Article ID: CBB001251433

The Awarding of the Copley Medal and the “Discovery”of the Law of Conservation of Energy: Joule, Mayer and Helmholtz Revisited (2012)


This article analyses the awarding of the Royal Society's Copley Medal to James Prescott Joule (1870), Julius Robert Mayer (1871) and Hermann Helmholtz (1873) in the wake of the establishment of the law of conservation of energy during the 1850s and 1860s. It seeks to reconstruct the context in which the awards occurred, emphasizing at once a combination of individual scientific achievement, advocacy on behalf of Joule's supporters, nationalism, and the special role that Helmholtz played thanks to the strong social relationship that he had developed with the British scientific elite in the two decades before receiving his award, the last of the three. The award in turn strengthened that relationship, as the great subject of discussion in physics now gradually turned from thermodynamics to electromagnetism and to reaching practical agreements in electrical metrology between the British, the Germans and others.

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Authors & Contributors
Cahan, David L.
Caneva, Kenneth L.
Guedj, Muriel
Wegener, Daan
Pourprix, Bernard
Rowlinson, John S.
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Science and Education
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
University of California, Berkeley
University of Toronto
MIT Press
Conservation of energy (physical concept)
Energy (physics)
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Joule, James Prescott
Kelvin, William Thomson, Baron
Du Bois-Reymond, Emil Heinrich
Mayer, Julius Robert von
Zöllner, Johann Karl Friedrich
Time Periods
19th century
17th century
18th century
20th century, early
United States
Great Britain

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