Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Science for Sale

And by "sale" I mean anywhere between hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. Titled "Important Scientific Books," from the library of retired physician Richard Green, next week in New York Christie's Auction House will be selling the original scientific works of folks like Descartes, Freud, Darwin, and Marx, to name a few.

I've been snooping around Christie's website and found several original edition books by noteworthy thinkers who laid the foundation for physics as we know it today. Or are at least responsible for all the units I had to learn in class. Here are some of the best (and most expensive):

Nicolaus Copernicus' 1543 "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium". This is where Copernicus notoriously described how the the sun, not the earth is at the center of the universe, and developed his ideas of planetary rotation around the sun.

Sir Isaac Newton's 1687 "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica". It was here that Newton clarified his universal physical laws of gravitation and motion, describing the mathematics behind the motion of bodies in unresisting space (intertia), laws of gravity, and the motion of fluids.

Max Planck's 1900 "Zur theorie des Gesetzes der Energieverteilung im Normalspectrum". This is where planck laid out his quantum theory for the first time, asserting that energy flowed in pulses or bursts known as quanta, not as continuous currents. Planck also determines his constant of angular momentum, which we all know as Planck's constant.

Johannes Kepler's 1609 "Astronomia nova Kaititologhtosk seu physica coelestis, tradita commentariis de motibus stellae martis ex observationibus G.V. Tychonis Brahe". Definitely a cornerstone of modern astronomy. Kepler dicusses his laws of elliptical orbits and the law of equal area: the first two laws of planetary motion.

Anders Jonas Angstrom's 1868 "Recherches sur le Spectre Solaire". Here Angstrom establishes his scale of wavelengths for measuring spectral lines based on what is now known as the "Angstrom unit", one ten millionth of a millimeter. He also demonstrates, for the first time, that the sun contains hydrogen and other elements.

John Dalton's 1808 "A New System of Chemical Philosophy". A classical work on the atomic theory of matter. Dalton argues that matter is composed unchanging, indivisible atoms of different weights, and that each weight corresponds to a chemical element.

Galileo Galilei's 1606 "Le operazioni del compasso geometrico et militare". This first edition is extremely rare, as there were only 60 copies printed. Here Galileo made numerous mathematical additions and changes to the "geometrical and military compass", based on an earlier (before 1597) prototype. Galileo improved the compass so much his design remained in use until the mid 1800s.

James Clerk Maxwell's 1873 "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism". In this major work, Maxwell illustrates how important electricity is to the study of physics, and to develop his theory that light, magnetism, and electricity are ultimately the same in nature. This idea provided the basis for Einstein's theory of relativity.

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