seamus dubhghaill

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

Leave a comment

Birth of John Lighton Synge, Mathematician & Physicist

John Lighton Synge FRSC FRS, mathematician and physicist, whose seven-decade career includes significant periods in Ireland, Canada, and the United States, is born in Dublin on March 23, 1897. He is a prolific author and influential mentor and is credited with the introduction of a new geometrical approach to the theory of relativity.

Synge is born into a prominent Church of Ireland family. His uncle, John Millington Synge, is a famous playwright. He is more distantly related to the winner of the 1952 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Richard Laurence Millington Synge. He is a great-great-great-grandson of the mathematician and bishop Hugh Hamilton.

Synge attends St. Andrew’s College, Dublin and in 1915 enters Trinity College Dublin (TCD). He is elected a Foundation Scholar his first year, which is unusual as it is normally won by more advanced students. While an undergraduate at TCD, he spots a non-trivial error in Analytical Dynamics of Particles and Rigid Bodies, a textbook by E. T. Whittaker, who had recently taught there, and notifies Whittaker of the error. In 1919 he is awarded a BA in Mathematics and Experimental Physics, and also a gold medal for outstanding merit. In 1922 he is awarded an MA, and in 1926 a Sc.D., the latter upon submission of his published papers up to then.

In 1918, Synge marries Elizabeth Eleanor Mabel Allen. She is also a student at TCD, first of mathematics, then of history, but family finances forced her to leave without graduating. Their daughters Margaret (Pegeen), Cathleen and Isabel are born in 1921, 1923 and 1930 respectively. The middle girl grows up to become the distinguished Canadian mathematician Cathleen Synge Morawetz.

Synge is appointed to the position of lecturer at Trinity College, and then accepts a position at the University of Toronto in 1920, where he is an assistant professor of mathematics until 1925. There he attends lectures by Ludwik Silberstein on the theory of relativity, stimulating him to contribute “A system of space-time co-ordinates,” a letter in Nature in 1921.

Synge returns to Trinity College Dublin, in 1925, where he is elected to a fellowship and is appointed the University Professor of Natural Philosophy (later to be known as “physics”). He is a member of the American Mathematical Society and the London Mathematical Society. He is treasurer of the Royal Irish Academy in 1929. He goes back to Toronto in 1930, where he is appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics and becomes Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics. In 1940, he supervises three Chinese students, Guo Yonghuai, Qian Weichang and Chia-Chiao Lin, who later become leading applied mathematicians in China and the United States.

Synge spends some of 1939 at Princeton University, and in 1941, he is a visiting professor at Brown University. In 1943 he is appointed as Chairman of the Mathematics Department of Ohio State University. Three years later he becomes Head of the Mathematics Department of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, where John Nash, Jr. is one of his students. He spends a short time as a ballistic mathematician in the United States Air Force between 1944 and 1945.

Synge returns to Ireland in 1948, accepting the position of Senior Professor in the School of Theoretical Physics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. This school had been set up in 1940, and had several outstanding members, including Erwin Schrödinger, a contributor to quantum mechanics, who is also a Senior Professor.

Synge makes outstanding contributions to different fields of work including classical mechanics, general mechanics and geometrical optics, gas dynamics, hydrodynamics, elasticity, electrical networks, mathematical methods, differential geometry, and Albert Einstein‘s theory of relativity. He studies an extensive range of mathematical physics problems, but his best-known work revolves around using geometrical methods in general relativity.

Synge is one of the first physicists to seriously study the interior of a black hole, and his early work is cited by both Martin David Kruskal and George Szekeres in their independent discoveries of the true structure of the Schwarzschild black hole. Synge’s later derivation of the Szekeres-Kruskal metric solution, which is motivated by a desire to avoid “using ‘bad’ coordinates to obtain ‘good’ coordinates,” has been generally under-appreciated in the literature, but is adopted by Chandrasekhar in his black hole monograph.

In pure mathematics, Synge is perhaps best known for Synge’s theorem, which concerns the topology of closed orientable Riemannian manifold of positive sectional curvature. When such a space is even-dimensional and orientable, the theorem says it must be simply connected. In odd dimensions, it instead says that such a space is necessarily orientable.

Synge also creates the game of Vish in which players compete to find circularity (vicious circles) in dictionary definitions.

Synge retires in 1972. He receives many honours for his works. He is elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1943. He is elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and in 1943 is the first recipient of the society’s Henry Marshall Tory Medal, as one of the first mathematicians working in Canada to be internationally recognised for his research in mathematics. In 1954 he is elected an honorary fellow of Trinity College Dublin. He is president of the Royal Irish Academy from 1961 until 1964. The Royal Society of Canada establishes the John L. Synge Award in his honour in 1986.

Synge dies on March 30, 1995, in Dublin, exactly one week after his ninety-eighth birthday.

Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Joseph Larmor, Physicist & Mathematician

Sir Joseph Larmor FRS FRSE, Irish and British physicist and mathematician who makes breakthroughs in the understanding of electricity, dynamics, thermodynamics, and the electron theory of matter, is born in Magheragall, County Antrim on July 11, 1857. His most influential work is Aether and Matter, a theoretical physics book published in 1900.

Larmor is the son of Hugh Larmor, a Belfast shopkeeper and his wife, Anna Wright. The family moves to Belfast around 1860, and he is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and then studies mathematics and experimental science at Queen’s College, Belfast, where one of his teachers is John Purser. He obtains his BA in 1874 and MA in 1875. He subsequently studies at St. John’s College, Cambridge where in 1880 he is Senior Wrangler and Smith’s Prizeman, and obtains his MA in 1883. After teaching physics for a few years at Queen’s College, Galway, he accepts a lectureship in mathematics at Cambridge in 1885. In 1892 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and he serves as one of the Secretaries of the society. He is made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1910.

