Tuesday, December 13, 2011

William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)

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William Thomson born on June 6, 184 and died December 17, 107. Born in

Belfast, Ireland, this British physicist began the papers on the laws of conservation and

dissipation of energy. He published 661 papers on scientific subjects during his life and

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patented 70 inventions. He was educated at the University of Glasgow and Cambridge

University at the age of 10 and had his first papers published at the ages of 16 and 17.

These papers contained an argument defending the work of Fourier (Fourier transforms),

which at that time was being heavily criticized by British scientists. He showed that

Fouriers mathematics could be applied to other physical phenomena other than that of

heat flow, where it was originally applied. At the age of fifteen, Kelvin wrote an essay

which he called An Essay on the Figure of Earth. Kelvin used this essay as a source and

inspiration for ideas all of his life and won an award from the University. After eleven

years of college, he graduated with a B.A honors degree at 1. At the age of only

Kelvin was elected to professor of physics as a result of a very well organized campaign,

run by his father, who was still a professor of mathematics. Kelvin remained at the

University of Glasgow for the rest of his working life. He was a practical man, and on

occasion during lectures on the conservation of momentum he would give a demonstration

of this to his students. At one end of the lecture room he would suspend a large block of

wood like a pendulum and at the other he would have a gun. By firing the gun at the block

of wood the bullet would become embedded in an unrealistic collision passing momentum

to the combined block of wood and bullet. By measuring the amplitude of the oscillation,

the momentum and speed of the bullet could be calculated. Needless to say, this

experiment was eventually stopped for safety reasons, though no one was ever injured.

Lord Kelvin was in charge of laying the first successful transatlantic cable in 1866.

He invented the Kelvin temperature scale in 1851, which is also defined as the absolute

temperature scale. Kelvins work with temperature and pressure systems, led to the theory

that energy cannot be destroyed, only passed from one form to another. Kelvins work

with Carnets cycle led to the second law of thermodynamics. This law explains that heat

cannot spontaneously pass from one object to another without some form of energy being

transformed or lost. How he fond this out, was a result of his curiosity. His assumption

was that the sun produced its radiant energy from the gravitational potential of matter

falling into the sun, including meteorites and even planets. In collaboration with Hermann

von Helmholtz, a dutch scientist, he calculated and published in 185 a value of 50 million

years. What he did not know at the time was the effect of the- as-yet-undiscovered

radioactivity. He also made enquiries into the age of the earth, calculating a maximum of

400 million years. These calculations were based on the rate of cooling of a globe of

matter after first solidification occurs i.e. after the earth was first formed. Basing his ideas

on these conclusions, he became an opponent of Darwins theory of evolution. Both of

these accomplishments leaned toward a better understanding of our universe, from how an

automobile engine works, to the dynamics of a thunderstorm, to how Earth obtains heat

from the sun. He also theorized electro-magnetic light, the geo-physical determinance of

the earth’s age, and did fundamental work in hydro dynamics.

William Thomson was Knighted in 18 as Lord Kelvin, by Queen Victoria for his

work on the electrical engine. In 188 he retired from the university after having been

professor there for 5 years. In the year 180 he became the president of the Royal

Society and held that position until 185. He was created Baron Kelvin of Largs in 18

and in 10 received the Order of Merit. Finally, after a long, progressive life, Lord Baron

Kelvin of Largs died on Dec. 17 107, and is buried at Westminster abbey, London.

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