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


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Death of John Hewitt Jellett, Mathematician & Priest

John Hewitt Jellett, Irish mathematician whose career is spent at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he rises to the rank of Provost, dies in Dublin on February 19, 1888. He is also a priest in the Church of Ireland.

Jellett is born at Cashel, County Tipperary, on December 25, 1817, the son of Rev. Morgan Jellett and his wife Harriette Townsend, daughter of Hewitt Baldwin Poole of County Cork, by his wife Dorothea Morris. He is the eldest brother of Hewitt Poole Jellett, Serjeant-at-law (Ireland) and Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for County Laois, and of the Venerable Henry Jellett, Archdeacon of Cloyne. He is educated at Kilkenny College and at TCD, where he becomes a fellow in 1840.

Jellett marries his cousin on his mother’s side, Dorothea Charlotte Morris Morgan, daughter of James Morgan, on July 7, 1855. The marriage produces seven children. His son, William Morgan Jellett, is a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is the father of the celebrated artist Mainie Jellett, and of Dorothea Jellett, director of the orchestra of the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. Another son Henry Holmes Jellett is a civil engineer in British India. His daughter Harriette Mary Jellett is the wife of the noted Irish physicist George Francis FitzGerald. Another daughter Eva Jellett is the first woman to graduate with a degree in medicine from Trinity, and goes on to practice as a doctor in India.

Jellett graduates B.A. in mathematics in 1837, M.A. 1843, B.D. 1866, and D.D. 1881. He is ordained a priest in 1846. In 1848 he is elected to the chair of natural philosophy at TCD, and in 1868 he receives the appointment of commissioner of Irish national education.

In 1851 Jellett is awarded the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his work on the “Calculus of Variations.” The society later elects him their president, a position he holds from 1869 to 1874.

In 1870, on the death of Dr. Thomas Luby, Jellett is co-opted a Senior Fellow, and thus a member of the Board of TCD. William Ewart Gladstone‘s government in February 1881 appoints him provost of Trinity. In the same year he is awarded a Royal Medal by the Royal Society.

After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by the Irish Church Act 1869, Jellett takes an active part in the deliberations of the general synod and in every work calculated to advance its interests. He is an able mathematician, and writes A Treatise of the Calculus of Variations (1850), and A Treatise on the Theory of Friction (1872), as well as several papers on pure and applied mathematics, articles in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. He also writes some theological essays, sermons, and religious treatises, of which the principal are An Examination of some of the Moral Difficulties of the Old Testament (1867), and The Efficacy of Prayer (1878).

Jellett dies of blood poisoning at the provost’s house, TCD, on February 19, 1888, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery on February 23. The funeral procession is the largest that ever left Trinity.

(Pictured: “John Hewitt Jellett,” oil on canvas by Sarah Purser)


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Birth of Thomas Andrews, Chemist & Physicist

Thomas Andrews FRS FRSE, chemist and physicist who does important work on phase transitions between gases and liquids, is born in Belfast on December 19, 1813. He is a longtime professor of chemistry at Queen’s University Belfast.

Andrews’ 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 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 Academical Institution. In 1842, he marries Jane Hardie Walker (1818–1899). They have six children, including the geologist Mary Andrews. In 1845 he is appointed vice-president of the newly established Queen’s University Belfast, and professor of chemistry there. He holds these two offices until his retirement in 1879 at age 66.

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.

Andrews’ 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.

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


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Birth of George Francis FitzGerald, Academic & Physicist

Professor George Francis FitzGerald FRS FRSE, Irish academic and physicist, is born at No. 19, Lower Mount Street in Dublin on August 3, 1851. He is known for his work in electromagnetic theory and for the Lorentz–FitzGerald contraction, which becomes an integral part of Albert Einstein‘s special theory of relativity.

FitzGerald is born to the Reverend William FitzGerald and his wife Anne Frances Stoney. He is the nephew of George Johnstone Stoney, the Irish physicist who coins the term “electron.” After the particles are discovered by J. J. Thomson and Walter Kaufmann in 1896, FitzGerald is the one to propose calling them electrons. He is also the nephew of Bindon Blood Stoney, an eminent Irish engineer. His cousin is Edith Anne Stoney, a pioneer female medical physicist.

Professor of Moral Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin and vicar of St. Anne’s, Dawson Street, at the time of his son’s birth, William FitzGerald is consecrated Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross in 1857 and translates to Killaloe and Clonfert in 1862. George returns to Dublin and enters TCD as a student at the age of sixteen, winning a scholarship in 1870 and graduating in 1871 in Mathematics and Experimental Science. He becomes a Fellow of Trinity in 1877 and spends the rest of his career there, serving as Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy from 1881 to 1901.

Along with Oliver Lodge, Oliver Heaviside and Heinrich Hertz, FitzGerald is a leading figure among the group of “Maxwellians” who revise, extend, clarify, and confirm James Clerk Maxwell‘s mathematical theories of the electromagnetic field during the late 1870s and the 1880s.