In 1903 Larmor is appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a post he retains until his retirement in 1932. He never marries. He is knighted by King Edward VII in 1909.

Motivated by his strong opposition to Home Rule for Ireland, in February 1911 Larmor runs for and is elected as Member of Parliament for Cambridge University (UK Parliament constituency) with the Conservative Party. He remains in parliament until the 1922 general election, at which point the Irish question has been settled. Upon his retirement from Cambridge in 1932 he moves back to County Down in Northern Ireland.

Larmor receives the honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) from the University of Glasgow in June 1901. He is awarded the Poncelet Prize for 1918 by the French Academy of Sciences. He is a Plenary Speaker in 1920 at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) at Strasbourg and an Invited Speaker at the ICM in 1924 in Toronto and at the ICM in 1928 in Bologna.

Larmor dies in Holywood, County Down, Northern Ireland on May 19, 1942.

Leave a comment

Birth of William McCrea, Astronomer & Mathematician

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100Sir William Hunter McCrea, English astronomer and mathematician, is born in Dublin on December 13, 1904.

McCrea’s family moves to Kent in 1906 and then to Derbyshire where he attends Chesterfield Grammar School. His father is a school master at Netherthorpe Grammar School in Staveley. He goes to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1923 where he studies mathematics, later gaining a PhD in 1929 under Ralph H. Fowler.

In 1928, McCrea studies Albrecht Unsöld‘s hypothesis and discovers that three quarters of the sun is made of hydrogen and about one quarter is helium with 1% being other elements. Previous to this many people thought the sun consisted mostly of iron. After this, people realise most stars consist of hydrogen.

From 1930 McCrea lectures in mathematics at the University of Edinburgh. In 1931, during his time in Edinburgh, he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers are Sir Edmund Taylor Whittaker, Sir Charles Galton Darwin, Edward Copson and Charles Glover Barkla. He wins the Society’s Keith Medal, jointly with Edward Copson, for the period 1939-1941.

In 1932 McCrea moves to Imperial College London as a Reader and marries Marian Core the following year. In 1936 he becomes Professor of Mathematics and head of the mathematics department at the Queen’s University Belfast.

During World War II McCrea is co-opted onto the Admiralty Operational Research Group. After the war, he joins the mathematics department at Royal Holloway College in 1944. He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1952.

McCrea is president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1961 to 1963 and president of Section A of the British Association for the Advancement of Science from 1965–1966.

In 1964 McCrea proposes mass transfer mechanism as an explanation of blue straggler stars. In 1965, he creates the astronomy centre of the physics department at the University of Sussex.

McCrea wins the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1976 and is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.

William McCrea dies on April 25, 1999 at Lewes in Sussex. The McCrea Building on the Royal Holloway College campus is named after him.

Leave a comment

Death of Robert Mallet, the Father of Seismology

robert-malletRobert Mallet, geophysicist, civil engineer, and inventor who distinguishes himself in research on earthquakes and is sometimes called the Father of Seismology, dies on November 5, 1881.

Mallet is born in Dublin on June 3, 1810, the son of factory owner John Mallet. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, entering it at the age of 16 and graduating in science and mathematics in 1830 at the age of 20.

Following his graduation, he joins his father’s iron foundry business and helps build the firm into one of the most important engineering works in Ireland, supplying ironwork for railway companies, the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, and a swing bridge over the River Shannon at Athlone. He also helps manufacture the characteristic iron railings that surround Trinity College and which bear his family name at the base.

Mallet is elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832 at the early age of 22. He also enrolls in the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1835 which helps finance much of his research in seismology.

In 1838 he becomes a life member of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland, and serves as its President from 1846–1848. From 1848–1849 he constructs the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, southwest of Cape Clear.

On February 9, 1846 he presents to the Royal Irish Academy his paper On the Dynamics of Earthquakes, which is considered to be one of the foundations of modern seismology. He is also credited with coining the word “seismology” and other related words which he uses in his research. He also coins the term epicentre.

From 1852 to 1858, he is engaged in the preparation of his work, The Earthquake Catalogue of the British Association (1858), and carries out blasting experiments to determine the speed of seismic propagation in sand and solid rock.

On December 16, 1857, the area around Padula, Italy is devastated by the Great Neapolitan earthquake which causes 11,000 deaths. At the time it is the third largest known earthquake in the world and has been estimated to have been of magnitude 6.9 on the Richter Scale. Mallet, with letters of support from Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin, petitions the Royal Society of London and receives a grant of £150 to go to Padula and record at first hand the devastation. The resulting report is presented to the Royal Society as the Report on the Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857. It is a major scientific work and makes great use of the then new research tool of photography to record the devastation caused by the earthquake. In 1862, he publishes the Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857: The First Principles of Observational Seismology in two volumes. He brings forward evidence to show that the depth below the Earth’s surface, from where the impulse of the Neapolitan earthquake originated, is about 8–9 geographical miles.

One of Mallet’s papers is Volcanic Energy: an Attempt to develop its True Origin and Cosmical Relations, in which he seeks to show that volcanic heat may be attributed to the effects of crushing, contortion, and other disturbances in the crust of the earth. The disturbances leading to the formation of lines of fracture, more or less vertical, down which water would find its way, and if the temperature generated be sufficient volcanic eruptions of steam or lava would follow.

Mallet is elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1854, and in 1861 moves to London, where he becomes a consulting engineer and edits The Practical Mechanic’s Journal. He is awarded the Telford Medal by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1859, followed by the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his research into the theory of earthquakes in 1862, and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1877, the Geological Society’s highest award.

Blind for the last seven years of his life, Robert Mallet dies at Stockwell, London, on November 5, 1881 and is buried at West Norwood Cemetery.