One of the chief aims of the founders of the Royal Institution was that it should be a place where scientific advice could be given for practical projects. Michael Faraday played a major role in fulfilling this.
In the late 1820s (at Humphry Davy's instigation), Faraday became involved in the time-consuming work of the joint Royal Society / Board of Longitude committee to improve optical glass. Such glass would be useful for improving scientific instruments such as telescopes and microscopes.
Faraday's initial involvement was restricted to supervising the manufacture of the glass by Pellatt and Green. By 1827, the results had proved so unsatisfactory that Faraday agreed to make it in a furnace built at the Royal Institution instead.
Over the next two years, he made a total of 215 pieces of glass. This occupied roughly two-thirds of his available research time and did not result in a method of producing glass of consistent quality or high refractive index (required for optical glass). Faraday became so frustrated with what he saw as a waste of his time that he contemplated leaving the Royal Institution.
Once the glass project had ended following Davy's death Faraday secured for himself, in mid-1829, the professorship of chemistry at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, a position he held until 1852. At the same time, he was appointed to the scientific advisory committee at the Admiralty, to which he gave advice until at least the Crimean War in the mid 1850s.
He thus became a familiar figure in government and military circles and was usually the first person to be called upon when problems arose requiring scientific knowledge and advice. For instance, he advised the government on the preservation of stone for Charles Barry's Palace of Westminster
(Houses of Parliament), which had been erected in 1838.
Furthermore, he provided advice for engineering projects such as Marc Brunel's unsuccessful gaz engine. He also advised Brunel's son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel
(1806-1859), on the best way of preserving wooden sleepers for the Great Western Railway and again later on the ventilation of the prefabricated hospitals IK Brunel built for the Crimea campaign.
Faraday also undertook sensitive investigations for the government. In 1843, he inquired, on behalf of the Ordnance Office, into the explosion at the Waltham Abbey gunpowder factory. The following year on behalf of the Home Office, with the geologists Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and Samuel Stutchbury (1798-1859), he conducted the inquiry into the explosion at Haswell colliery, County Durham, in which 95 men and boys died.
The report on the safety and ventilation of mines that he and Lyell produced was so radical and so unpalatable to the mineowners that the government had to use considerable political finesse to avoid implementing its recommendations.