Stephen Gray Lectures

The Stephen Gray Lectures are a series of talks celebrating both Stephen Gray’s work as well as related areas of Natural Sciences. Being one of Canterbury’s most prominent Natural Sciences the lectures will take place at the University of Kent’s main campus in Canterbury. See below for more specific details about each lecture.

Save the date for the next Stephen Gray Lecture:

9 March 2023, 3:30pm for a 4pm start, at the University of Kent, Canterbury Campus, Gulbenkian Cinema.

The Talk:

Many poets have written about astronomy and the night sky. Dame Jocelyn will select about half a dozen of these poems, give the scientific background and seek volunteer readers from the audience to read the poems. There will be a chance to look at the poems and discuss informally over tea an biscuits before the talk starts.

About the Speaker:

Jocelyn Bell Burnell inadvertently discovered pulsars as a graduate student in radio astronomy in Cambridge, opening up a new branch of astrophysics – work recognised by the award of a Nobel Prize to her supervisor.

She has subsequently worked in many roles in many branches of astronomy, working part-time while raising a family. She is now a Visiting Academic in Oxford, and the Chancellor of the University of Dundee, Scotland.  She has been President of the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society, in 2008 became the first female President of the Institute of Physics for the UK and Ireland, and in 2014 the first female President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She was one of the small group of women scientists that set up the Athena SWAN scheme.

She has received many honours, including a $3M Breakthrough Prize in 2018.

The public appreciation and understanding of science have always been important to her, and she is much in demand as a speaker and broadcaster.  In her spare time, she gardens, listens to choral music and is active in the Quakers. She has co-edited an anthology of poetry with an astronomical theme – ‘Dark Matter; Poems of Space’.

Photo credit: University of Dundee”

You can view the previous talks here.

Wednesday 23rd March 2022

Dame Professor Jane Francis: ”

Greenhouse to Icehouse: fossils of forests and dinosaurs amid icesheets of Antarctica.”

Watch the replay here. 

Thursday 4 March 2021

Martin Rees: “The World in 2050 – and Beyond”. Astronomer Martin Rees discusses the topics in his latest book ‘On the Future: Prospects for Humanity’.

View the recording with Martin Rees on our YouTube Channel.

Thursday 5 March 2020

Dr Philip Ball: “Beyond weird: Why everything you thought you knew about Quantum Physics is different”

You can view the lecture online here.

Thursday 14 March 2019
Professor Vlatko Vedral: “Quantum Entanglement and the Nature of Reality”

– view the lecture online here.

Thursday 15 February 2018
Professor Sir Michael Berry: “Nature’s Optics and our Understanding of Light”

Thursday 30 March 2017
Dr. David H. Clark: “Stephen Gray –
Canterbury’s Forgotten Hero of Science”
– view the lecture online here.

Selected bibliography on Stephen Gray

General Bibliography

For a general, very brief introduction to the figure of Stephen Gray, see:

The above work is written very much with a Canterbury perspective in mind, but constitutes an excellent starting point.

A thoroughly enjoyable account of Stephen Gray’s life and works set in the broader context of late XVII / early XVIII century science is offered in the following book:

  • David H. Clark and Stephen P.H. Clark. “Newton’s Tyranny : The Suppressed Scientific Discoveries of Stephen Gray and John Flamsteed in SearchWorks.” New York : W.H. Freeman and Co., c2001. Accessed February 1, 2017.

The book was co-authored by David H Clark, our first Stephen Gray lecturer. You can watch a video of his lecture here.

The above book was reviewed by Mark P. Silverman in American Journal of Physics 71, 507 (2003), (also available at, accessed 4 July 2018) and by M. Peck in Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics 27, 734-735 (2004),

The following web page contains a useful chronology and data sheet on Stephen Gray:

Here are some additional, quite detailed biographical articles on Stephen Gray:

  • “Stephen Gray: The First Copley Medallist.” Nature, February 22, 1936.
  • Cohen, I. Bernard. “Neglected Sources for the Life of Stephen Gray (1666 or 1667-1736).” Isis 45, no. 1 (May 1, 1954): 41–50.
  • Clark, David H., and Lesley Murdin. “The Enigma of Stephen Gray Astronomer and Scientist (1666–1736).” Vistas in Astronomy 23 (1979): 351–404.
  • Sergio Luiz Bragatto Boss, and Joao Jose Caluzi. “Uma Breve Biografia de Stephen Gray (1666-1736).” Revista Brasileira de Ensino de Fisica 32, no. 1 (2010): 1602.

Electrical experiments:

Jim Al-Khalili produced an excellent series of short, entertaining TV programmes on electricity for the BBC. His re-enactment of the famous Stephen Gray “Flying Boy” experiment is really worth watching:

  • Jim Al-Khalili, “Stephen Gray’s ‘Hanging Boy’ Experiment” (video), in “Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity”, British Broadcasting Corporation, (accesed 4 July 2018).

You can read more about the above experiment here:

The following articles cover Stephen Gray’s electricity work, particularly his experiments on electrical conduction and insulation, more broadly:

Here is an interesting proposition to use Stephen Gray’s conduction experiments for project-based teaching:

Granville Wheler and Otterden Place:

Otterden Place was the stately home of Gray’s collaborator, Granville Wheler, where the historic experiments on electrical conduction were carried out. The following page describes the place (with only a brief mention of the historic experiments):

The following post focuses more specifically on the significance of the site for the history of science. It was written by Charlotte Sleigh, who is the Director of Kent’s Centre for the History of the Sciences, following a visit to the site on the occasion of the first Stephen Gray Lecture: