aka William Thomson
Born on June 26th
1824 in Belfast Ireland, William Thomson was one of many children.
He was primarily raised by his father, James Thomson, as his mother died
when he was six. James Thomson raised his family in a strict Presbyterian
fashion. Although his father was strict and demanding, William mangaed
to maitain a close relatioship with his father. James Thomson was
the professor of engineering in Belfast and later was appointed to the
chair of mathematics at the University of Glasgow. He taught his
son mathematics at a very early age and as a result, William Thomson became
an accomplished mathematican beyond that of universities.
William Thomson enterd
Glasgow University at the age of ten. That was not as uncommon as
it is today because back then the universities were competing for the best
junior pupils. In 1838, when Thomson was 14, he began what people
today would consider university work and when he was 15, his essay called
Essay on the Figure of the Earth won him a gold medal from the University
of Glasgow. Thomson then went on to publish his first papers at ages
16 and 17. These papers were defending the work of
who was being criticized by british scientists.
Following his years
at Glasgow, Thomson entered the University of Cambrige in 1841. He
graduated in four years with a B.A. honors degree and was second wrangler.
Further work in 1845 saw him become first Smith's prizeman and he was elected
a fellow of Peterhouse. From there he went to Paris because of his
interest in the French approach to mathematics and he wanted to gain practcal
experience and competence in experimental work. Before leaving Paris,
Thomson got involved in many discussions which led him to study the whole
methodology of a physical science, distinguishing 'physical' parts of a
theory from 'mathematical' parts.
William Thomson then
returned to Glasgow in 1848. Thomson was 22 and the chair of natural
philosophy at Glasgow opened up. With help from his father's influence,
who was still a professor at Glasgow, Thomson ran a well organized campaign
and was unanimously elected professor of natural philosophy at the University.
While at Glasgow,
William Thomson had many achievements. In 1847-49 he collaborated
on hydrodynamical studies, which Thomson applied to electrical and atomic
theory. Also during this time, Thomson's thermodynamical studies
led him to propse an absolute temperature scale in 1848 which he proposed
based on his studies of the theory of heat, in particular the theory proposed
Carnot and later
developed by Clapeyron.
This absolute temperature scale, which is now known as the Kelvein scale,
was precisely defined much later after conservation of energy was better
understood. The scale derives its name from the title, Baron Kelvin of
Largs, that Thomson received from the British government in 1892, and named
after Thomson because of his proposal in this 1848 paper. In 1851,
Thomson published another paper called On the Dynamical Theory of Heat
and in the same year was elected to the Royal Society. This published
work contained Thomson's ideas and version of the second law of thermodynamics
as well as recognition of James Joule's idea of the mechanical equivalent
of heat. The idea claimed that heat and motion were combined (where
there is heat there is motion and where there is motion there is heat,
in some form or another). Today this idea is taken as second nature,
but at that time, heat was thought to have been some kind of fluid.
Continuing in this
same time period, 1850's, Thomson maintained an interest in the age on
the sun and the earth. He attempted to calculate a value for the
sun's age based on the assumption that the sun produces its radiant energy
from gravitational potential of matter falling into the sun. He came
up with a value of 50 million years, but he did not take into effect radioactivity
which hadn't been discovered yet. Thomson calculated the earth to
be no older than 400 million years old based on the rate of cooling
of global matter after the first solidification occured. Based on
Thomson's reasonings, he was unable to accept Darwin's theory of evolution
because thomson figured that the earth would have been way to hot to support
life a million years ago.
William Thomson began
his most notarized work in 1854 when he started working on the project
of laying trasatlantic cables. Thomson had been asked how long it
would take for electrical signals to traverse long cables. He applied
his ideas of heat flow to that of electrical current flow which helped
him solve the problems with trasmitting electrical signals over long distances.
Following this project, thomson invented the mirror galvanometer which
he patented in 1858 as a long distance telegrah reciever. These projects
not only led him to a great deal of fame but also a lot of money.
Because of the great
success he had from his work, Thomson was Knighted by QueenVictoria in
1866. He then retired from Glasgow in 1889 after being a professor
for 53 years. In 1890 he became president of the Royal Society and
held that position for five years and in 1892 he was created Baron Kelvin
of Largs and recieved the Order of Merit in 1902. William Thomson,
better know as Lord Kelvin, eventually died at his home December 17th,
1907, in his estates close to Largs, Scotland, and was buried at Wetminster