Tyndall, Prof. John

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Tyndall, Prof. John

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2 August 1820 - 4 December 1893


(from Wikipedia entry)

John Tyndall FRS (2 August 1820 - 4 December 1893) was a prominent 19th century physicist. His initial scientific fame arose in the 1850s from his study of diamagnetism. Later he made discoveries in the realms of infrared radiation and the physical properties of air. Tyndall also published more than a dozen science books which brought state-of-the-art 19th century experimental physics to a wide audience. From 1853 to 1887 he was professor of physics at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. Tyndall was born in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, Ireland. His father was a local police constable, descended from Gloucestershire emigrants who settled in southeast Ireland around 1670. Tyndall attended the local schools in County Carlow until his late teens, and was probably an assistant teacher near the end of his time there. Subjects learned at school notably included technical drawing and mathematics with some applications of those subjects to land surveying. He was hired as a draftsman by the government's land surveying & mapping agency in Ireland in his late teens in 1839, and moved to work for the same agency in England in 1842. In the decade of the 1840s, a railroad-building boom was in progress, and Tyndall's land surveying experience was valuable and in demand by the railway companies. Between 1844 and 1847, he was lucratively employed in railway construction planning. In 1847 Tyndall opted to become a mathematics and surveying teacher at a boarding school in Hampshire. Recalling this decision later, he wrote: "the desire to grow intellectually did not forsake me; and, when railway work slackened, I accepted in 1847 a post as master in Queenwood College." Another recently arrived young teacher at Queenwood was Edward Frankland, who had previously worked as a chemical laboratory assistant for the British Geological Survey. Frankland and Tyndall became good friends. On the strength of Frankland's prior knowledge, they decided to go to Germany to further their education in science. Among other things, Frankland knew that certain German universities were ahead of any in Britain in experimental chemistry and physics. (British universities were still focused on classics and mathematics and not laboratory science.) The pair moved to Germany in summer 1848 and enrolled at the University of Marburg, where Robert Bunsen was an influential teacher. Tyndall studied under Bunsen for two years. Perhaps more influential for Tyndall at Marburg was Professor Hermann Knoblauch, with whom Tyndall maintained communications by letter for many years afterwards. Tyndall's Marburg dissertation was a mathematical analysis of screw surfaces in 1850 (under Friedrich Ludwig Stegmann). He stayed at Marburg for a further year doing research on magnetism with Knoblauch, including some months' visit at the Berlin laboratory of Knoblauch's main teacher, Heinrich Gustav Magnus. It is clear today that Bunsen and Magnus were among the very best experimental science instructors of the era. Thus, when Tyndall returned to live in England in summer 1851, he probably had as good an education in experimental science as anyone in England.

Tyndall's early original work in physics was his experiments on magnetism and diamagnetic polarity, on which he worked from 1850 to 1856. His two most influential reports were the first two, co-authored with Knoblauch. One of them was entitled "The magneto-optic properties of crystals, and the relation of magnetism and diamagnetism to molecular arrangement", dated May 1850. The two described an inspired experiment, with an inspired interpretation. These and other magnetic investigations very soon made Tyndall known among the leading scientists of the day. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1852. In his search for a suitable research appointment, he was able to ask the longtime editor of the leading German physics journal (Poggendorff) and other prominent men to write testimonials on his behalf. In 1853, he attained the prestigious appointment of Professor of Natural Philosophy (Physics) at the Royal Institution in London, due in no small part to the esteem his work had garnered from Michael Faraday, the leader of magnetic investigations at the Royal Institution. About a decade later Tyndall was appointed the successor to the positions held by Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution on Faraday's retirement. Tyndall did not marry until age 55. His bride, Louisa Hamilton, was the 30-year-old daughter of a member of parliament (Lord Claud Hamilton, M.P.). The following year, 1877, they built a summer chalet in the Swiss Alps. Before getting married Tyndall had been living for many years in an upstairs apartment at the Royal Institution and continued living there after marriage until 1885 when a move was made to a house near Haslemere 45 miles southwest of London. The marriage was a happy one and without children. He retired from the Royal Institution at age 66 having complaints of ill health.

Tyndall became financially well-off from sales of his popular books and fees from his lectures (but there is no evidence that he owned commercial patents). For many years he got non-trivial payments for being a part-time scientific advisor to a couple of quasi-governmental agencies and partly donated the payments to charity. His successful lecture tour of the United States in 1872 netted him a substantial amount of dollars, all of which he promptly donated to a trustee for fostering science in America. Late in life his money donations went most visibly to the Irish Unionist political cause. When he died, his wealth was £22122. For comparison's sake, the income of a police constable in London was about £80 per year at the time.

In his last years Tyndall often took chloral hydrate to treat his insomnia. When bedridden and ailing, he died from an accidental overdose of this drug at age 73, and was buried at Haslemere. Afterwards, Tyndall's wife took possession of his papers and assigned herself as supervisor of an official biography of him. She dragged her feet on the project, however, and it was still unfinished when she died in 1940 aged 95. The book eventually appeared in 1945, written by A. S. Eve and C. H. Creasey, whom Louisa Tyndall had authorized shortly before her death.

For more information, see Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tyndall .


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Welby, Victoria, Lady, 1837-1912 (1837-1912)

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Created 2015-10-29 by Anna St.Onge.


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