By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician
As part of the Science Lunchtime Lecture Series, A Level science students and members of 3i were joined by Dr Harry Pearson, former Bedales Housemaster and Head of Science/Chemistry, in the Simon Lecture Theatre to explore ‘The Chemical History of Nicotine’.
The intellectually stimulating talk began with the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492, where European explorers were offered a ‘fuming material’ called zikari, made from the leaves of the plant Nicotiana tabacum by indigenous people. Harry’s talk then led us to 1560s Paris, when diplomat and scholar Jean Nicot de Villemain brought in seeds from the Americas and introduced the plant to France. Paris Society was polarised by this new ‘magic’ substance, now named ‘nicotine’ after Jean Nicot.
From France, Harry took us to 1800s Germany, where nicotine was first isolated in Heidelberg University – its chemical structure being determined in 1891. After an in depth look at nicotine’s chemical properties and the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to determine the molecular structure, the talk concluded with a look at nicotine’s effects on the body, the work of Sir Richard Doll – the first scientist to discover the link between smoking and lung diseases in 1954 – and brought us to the present day with the introduction of nicotine patches and vaping.
Harry’s talk focused not only on the science of nicotine, but also encompassed many other topics, including stories of Bedales past, the difficulty of learning German and the witty quotes of Mark Twain.
The next Lunchtime Lecture take place on 12 November, when Dr Tim Mason of Portsmouth University will speak on ‘Edward Jenner and the Story of Vaccines’.