Being a scientist isn't just about sitting in a lab all day running experiments. To be a great scientist you need creativity and imagination to be able to ask interesting questions and find new ways of solving problems. Scientists also need to communicate their findings with other people, whether by writing, drawing pictures or diagrams, or even by going on TV!

Listen to the audio file of the passages in class. After listening to these passages, here are some questions you might like to discuss as a group:

1)     In the 18th century, scientists were making lots of discoveries about electricity and what it could be used for. Why do you think Mary Shelley wanted to mention these in her story?

 Authors sometimes use literature to imaginatively explore the ethics surrounding new scientific discoveries. The content of their fiction can also reflect fears or excitement in society about the implications of these discoveries, by presenting different scenarios of what could happen.

2) The setting of a thunderstorm in which Victor Frankenstein first becomes fascinated by the power of electricity, could be a reference to the experiences of another Royal Society fellow, who experimented with electricity in the 18th century. This scientist is mentioned elsewhere in Invigorate. Do you know who it might be?

The setting of the thunderstorm could be referring to Benjamin Franklin's experiments with Electricity.  Franklin proved that lightning was electricity by flying a kite in a thunderstorm and then went on to invent a lightning rod. For more information on this story see 'lightning strike'.

3)     What do you think is Mary Shelley's opinion about the new scientific advances in the use of electricity and how is this shown in the passages?

Mary Shelley could seem both excited by the advances in understanding of electricity, but also concerned about the implications of electricity being used by people with malevolent intentions for 'unnatural' purposes.

In the first passage, phrases used to describe the 'natural' electricity of the thunderstorm include "violent and terrible" and are followed by "curiosity and delight" and "dazzling light". The different tone of these phrases could demonstrate Shelley's mixture of emotions. Victor Frankenstein is excited to discover the power of electricity, but also seems a little frightened by its power to destroy, as shown by the tree being "reduced to thin ribbons of wood".

In the second passage, Victor Frankenstein is "sparking" body parts into life with electricity.  This power over life and death is also presented as quite frightening and corrupting as Victor Frankenstein's immediately regrets his actions when he sees his ugly creation. This may be considered as a warning from Mary Shelley to her readers, asking them to fully consider the ethical implications of humans producing electricity, particularly if it is used in the wrong hands.

You may also like to suggest some ideas for further reading. Other novels that explore science through literature could include Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson or Eva by Peter Dickinson.

There are also some pictures of Aldini's experiements on Galvanism using frogs legs in the 'Invigorate collection' on the Royal Society's picture library site:

Activity instructions

When students are creating their spider diagrams, you could get them to think of categories such as entertainment, transport, in the home, health, the workplace. Perhaps they could (literally or in their imagination) take a walk around the school grounds to see where electricity is used, or think of all the times they encounter electricity during the day.

For negative impacts of electricity, you could think about things like environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels to create electricity, accidents caused by electricity, or even the electric chair!

Another activity about electricity can be found in the Benjamin Franklin resource: /ks2/bright-spark/lightning-strike.aspx

Curriculum links

Science: Working scientifically

Lower key stage Year 4


Upper key stage Year 6

Literacy: Writing - Composition
  Writing - Vocabulary, grammar, punctuation
  Reading - Comprehension
History: A study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils' chronological knowledge beyond 1066

Science - the good, the bad and the ugly?

frankenstein_300Frankenstein is a novel by Mary Shelley, an author living in the 18th century.  It tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, an amateur scientist who creates a monster out of body parts and uses electricity to bring this body to life!
Listen to the following passages from the story, which explain how Victor Frankenstein became interested in electricity and how he created his monster.

Passage One

Listen to the story here.

When I was about fifteen years old we had retired to our house near Belrive, when we witnessed a most violent and terrible thunderstorm.  It advanced from behind the mountains of Jura, and the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens.  I remained, while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight.  As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump.  When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner.  It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood.  I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.

Before this I was not unacquainted with the more obvious laws of electricity.  On this occasion a man of great research in natural philosophy was with us, and excited by this catastrophe, he entered on the explanation of a theory which he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which was at once new and astonishing to me.

Passage Two

Listen to the story here.

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.  With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.  It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.


What does it all mean?

While Frankenstein is not a true story and electricity cannot create life, these passages have many links to real life scientific advances. For example, "The man of great research in natural philosophy" mentioned in the first passage, may be a reference to Humphry Davy - a Royal Society scientist living in the 18th century. Davy was a chemist and inventor, whose experiments with electrical charges and conductors led him to invent the first electric light in 1809. In 1815, he also invented a 'safety lamp' to be used by coal miners. In Davy's society, miners often lost their lives in explosions caused by flammable gases underground coming into contact with the open flames of their lamps. Davy used a piece of gauze to separate some of these flammable gases from the open flames, which helped to solve this problem. However, the gauze would often rust in the damp conditions of the mine, which caused more explosions, so other scientists carried on making improvements on Davy's designs.


Activity - Electricity 

LightningA_300Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, was a friend of the scientist Humphry Davy and they often used to discuss his experiments with electricity. In her story, Shelley seems to show that she is very interested in what these science discoveries could mean for her society and the impact they will have on our quality of life.

1. Can you draw a spider diagram with examples of how the discovery of electricity has helped to improve everyday life?





In the second passage, Victor Frankenstein seems to be quite disappointed with his creation. The 'monster' he has created certainly sounds very frightening!

2. Can you think of any areas where electricity has been used for something bad, or has caused problems in our lives?  Add these to your spider diagram using a different colour.