seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of Physicist & Engineer William Thomson

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William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, Scots-Irish mathematical physicist and engineer, is born in Belfast on June 26, 1824.

At the University of Glasgow he does important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and does much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. He works closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work. He also has a career as an electrical telegraph engineer and inventor, which propels him into the public eye and ensures his wealth, fame and honour. For his work on the transatlantic telegraph project he is knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria, becoming Sir William Thomson. He has extensive maritime interests and is most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which had previously been limited in reliability.

Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour. While the existence of a lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) is known prior to his work, Thomson is widely known for determining its correct value as approximately −273.15 degree Celsius or −459.67 degree Fahrenheit.

Thomson is ennobled in 1892 in recognition of his achievements in thermodynamics, and of his opposition to Irish Home Rule, becoming Baron Kelvin, of Largs in the County of Ayr. He is the first British scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords. The title refers to the River Kelvin, which flows close by his laboratory at the University of Glasgow. His home is the imposing red sandstone mansion Netherhall, in Largs. Despite offers of elevated posts from several world-renowned universities, Thomson refuses to leave Glasgow, remaining Professor of Natural Philosophy for over 50 years, until his eventual retirement from that post. The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow has a permanent exhibition on the work of Thomson including many of his original papers, instruments and other artifacts such as his smoking pipe.

Always active in industrial research and development, he is recruited around 1899 by George Eastman to serve as vice-chairman of the board of the British company Kodak Limited, affiliated with Eastman Kodak.

In November 1907 he catches a chill and his condition deteriorates until he dies at his Scottish residence, Netherhall, in Largs on December 17.

Lord Kelvin is an elder of St. Columba’s Parish Church (Church of Scotland) in Largs for many years. It is to that church that his remains are taken after his death. Following the funeral service, his body is taken to Bute Hall in his beloved University of Glasgow for a service of remembrance before being taken to London for interment at Westminster Abbey, near the final resting place of Sir Isaac Newton.

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