In 1883, following from Maxwell’s equations, FitzGerald is the first to suggest a device for producing rapidly oscillating electric currents to generate electromagnetic waves, a phenomenon which is first shown to exist experimentally by the German physicist Heinrich Hertz in 1888.

In 1883, FitzGerald is elected Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1899, he is awarded a Royal Medal for his investigations in theoretical physics. In 1900, he is made an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

FitzGerald is better known for his conjecture in his short letter to the editor of Science. “The Ether and the Earth’s Atmosphere” explains that if all moving objects were foreshortened in the direction of their motion, it would account for the curious null-results of the Michelson–Morley experiment. He bases this idea in part on the way electromagnetic forces are known to be affected by motion. In particular, he uses some equations that had been derived a short time before by his friend the electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside. The Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz hits on a very similar idea in 1892 and develops it more fully into Lorentz transformations, in connection with his theory of electrons.

The Lorentz–FitzGerald contraction hypothesis becomes an essential part of the Special Theory of Relativity, as Albert Einstein publishes it in 1905. He demonstrates the kinematic nature of this effect, by deriving it from the principle of relativity and the constancy of the speed of light.

FitzGerald suffers from many digestive problems for much of his shortened life. He becomes very ill with stomach problems. He dies on February 22, 1901 at his home, 7 Ely Place in Dublin, the day after an operation on a perforated ulcer. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

A crater on the far side of the Moon is named after FitzGerald, as is a building at Trinity College Dublin.


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Birth of Thomas Romney Robinson, Astronomer & Physicist

Reverend John Thomas Romney Robinson, 19th-century astronomer and physicist usually referred to as Thomas Romney Robinson, was born at St. Anne’s in Dublin on April 23, 1792. He is the longtime director of the Armagh Observatory, one of the chief astronomical observatories in the United Kingdom at the time. He is remembered as the inventor in 1846 of the Robinson 4-cup anemometer, a device for measuring the speed of the wind.

Robinson is the son of the English portrait painter Thomas Robinson (d.1810) and his wife, Ruth Buck (d.1826). He is educated at Belfast Academy then studies Divinity at Trinity College Dublin, where he is elected a Scholar in 1808, graduating BA in 1810 and obtaining a fellowship in 1814, at the age of 22. He is for some years a deputy professor of natural philosophy (physics) at Trinity.

In 1823, at the age of 30, Robinson gains the appointment of astronomer at the Armagh Observatory. From this point on he always resides at the Armagh Observatory, engaged in researches connected with astronomy and physics, until his death in 1882. Having also been ordained as an Anglican priest while at Trinity, he obtains the church livings of the Anglican Church at Enniskillen and at Carrickmacross in 1824.

During the 1840s and 1850s Robinson is a frequent visitor to the world’s most powerful telescope of that era, the so-called Leviathan of Parsonstown telescope, which had been built by Robinson’s friend and colleague William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse. He is active with Parsons in interpreting the higher-resolution views of the night sky produced by Parsons’ telescope, particularly with regard to the galaxies and nebulae and he publishes leading-edge research reports on the question.

Back at his own observatory in Armagh, Robinson compiles a large catalogue of stars and writes many related reports. In 1862 he is awarded a Royal Medal “for the Armagh catalogue of 5345 stars, deduced from observations made at the Armagh Observatory, from the years 1820 up to 1854; for his papers on the construction of astronomical instruments in the memoirs of the Astronomical Society, and his paper on electromagnets in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy.”

Robinson is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1851 to 1856, and is a long-time active organiser in the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a friend of Charles Babbage, who says was “indebted” for having reminded him about the first time he came up with the idea of the calculating machine.

Robinson marries twice, first to Eliza Isabelle Rambaut (d.1839) and secondly to Lucy Jane Edgeworth (1806–1897), the lifelong disabled daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth. His daughter marries the physicist George Gabriel Stokes. Stokes frequently visits Robinson in Armagh in Robinson’s later years.

Robinson dies in Armagh, County Armagh at the age of 89 on February 28, 1882.

The crater Robinson on the Moon is named in his honour.


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Birth of George Salmon, Mathematician & Theologian

Rev. Prof. George Salmon, distinguished and influential Irish mathematician and Anglican theologian, is born in Dublin on September 25, 1819. After working in algebraic geometry for two decades, he devotes the last forty years of his life to theology. His entire career is spent at Trinity College Dublin.

Salmon, the son of Michael Salmon and Helen Weekes, spends his boyhood in Cork, where his father is a linen merchant. There he attends Hamblin and Porter’s Grammar School before attending Trinity College in 1833, graduating with First Class Honours in mathematics in 1839. In 1841 he attains a paid fellowship and teaching position in mathematics at Trinity. In 1845 Salmon is additionally appointed to a position in theology at the university, after having been ordained a deacon in 1844 and a priest in the Church of Ireland in 1845.

In the late 1840s and the 1850s Salmon is in regular and frequent communication with Arthur Cayley and J. J. Sylvester. The three of them together with a small number of other mathematicians develop a system for dealing with n-dimensional algebra and geometry. During this period he publishes about 36 papers in journals.

