A proud native of the Second City, producer Jenny Lawton joined Studio 360 in 2007. Since then, she's produced the show's American Icons specials on the Disney parks and I Love Lucy, lots of stories in the Aha Moments series, and a portrait of the Japanese tea ceremony from Kyoto. She also serves as the managing editor of studio360.org and coordinates the show's internship program. Jenny started recording interviews as a Watson Fellow in India and Spain, researching the origins of flamenco dance. She cut her teeth in journalism at Chicago Public Radio, where she filed stories on culture, politics, technology, and the environment for WBEZ as well as NPR's Morning Edition and PRI's The World, among other programs. Jenny was awarded a USC-Annenberg/NEA Arts Journalism Fellowship, and lectures about radio and sound design at NYU and her alma mater, Kenyon College.
Experimenting with Laughing Gas
Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - 08:11 AM
The writer Richard Holmes has a gift for spinning stories. The Age of Wonder is a cinematic romp through late 18th and early 19th century Britain and the amazing scientific breakthroughs of that era. We meet a brother-sister team of astronomers who discover comets and a new planet (Uranus!). And Holmes keeps us in suspense describing the first hot air balloon race across the English Channel. Each chapter is like a cribsheet for a Jules Verne novel, but they're all true.
A caricature by British satirist and cartoonist James Gillray (1757-1815) of experiments with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) at the Royal Institution. Humphry Davy is working the bellows.
Holmes told a few of these stories on last weekend’s show, but we didn’t have time to air some other gems from his conversation with Kurt. In this bit of rescued tape, Holmes tells the story of chemist Humphrey Davy’s experiments with nitrous oxide (a.k.a. laughing gas). It's a wild tale of how the scientist convinced friends — like the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mark Roget — to be human guinea pigs. Ironically enough, Roget (the future creator of Roget's Thesaurus) had trouble picking words to describe his experience: "I felt myself totally incapable of speaking."
Fortunately Coleridge managed to rustle up some impressions, describing the gas’s effect as “a highly pleasurable sensation of warmth over my whole frame, resembling what I remember once to have experienced after returning from a walk in the snow into a warm room.” Indeed!
You can hear more tales of the “age of romantic science” here: