The Orrery and the Geometry of Heaven, by Peter Grimwood

Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - 17:15
Contact person
Dr Cristina Neagu
01865 276265
Talk / Lecture

The new Christ Church Library exhibition, The Mathematics of Space, will open with a talk by Peter Grimwood on the orrery and the geometry of heaven. The talk looks at ways that philosophers and astronomers have attempted to organise and measure the universe that surrounds us, and the questions that they attempted to answer. Questions that troubled them were "how big are the moon and the planets", "how far away are they" and "how can we make sense of the complex motions of the planets". Various concepts are explained, and the role of orreries in allowing complex systems to be easily understood is demonstrated with a range of planetary models.

Peter Grimwood is a graduate engineer who first started designing and producing orreries and planetaria in 1992. Initially as a hobby this gradually became a commercial enterprise. His orreries are in private collections, have appeared as props in films, and are working exhibits in science based institutions including the UK Space Centre in Leicester.

This new exhibition is part of the "Thinking 3D" series of events organised in the UK during 2018-2019. This is a project focused on the development of techniques and technologies used to communicate three-dimensional forms in two-dimensional media. In this context, 'The Mathematics of Space' aims to highlight the role of Christ Church in teaching geometry and astronomy at Oxford during the 17th and 18th centuries. Thematically, the exhibition mainly focuses on exploring the impact of Euclid, Archimedes, Serenus and Pappus of Alexandria on both art and early modern geometry. Also on show in the Upper Library are books sheding light on the study of perspective by Luca Pacioli, Jean François Nicéron, Joseph Moxon and Albrecht Dürer, as well as manuscripts by early modern mathematicians like David Gregory, Charles Scarburgh, Willebrord Snell, Nicolas Mercator and Edmund Halley. On display are also a pair of heliocentric and ptolemaic orreries and a spectacular set of terrestrial and celestial globes, and globes of the Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars, glossing on how the skies were perceived and mapped, and how much developments in the geometry of vision contributed to make this possible. Read more details about the exhibition here.

The talk will be followed by a reception.

To book a place for the talk, please contact Dr Cristina Neagu, the Keeper of Special Collections at Christ Church.