Robert Boyle was a famous scientist who lived 350 years ago. He helped create the Royal Society, which started as a group of scientists who would share their scientific ideas and carry out experiments, just like scientists today. But unlike scientists today, who usually study just one subject, he studied all branches of science, from how we breathe to how sound travels.

This introductory section asks students to think about what scientists do today and how this could compare to how scientists worked 350 years ago.

Quiz Answers:

Astronomers used telescopes to make observations.
 The telescope was probably invented by Hans Lipperhey around 1608 (over 400 years ago!). It was redesigned and used by great scientists such as Galileo and Newton. Now we have telescopes in space, such as the Hubble space telescope!

People watched black and white television.
False. The television was invented in the late 1800s and early 1900s; transmissions didn't start until the 1930s.

You could travel in a submarine.
True. The first submarine was built by Cornelius Drebbel in around 1615. His largest could take up to sixteen passengers and was demonstrated in the Thames.

Aeroplanes could take you short distances.
Working aeroplanes were invented in the 1903 by the Wright Brothers.

You could have a blood transfusion.
True, although not a very safe one. Robert Boyle gave an account of the first successful blood transfusion between animals performed by Richard Lower. Transfusions were also made from animal to human in the 1600s. Transfusions were rarely successful and were banned in 1670.

Children played with rubber balloons.
False. Rubber balloons were not invented until 1824 by Michael Faraday as a way to store hydrogen gas. They were the first (highly explosive) form of floating balloon, which are now usually filled with helium.

People put stamps on their letters.
False. The first stamp was invented in the 1800s.

You could use a calculator.
The calculator really took off in the 1600s, with Blaise Pascal and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz both producing forms of calculating machine.

Scientists studied bacteria under microscopes.
True. Anton Van Leeuwenhoek designed and built the first proper microscopes which he used to study bacteria.

People wore watches.
True. Christian Huygens invented a watch which had a spring and balance wheel in it.

Royal Society Links:

Read about Robert Boyles 'to do' list here.

Curriculum Links 


Reading - Comprehension


A study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils' chronological knowledge beyond 1066


Scottish Curriculum

Literacy and English

LIT 2-16a

Reading - Understanding, analysing and evaluating

Social Studies


SOC 2-04a

People, past events and societies

Comparing and contrasting a society in the past with my own and contributing to a discussion of the similarities and differences.


SOC 2-06a

People, past events and societies

Discussing why people and events from a particular time in the past were important, placing them within a historical sequence

Finding answers

What do you think science was like 350 years ago?Blood_250

Scientists in the 17th century would often study many different subjects: they could investigate light and electricity, insects, planets and many other things.

Today most scientists study just one thing. They can spend years finding the answer to one very tricky question.

Robert Boyle lived 350 years ago and worked on lots of different questions. He wanted to know what air did, and how the body worked. In fact, he wrote a long list of different science projects that he wanted to work on. Building an unsinkable ship, mastering the art of flying and working out how to have pleasing dreams are just a few on this list.

He was very successful in finding out answers to his questions because he carried out experiments.


Can you think of some questions that a scientist might try to answer? What kind of things do they study? What would you like to find out?  Fill in the blanks below...

How does ______ work?

Why do we need _____?

What is _____ made of?


Life 350 years ago
(When your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were alive.)

Robert Boyle could not have imagined most of the things we now use every day, but there were many new inventions in the 17th century.

Have a go at this quiz to see if you can tell what kinds of technology were used 350 years ago.

Take the quiz online here,

or download the pdf worksheet.