Kings College London

Science at King’s in its centenary decade

Albert EinsteinImage: Albert Einstein delivered a lecture at King's in 1921

The 1920s were a period of great prominence for the Science Departments at King’s, as well as a time of adjustment for both students and staff alike.

King’s often hosted public lectures which drew large crowds, and when Albert Einstein visited in 1921 – the same year he received his Nobel Prize in Physics – it was quite an occasion. During the lecture he delivered on ‘The Development and Present Position of the Theory of Relativity’, Einstein referred to the work of James Clerk Maxwell, the much lauded Professor of Natural Philosophy who worked at King’s from 1860 to 1865. According to Nature 107 which was published three days after the lecture on 16 June 1921, Einstein denied that the concept was revolutionary and said it was ‘the direct outcome and, in a sense, the natural completion of the work of Faraday, Maxwell, and Lorent.’

Throughout the First World War, the College had seen an influx of women taking advantage of the depleted number of male students and enrolling to study. Women had been taught at the College at the Ladies Department of King’s in Kensington Square from 1885 – which later became King’s College for Women – but the higher numbers of female students during wartime led to the Arts and Sciences Departments for Women moving to the Strand permanently in 1915.

After the Great War had passed and men began to return to a way of life in which studies were a priority, the College became over-capacity. So much so, that the Principal allowed for lectures to be held in his living quarters, which were on campus at the time, and temporary classrooms were even constructed on the College roof.

Demand was particularly high in the cramped science and medical laboratories, so in 1927 additional space was created for the Department of Physics by transferring all of the contents of George III Museum to the Science Museum in South Kensington.

As the decade began to draw to a close, 1929 saw the College reach its centenary year. Science had been studied at King’s for 100 years, allowing for many great achievements in the field from its staff and students, with a great deal more to follow.

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