world is free of rinderpest

The isolation and slaughter of cattle are still routine responses to outbreaks

Eozoön canadense, a metamorphic rock made of interlayered calcite and serpentine, from Canada

Two scientists in Galway challenged the discovery of an ancient ‘fossil’ in Canada in 1864 but were ignored

Nicholas Culpeper

The physician’s 1649 book, A Physical Directory, explained the properties and effects of natural substances

Rowan Gillespie’s Famine statues on Custom House Quay in Dublin. Photograph: John Crowley

One lesson not learned from the Famine was that a monoculture is particularly vulnerable to disease

Thomas Grubb: his apparent lack of formal education did not prevent him from tinkering with telescopes and becoming an astronomical observer

The Grubb family pioneered telescope manufacturing in the early 19th century from their Dublin base

Photograph: Thinkstock

In the 19th century, George Romanes was pilloried for suggesting that the most intelligent animals could learn to form abstract id(...)

Portrait of Charles Cameron, circa 1892

Before Robert Koch established ‘the germ theory’, a Dublin doctor was examining the possibility of disease passing to humans via d(...)

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