If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


Science Communication


Chemists don’t focus on just the science; they are poets and bakers as well

by Laura Howes
October 9, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 33


Help transcribe Sir Humphry Davy’s notebooks

An etching of Sir Humphry Davy as a young man, resting his chin on his fist.
Credit: Wellcome Collection
Chemical literature: Citizen scientists are trying to transcribe Sir Humphry Davy's notes for students of science and literature.

Sir Humphry Davy is a name well known to many students of chemistry. Isolator of elements and inventor of a safety lamp for miners, Davy was one of the most famous chemists of the late 1700s and early 1800s. But did you know he is also the subject of research by professors of literature?

Sharon Ruston, a literature professor at Lancaster University, first became interested in Davy during her PhD research on the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Now she’s leading a project to transcribe all of Davy’s notebooks—notebooks that don’t contain just scientific scribbles but poetry as well.

Ruston, whose research focus is the Romantic period, which includes Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron, tells Newscripts she was “blown away” when she first realized how much poetry Davy wrote in his notebooks. He seems to have worked on verses even while in the laboratory, and his poetry sometimes shares the page with chemical stains or burn marks, she says. Davy’s notes reflect the society of London during the Romantic period and show how the arts and sciences were much more entwined in the past.

But there is a lot of material to sort through and annotate. With over 80 notebooks to go through, Ruston and her research partners have turned to the citizen science platform Zooniverse to transcribe the full corpus of Davy’s work. They are in the last stages of the transcription section of the project and have just uploaded the final notebooks to the online platform, Ruston says. There, anyone from around the world can pull up a page and type the text line by line. Multiple participants transcribe each line, and members of the research team then check and combine the results. The plan is that the team will then upload the digitized lines and the images of each page to an online collection for further study. Newscripts is pitching in, and we look forward to finding some key new lyric or verse among the more scientific prose.


Chemist cake baker

A man in an apron sifts flour into a bowl.
Credit: Mark Bourdillon/Channel 4
Bake it: Chemist Josh Smalley is competing in The Great British Bake Off this year.

Newscripts loves a bit of baking. In fact, this page often includes cakes and pastries, and we’re not alone. There’s a strong correlation between the worlds of chemistry and cuisine.

The latest demonstration of that link has just hit our screens: a chemist in the lineup for this year’s The Great British Bake Off (GBBO, or The Great British Baking Show, as it’s known in the US).

Josh Smalley is a postdoctoral researcher in James Hodgkinson’s laboratory at the University of Leicester, where he cooks up small-molecule probes and proteolysis-targeting chimeras (PROTACs). But he is also now a Baker with a capitalB, mixing up cakey concoctions and biscuits with just the right amount of bite in theGBBO ’s famous big white tent.

Newscripts reached out to Smalley ahead of his prime-time premier, but alas, no interviews are allowed until after the full series has aired—a reasonable precaution to protect against spoilers, we presume. So we shall just have to share our support here in these pages and via social media.

After we did a bit more emailing to get some details to share with our readers, the GBBO’s press office sent Smalley’s baker bio and a Q&A document, in which Smalley says he will bring his scientific mind to the baking tent.

“I remember being in the chemistry lab last thing on a Friday when I received the call confirming my place in the famous tent,” Smalley says as part of that Q&A. “I was in complete shock and had to sit down on a stool, just lost for words.” Newscripts has fingers crossed for Smalley’s success.

Please send comments and suggestions to


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.