The Long Winter of Lord Kelvin
Lord Kelvin, one of the most influential people associated with the University of Glasgow, passed 83 years ago on December 17th. I’ve featured William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin, before, so instead of repeating what I’ve said before I’ll add a few more of his achievements and interesting litte factoids, including some things he got very wrong.
- William Thomson was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
- Thomson had heart problems and nearly died when he was 9 years old.
- He moved to Glasgow when his father was appointed professor of mathematics at the University in 1832.
- Thomson was educated at Peterhouse in Cambridge.
- A long list of his achievements and discoveries bearing his name or influence reads as follows:
- Joule–Thomson effect, Thomson effect (thermoelectric), Mirror galvanometer, Siphon recorder, Kelvin material, Kelvin water dropper, Kelvin wave, Kelvin–Helmholtz instability, Kelvin–Helmholtz mechanism, Kelvin–Helmholtz luminosity, Kelvin transform, Absolute Zero, Kelvin’s circulation theorem, Stokes’ Theorem, Kelvin bridge, Kelvin sensing, Kelvin equation, Magnetoresistance, and Four-terminal sensing.
- Thomson is also credited for coining the term “kinetic energy” in about 1850.
- For all his achievements, he did get a few things wrong.
- In 1897 Thomson said: “Radio has no future.”
- In 1895 Thomson said “Heavier- than- air flying machines are impossible.”
- Lord Kelvin calculated an upper limit for the age of the Earth to a maximum age near 100 million years, by estimating how long it would take an earth-sized molten sphere to cool to today’s temperatures.
- The discovery of radioactivity on the year of his death blew his conclusions on the age of the Earth out of the water.
- Thomson died in 1907 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
- He left no children behind to inherit his title, making him the first and last Lord Kelvin.
The above statue, covered in snow, is located in Kelvingrove Park, in the shadow of the University’s Main Building.
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