Popular Science Monthly/Volume 72/February 1908/The Progress of Science

Lord Kelvin.



The tomb of William Thomson, Baron Kelvin of Largs, now stands beside that of Darwin in Westminster Abbey, and a great epoch in history is closed. The nineteenth century will remain preeminent for the supremacy of science and for the advance of industrial democracy. Great Britain more than any other nation has led these movements, and no other of its great men so completely typifies them as he who ranged from cosmic speculations to industrial inventions, who brought together mathematical physics and practical engineering.

While Kelvin retained to the age of eighty-three years much of the vigor, keenness and intellectual curiosity of youth, he belongs in a sense to the middle of the nineteenth century rather than to the more complicated period of its close. For the grandson of an Irish peasant farmer to amass great wealth, discard his plebian name and take a seat in the house of lords is a social ideal of the earlier rather than of the later democracy. So Kelvin's science was static of the forties. He liked models that he could visualize; he did not care for the doctrine of evolution; even in his own field the researches of others did not greatly affect him. This is perhaps typical of genius, especially mathematical genius, which seems to develop early, to be likely to be hereditary and to be comparatively unaffected by external conditions.

Kelvin's father, without early opportunities, became professor of mathematics in Glasgow University, and his brother was professor of engineering there. Kelvin was appointed to the chair of natural philosophy at the age

Lord Kelvin
then William Thomson, at the age of twenty-two, when just elected to the Chair of Natural Philosophy at Glasgow.

of twenty-two. He matriculated as a student at the age of eleven, and at the age of seventeen began to publish papers on the mathematical theory of heat. Migrating to Peterhouse, Cambridge, he became second wrangler. Within four years Stokes, Cayley and Adams had been senior wranglers, illustrating the precocity of mathematical genius and the mathematical activity of Cambridge at that period. For fifty-three years Kelvin was professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow. Like Helmholtz he was not a good lecturer, but like his great German friend he exercised an enormous influence on the progress of science directly as well as by his published work. The jubilee of his professorship was adequately celebrated in 1896; from the volume giving some account of it, the portraits here reproduced are taken. Kelvin was president of the Royal Society and of the British Association, and was active in their work, rarely failing to take a leading part at the annual meeting of the association. All the highest scientific honors were of course conferred on him. He was twice married, but leaves no issue.

To the general public Kelvin is best known for his share in submarine telegraphy, for his improvements in the compass, for his machine for taking soundings and for other inventions, scores of which he patented. To the electrician and the engineer many important instruments and improvements in methods of measurement will occur, such as his three electronometers, his mirror galvanometer and his syphon recorder. With Professor Tait he began a "Treatise on Natural Philosophy," which has become a classic for parts of mechanics. His popular addresses have been published in three volumes. But it is only the scientific man who can appreciate the range and originality of Kelvin's performance. As Shelly is the poet's poet and Velasquez the artist's artist, so Kelvin is the man of science who appeals especially to his fellow-workers. They may criticize what they regard as his limitations, but they are full of admiration for the man and his work. It covers an immense field—elasticity, hydrodynamics, heat, electricity and magnetism, the nature of the ether and the constitution of matter. This is not the place to attempt to describe his experimental work or his far-reaching speculations. A sketch will be found in the tenth volume of this magazine, and among the many obituary notices we may refer especially to one in the issue of Science for January 3, by Professor Webster.

It is pleasant to remember that Kelvin three times visited this country. He brought Great Britain and the United States closer together by his contributions to transatlantic telegraphy and to navigation, and his most elaborate mathematical speculations are to be found in the lectures given at the Johns Hopkins University in 1884 and published many years later under the title "Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light."


