James Thomson | Mathematician

In 1832, James Thomson (mathematician), son of James Thomson (farmer), father of James Thomson (engineer) and William Thompson (physicist), became professor of mathematics at the Glasgow University, a position which he held throughout his life.

Fourier-Nichol-Thomson

From 1836 to 1859, Scottish astronomer John Nichol was a professor of practical astronomy at the University of Glasgow. In this span, for a period of two years, beginning in 1839, Nichol’s taught classes in natural philosophy, as a fill-in for the regular professor William Meikleham who had become absent due to illness. [1]

When Nichol’s took the chair of natural philosophy, he quickly updated the curriculum, introducing students to the new mathematical works of French mathematical physicist Joseph Fourier's, particularly his 1822

The mathematical treatment much impressed young 15-year old William Thomson, who became intrigued with Fourier's

In particular, after listening to the praises of Fourier’s book by Nichol, likely in one of his lectures, Thomson asked whether he should read the

Gordon

In 1840, Scottish civil engineer Lewis Gordon, a student of the Edinburgh school of thermodynamics, set up a civil engineer partnership with Lawrence Hill in Glasgow. From 1841 to 1855, Gordon was the first holder of the chair of civil engineering and mechanics at Glasgow University. In 1855, supposedly frustrated with the lack of facilities at Glasgow, he handed over his position to William Rankine and moved on to a private practice involved with the designing iron bridges.

During the 1841-42 school year, a 19-year old James Thomson (the older brother) went to Glasgow College and was able to study engineering under Gordon, a newly appointed professor of civil engineering and mechanics (1840-45). [2] During his mentoring of James, in some way or another, it seems that Gordon's French education at the Ecole Polytechnique, the school of Sadi Carnot, author of

“I shall have to enter on the subject of the paper you mentioned to me”.

This paper, according to historian British energy historian Crosbie Smith, was almost certainly the 1837 translation for Taylor’s

Clausius

In 1848, Gordon famously gave William Thomson (the younger brother) a copy of French physicist Sadi Carnot’s 1824 memoir

Other

William Thomson, through the workings of his father, James Thomson (mathematician), would later replace Meikleham after his death in 1846 as professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow University, where he was instrumental in the development of and guidance of the

In 1849, through the actions of William Thomson, Rankine, a previous student of the University and Edinburgh, was elected a fellow of the

Rankine then became professor of civil engineering and mechanics at the University of Glasgow in 1855, as mentioned, until his death in 1872, pursuing engineering research along a number of lines in civil and mechanical engineering. Rankine's vacant position was filled by James Thomson (junior) in 1873 a position he held until his retirement in 1889.

A later thermodynamics publications from this school is the 1892 work of mathematician Peter Alexander. [6]

References

1. Biography of John Pringle Nichol – The University of Glasgow Story.

2. Fourier, Joseph. (1822).

3. Lindley, David. (2004).

4. Thomson, S.P. (1910).

5. McCartney, Mark. (2002). “William Thomson: King of Victorian Physics”

6. Alexander, Peter. (1892).

External links

● William Thomson (collection) – University of Glasgow Library.

● Biography of John Pringle Nichol – University of Glasgow.