Annual Edward Delaval Lecture in Physics

Medieval Science and the Ordered Universe project

a public lecture by

Professor Tom McLeish FRS

Department of Physics and
Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Durham University, UK

Wednesday 16 November 2016 at 6 pm

Stephen Langton Building (former EMMTEC) Lecture Theatre, Brayford Pool Campus, University of Lincoln

Eventbrite - 2016 Edward Delaval Lecture in Physics
Version 2For the English polymath, Robert Grosseteste, light was the fundamental first form that gave dimensionality and stability to the material world. In a dozen scientific treatises written in the early 13th Century, he postulated a physics of light, colour and the rainbow.  In his De luce (on light) he extends it to the origin of the Universe in what has been referred to as the ‘Medieval Big Bang’. His arguments are so taut that they can be translated into mathematics – our resulting numerical simulations show that Grosseteste’s model does actually work. He also described the method for developing a universal principle from repeated observations under controlled conditions and argued that the explanation needing fewer suppositions and premises was the best.  In his theory of colour, we have found through close examination of the manuscript evidence for his De colore (on colour) and his De iride (on the rainbow) and a mathematical analysis of their content, that he presents the first three-dimensional theory of perceptual colour space. Each treatise we have studies has also stimulated new published science as well.

In this talk, I introduce Robert Grossteste (ca 1170 -1253), the scientist, teacher, theologian and bishop and describe how a unique collaborative research approach has revealed new insights into his thought, particularly on light. An interdisciplinary team of historians, scientists, linguists and philosophers has developed techniques of joint reading of the medieval texts that have shown them to be logically consistent and founded on mathematically based models. We reflect on how a study of this extraordinary medieval science can help throw fresh light on the history of scientific thought, and bridge the current perception gap between the study of science and humanities.


Greti Dinkova-Bruun, Giles E.M. Gasper, Michael Huxtable, Tom C.B. McLeish, Cecilia Panti and Hannah Smithson, “Dimensions of Colour: Robert Grosseteste’s De Colore; Edition, Translation and Interdisciplinary Analysis, Durham Medieval and Renaissance Texts (2013).

Smithson, Hannah E.; Anderson, Philip S.; Dinkova-Bruun, Greti; et al. “Color-coordinate system from a 13th-century account of rainbows”  J. Opt. Soc. Am., 31, A341-A349 (2014).

Smithson, H.E., et al., “A three-dimensional color space from the 13th century J. Opt. Soc. Am. A,  29, (2012)

Bower, Richard G.; McLeish, Tom C. B.; Tanner, Brian K.; et al. “A medieval multiverse?: Mathematical modelling of the thirteenth century universe of Robert Grosseteste”, Proc. Roy. Soc. A, 470, Article Number: 20140025   (2014)

McLeish, Tom C. B.; Bower, Richard G.; Tanner, Brian K.; et al. “A Medieval Multiverse?” Nature, 507, 161-163 (2014)

HE Smithson, GEM Gasper, TCB McLeish, “All the colours of the rainbow”, Nature Physics, 10, 540-542 (2014).



  1. Reblogged this on The Ordered Universe Project and commented:
    Here is the lecture I am giving in Lincoln this Wednesday – Tom

    Liked by 1 person


  1. […] details are available on the University of Lincoln Maths and Physics news – including an abstract and references. Another great opportunity to hear about the Ordered […]


  2. […] 16th of November 2016 Professor Tom McLeish FRS from Durham University, UK, delivered our 1st Annual Edward Delaval Lecture in Physics.  The lecture is named after Edward Delaval FRS, a ‘physics hero’ associated with the […]


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