In 1844 Salmon marries Frances Anne Salvador, daughter of Rev. J. L. Salvador of Staunton-upon-Wye in Herefordshire, with whom he has six children, of which only two survive him.

In 1848 Salmon publishes an undergraduate textbook entitled A Treatise on Conic Sections. This text remains in print for over fifty years, going through five updated editions in English, and is translated into German, French and Italian. From 1858 to 1867 he is the Donegall Lecturer in Mathematics at Trinity.

In 1859 Salmon publishes the book Lessons Introductory to the Modern Higher Algebra. This is for a while simultaneously the state-of-the-art and the standard presentation of the subject, and goes through updated and expanded editions in 1866, 1876 and 1885, and is translated into German and French. He also publishes two other mathematics texts, A Treatise on Higher Plane Curves (1852) and A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions (1862).

In 1858 Salmon is presented with the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy. In June 1863 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society followed in 1868 by the award of their Royal Medal. In 1889 he receives the Copley Medal of the society, the highest honorary award in British science, but by then he has long since lost his interest in mathematics and science.

From the early 1860s onward Salmon is primarily occupied with theology. In 1866 he is appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Trinity College, at which point he resigns from his position in the mathematics department. In 1871 he accepts an additional post of chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Salmon is Provost of Trinty College from 1888 until his death in 1904. The highlight of his career is likely when in 1892 he presides over the great celebrations marking the tercentenary of the College, which had been founded by Queen Elizabeth I. His deep conservatism leads him to strongly oppose women receiving degrees from the University.

Salmon dies at the Provost’s House on January 22, 1904 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. An avid reader throughout his life, his obituary refers to him as “specially devoted to the novels of Jane Austen.”

Salmon’s theorem [ru] is named in honor of George Salmon.


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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 Physicist John Joly

John Joly, Irish physicist famous for his development of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer, is born in Bracknagh, County Offaly, on November 1, 1857. He is also known for developing techniques to accurately estimate the age of a geological period, based on radioactive elements present in minerals.

Joly is a second cousin of Charles Jasper Joly, the astronomer. He enters Trinity College, Dublin in 1876, graduating in Engineering in 1882 in first place with various special certificates in branches of engineering, at the same time obtaining a First-Class Honours in modern literature. He works as a demonstrator in Trinity’s Engineering and Physics departments before succeeding William Johnson Sollas in the Chair of Geology and Mineralogy in 1897, a position which he holds until his death in 1933.

Joly joins the Royal Dublin Society in 1881 while still a student, and is a frequent contributor of papers. During his career he writes over 270 books and scientific papers.

On May 17, 1899 Joly reads his paper “An Estimate of the Geological Age of the Earth” to the Royal Dublin Society. In it, he proposes to calculate the age of the earth from the accumulation of sodium in the waters of the oceans. He calculates the rate at which the oceans should have accumulated sodium from erosion processes, and determines that the oceans are about 80 to 100 million years old. The paper is quickly published, appearing four months later in the Society’s Scientific Transactions. Although this method is later considered inaccurate and is consequently superseded, it radically modifies the results of other methods in use at the time.

In 1903 he publishes an article in Nature in which he discusses the possibility of using radium to date the Earth and goes on to study the radioactive content of the Earth’s crust to formulate a theory of thermal cycles, and examines the radioactive constituents of certain rocks as a means of calculating their age. Working in collaboration with Sir Ernest Rutherford, he uses radioactive decay in minerals to estimate, in 1913, that the beginning of the Devonian period could not be less than 400 million years ago, an estimate which is in line with modern calculations.

Joly serves as President of Section C (Geology) when the British Association for the Advancement of Science meets in Dublin in 1908, during which he presents his paper “Uranium and Geology” in an address to the society. This work describes radioactive materials in rocks and their part in the generation of the Earth’s internal heat.

Along with his friend Henry Horatio Dixon, Joly also puts forward the cohesion-tension theory which is now thought to be the main mechanism for the upward movement of water in plants.

In 1914 Joly develops a method of extracting radium and applies it in the treatment of cancer. As a Governor of Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, in collaboration with Walter Stevenson, he devises radiation therapy methods and promotes the establishment by the Royal Dublin Society of the Irish Radium Institute where they pioneer the “Dublin method” of using a hollow needle for deep radiation therapy, a technique that later enters worldwide use. The Radium Institute also supplies capillary tubes containing radon to hospitals for some years for use in the treatment of tumours.

Joly is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1892, is awarded the Boyle Medal of the Royal Dublin Society in 1911, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1910, and the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1923. He is also conferred honorary degrees by the National University of Ireland, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Michigan. After his death in 1933, his friends subscribe the sum of £1,700 to set up a memorial fund which is still used to promote the annual Joly Memorial Lectures at the University of Dublin, which were inaugurated by Sir Ernest Rutherford in 1935. He is also remembered by the Joly Geological Society, a student geological association established in 1960.

In 1973 a crater on Mars is named in Joly’s honour.