Outside Britain, it may be best known for its 13th president, Sir Isaac Newton, and for the publication of the "Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society", the oldest existing scientific journal in continuous publication.
The Royal Society has set up a special website, and a very nice interactive timeline dubbed "trailblazing", which allows a brief virtual journey through the history of science since the 1650s.
Moreover, there will be several commemorative publications free to access over the anniversary year 2010, for example a special issue of the "Philosophical Transactions A". It features articles not requiring the reader to be a specialist to gain understanding of the content, ranging in topics from "Geometry and physics" by Michael Atiyah, Robbert Dijkgraaf and Nigel Hitchin to "Flat-panel electronic displays" by Cyril Hilsum.
And, most important, the Royal Society Digital Journal Archive will free until 28 February 2010 (two more weeks left only, unfortunately). This means full access to all issues of the "Philosophical Transactions" starting back in 1665!
So, for example, we can read about
- Isaac Newton presenting his "New Theory about Light and Colors", with the description of his experiments with prisms and the spectrum (1671, 6 3075-3087),
- Benjamin Franklin reporting his experiments "concerning an Electrical Kite" (1751, 47 565-567),
- John Michell discussing "the Means of Discovering the Distance, Magnitude, &c. of the Fixed Stars, in Consequence of the Diminution of the Velocity of Their Light...", suggesting stars so massive that light cannot escape from them (1784, 74 35-57),
- Henry Cavendish describing his "Experiments to Determine the Density of the Earth", or to measure Newton's gravitational constant with a torsion balance (1798, 88 469-526),
- Alexander Volta reporting Galvani's experiments on electricity (the "frog" experiments - 1793, 83 10-44) and his own construction of the "Volta pile", the prototype of an electrical battery (1800, 90 403-431),
- William Herschel discussing recent developments about "his" planet Uranus (1783, 73 1-3), reasoning "On the Construction of the Heavens" (1785, 75 213-266) and "the Nature and Construction of the Sun and Fixed Stars" (1795, 85 46-72), and describing his discovery of "Solar, and ... Terrestrial Rays that Occasion Heat", now known as infrared light (1800, 90 293-326),
- Thomas Young arguing for the wave nature of light in "Outlines of Experiments and Inquiries Respecting Sound and Light" (1800, 90 106-150), and reporting the results of his interference experiments (1804, 94 1-16),
- James Prescott Joule demonstrating the "Mechanical Equivalent of Heat" (1850, 140 61-82), and
- James Clerk Maxwell introducing the principle of the RGB colour system in "On the Theory of Compound Colours" (1860, 150 57-84), presenting "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" (1865, 155 459-512) and contributing to the "Dynamical Theory of Gases" (1867, 157 49-88).
More findings are welcome in the comments! Have a great reading weekend!