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


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Death of Thomas Andrews, Chemist & Physicist

thomas-andrewsThomas Andrews, chemist and physicist who does important work on phase transitions between gases and liquids, dies in Belfast on November 26, 1885. He is a longtime professor of chemistry at Queen’s University Belfast.

Andrews is born in Belfast on December 19, 1813, where his father is a linen merchant. He attends the Belfast Academy and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where at the latter of which he studies mathematics under James Thomson. In 1828 he goes to the University of Glasgow to study chemistry under Professor Thomas Thomson, then studies at Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains distinction in classics as well as in science. Finally, at the University of Edinburgh in 1835, he is awarded a doctorate in medicine.

Andrews begins a successful medical practice in his native Belfast in 1835, also giving instruction in chemistry at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In 1842, he marries Jane Hardie Walker. They have six children, including the geologist Mary Andrews.

Andrews first becomes known as a scientific investigator with his work on the heat developed in chemical actions, for which the Royal Society awards him a Royal Medal in 1844. Another important investigation, undertaken in collaboration with Peter Guthrie Tait, is devoted to ozone. In 1845 he is appointed vice-president and professor of chemistry of the newly established Queen’s University Belfast. He holds these two offices until his retirement in 1879 at the age of 66.

His reputation mainly rests on his work with liquefaction of gases. In the 1860s he carries out a very complete inquiry into the gas laws — expressing the relations of pressure, temperature, and volume in carbon dioxide. In particular, he establishes the concepts of critical temperature and critical pressure, showing that a substance passes from vapor to liquid state without any breach of continuity.

In Andrews’ experiments on phase transitions, he shows that carbon dioxide may be carried from any of the states we usually call liquid to any of those we usually call gas, without losing homogeneity. The mathematical physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs cites these results in support of the Gibbs free energy equation. They also set off a race among researchers to liquify various other gases. In 1877-78 Louis Paul Cailletet is the first to liquefy oxygen and nitrogen.

Thomas Andrews dies in Belfast on November 26, 1885 and is buried in the city’s Borough Cemetery.

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Birth of Geologist Richard Dixon Oldham

richard-dixon-oldhamRichard Dixon Oldham, British geologist who makes the first clear identification of the separate arrivals of P-waves, S-waves and surface waves on seismograms and the first clear evidence that the Earth has a central core, is born in Dublin on July 31, 1858.

Born to Thomas Oldham, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a geologist, Oldham is educated at Rugby School and the Royal School of Mines.

In 1879 Oldham becomes an assistant-superintendent with the Geological Survey of India (GSI), working in the Himalayas. He writes about 40 publications for the Survey on geological subjects including hot springs, the geology of the Son Valley and the structure of the Himalayas and the Indo-Gangetic plain. His most famous work is in seismology. His report on the 1897 Assam earthquake goes far beyond reports of previous earthquakes. It includes a description of the Chedrang fault, with uplift up to 35 feet and reported accelerations of the ground that have exceeded the Earth’s gravitational acceleration. His most important contribution to seismology is the first clear identification of the separate arrivals of P-waves, S-waves and surface waves on seismograms. Since these observations agree with theory for elastic waves, they show that the Earth can be treated as elastic in studies of seismic waves.

In 1903, Oldham resigns from the GSI due to ill health and returns to the United Kingdom, living in Kew and various parts of Wales. In 1906 he writes a paper analyzing seismic arrival times of various recorded earthquakes. He concludes that the earth has a core and estimates its radius to be less than 0.4 times the radius of the Earth.

In 1908 Oldham is awarded the Lyell Medal, in 1911 made a Fellow of the Royal Society and from 1920 to 1922 serves as the President of the Geological Society of London.

Richard Dixon Oldham dies at Llandrindod Wells in Wales on July 15, 1936.