James Swinburne nsIn thermodynamics, James Swinburne (1858-1958) was a British electrical engineer noted for starting the 1902 "What is Entropy Debate", which resulted in his 1904 Entropy: or Thermodynamics from an Engineer’s Standpoint and the Reversibility of Thermodynamics. The following are the humorous opening words of the preface: [1]

“My reason for adding another little book on thermodynamics to those in existence is that it is wanted. As far as I am aware there is not any work on steam- or gas-engine in this country that gives the correct definition of entropy.”

The aim of the book, according to Swinburne, was to correct the widespread mistake, supposedly promulgated by many authors, that entropy is conservative in irreversible change. [2] He objects also to the classification of entropy as “a factor of heat” in many thermodynamics books.

Swinburne fought against British textbooks for their laxity in defining entropy. He seems to have first addressed his concerns over the teaching of entropy in his December 02, 1902 presidential address before the British Institute of Electrical Engineers, in which nearing the end of the lecture he turned to the question of the proper mathematical definition of entropy, appending to the body of his address a footnote which reiterated and elaborated his ideas. [3] The appearance of these statements sparked a lively debate over the following two years in the British electrical and mechanical engineering journals, with opinions on the matter being professed by those as Oliver Lodge, John Perry, Henri Poincare, and Max Planck.

Entropy interest origin
Swinburne worked as an apprentice at a locomotive works in Manchester before becoming an electrical engineer. This may have been from where he became acquainted with thermodynamics. In reflection, in a personal note to his 1904 book, he states: [1]

“As a young man I tried to read thermodynamics, but I always came up against entropy as a brick wall that stopped my further progress. If found the ordinary mathematical explanation, of course, but no sort of physical idea underlying it. No author seemed even to try to give any physical idea. Having in those days great respect for textbooks, I concluded that the physical meaning must be so obvious that it needs no explanation, and that I was especially stupid on the particular subject.”

He goes on to state that he eventually found the physical meaning and correct definitions through study of irreversible thermodynamics in physical chemistry.

1. Swinburne, James. (1904). Entropy: or Thermodynamics from an Engineer’s Standpoint and the Reversibility of Thermodynamics (quote: Personal, pgs. 3-4). Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co.
2. Swinburne, James. (1904). “Entropy, Nature (pgs. 54-55), No. 1803, Vol. 70, May 01.
3. Reeve, Sidney. (1907). “The Question of Entropy, Harvard Engineering Journal (pgs. 138-54), Vol. 6.

Further reading
● Perry, John. (1904). “Entropy”, Nature, April 14.

External links
James Swinburne – Wikipedia.
James Swinburne (1858-1958) – PlastiQuarian.com.

TDics icon ns