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Why was Simpson experimenting with chemical anaesthetics in 1847?

Learning resource

A Wellcome Library GCSE learning resource for Medicine Through Time

This section focuses on a key factor in the development of surgery - anaesthetics - as a means of examining how science has changed medicine, but also to investigate the nature of another key concept in the Medicine Through Time course: turning-points.

Pain had always been a major problem inhibiting developments in surgery. Obviously anaesthetics were needed, but why was Simpson experimenting with chloroform in 1847 why not somebody else at another time, earlier or later?

The material in this section reveals that science was entering a time of tremendous importance at this point in the 19th century, and that chemistry was the key science (later both physics and biology had their peak moments). Several gases and other chemicals (chloroform is a vapour, not a gas) were experimented with in order to establish their properties. Anaesthesia was a useful by-product of these investigations.

This is one of several resources, prepared by the Wellcome Library, and designed to support teachers and learners preparing for the Schools History Project GCSE course 'Medicine Through Time: A Development Study'.

The resources are not a course in themselves, but focus on key concepts and understandings required by the course, supplementing more commonly used materials. The collection includes some topics central to the course, items that provide overviews and some topics that extend the normal range of coverage.

They can be used online or downloaded for whole classes, groups or individuals as part of a teaching scheme or for self-study. They are appropriate for candidates of any of the GCSE awarding bodies.


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Download Notes for teachers (51.7 KB) Download Tasks for students (372.05 KB)

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