There was a notable assemblage of scientific societies and scientific men at the University of Chicago during convocation week. Not hitherto has there been such a meeting west of the Atlantic seaboard. This is gratifying as an indication of the increased readiness of scientific men to cooperate in their organizations, and especially as a demonstration of the great growth of science in the central states. The American Association for the Advancement of Science last met at Chicago forty years ago. It was the seventeenth meeting and the third in size, the attendance being 259, of whom probably less than half were scientific men. Other meetings held so far to the west with the registration have been: 1877, Nashville, 173; 1878, St. Louis, 134; 1883, Minneapolis, 328; 1893, Madison, 290; 1901, Denver, 311; 1903-4, St. Louis, 385; 1905-6, New Orleans, 233. E. O. Lovett, Ph.D.,
Professor of Astronomy at Princeton University. Retiring Vice-president and Chairman of the Section of Astronomy and Mathematics. President-elect of the Rice Institute.
It will be noted that in recent years the association has fulfilled its mission as a national organization by meeting as far west as Denver and as far south as New Orleans. But the registration has been comparatively small. At the present Chicago meeting the registration was 725, and the general secretary estimates that this represents an attendance of scientific men close to two thousand. This is only about twenty per cent, less than at the largest eastern meetings.

The magnitude of the meeting is mainly significant as the most convenient measure of its scientific importance. There were 159 papers on the programs of the American Chemical Society, the American Society of Botanical Chemists and the Chemical Section of the Association. While the chemists are the largest group, the programs of special papers in other sciences were in proportion. Dayton C Miller,
Professor of Physics, Case School of Applied Science. Retiring Vice-president and Chairman of the Section of Physics.
There were also many general addresses and less technical sessions. First should be mentioned the address of the retiring president of the association, Dr. W. H. Welch, of the Johns Hopkins University, who traced with characteristic charm and clearness the historical interdependence of medicine and other sciences of nature. The standard set by this address was maintained by the chairmen of the sections and the presidents of the affiliated societies. Among the general discussions should be mentioned that before the American Society of Naturalists on cooperation in biological research, and those before sections of the association on public health, immunity and the teaching of mathematics to students of engineering. The well organized and interesting sessions of the newly organized section of education, with the address of its first chairman, Dr. Elmer E. Brown, United States Commissioner of Education, deserve special mention.

The American Association is becoming increasingly a center for affiliation and organization, the special programs

T. C. Chamberlain, LL D.,

Head Professor of Geology at the University of Chicago and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

J. P. Iddings, Ph.D.,
Professor of Petrology, at the University of Chicago. Retiring Vice-president and Chairman of the Section of Geology and Geography.
being in large measure delegated to the national scientific societies, while the council, representing both the parent association and the affiliated societies is able to speak with authority in behalf of the science of the whole country. The number and character of the resolutions passed by the council at the Chicago meeting is significant. In response to a letter from the president of the United States a committee was appointed on conservation Charles E. Bessey, Ph.D.,
Professor of Botany, University of Nebraska. Retiring Vice-president and Chairman of the Section of Botany.
of the natural resources of the country. Resolutions were passed recommending a research laboratory for tropical diseases at the Isthmus of Panama and a biological survey prior to the migrating of marine animals that will occur when the canal is completed, Elmer Ellsworth Brown,
U. S. Commissioner of Education. Retiring Vice-president and Chairman of the Section of Education.
supporting the committee of one hundred in its efforts to increase the efficiency of the government in dealing with problems of public health, advocating the enlargement of the work of the Bureau of Education, favoring work in seismology by the national government, and in other directions. The association will a year hence commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Darwin and the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the "Origin of Species."

The University of Chicago offered admirable facilities for the meetings and provided in every way for the entertainment of members, while the other institutions of the city showed all possible courtesies. The social events closed fittingly with a dinner to commemorate the conferring of the Nobel Prize and the Copley Medal on Professor A. A. Michelson. The University of Chicago was also able to supply a distinguished president for the next meeting. Professor T. C. Chamberlin, one of the world's greatest geologists, will maintain the high traditions of the office, so well represented at the Chicago meeting by Professor E. L. Nichols, of Cornell University. There will be a summer meeting of the association at Hanover, N. H., on the invitation of Dartmouth College, beginning on June 28, and the next convocation week meeting will be held at Baltimore during New Year's week on the invitation of the Johns Hopkins University.


We regret to record the death of Charles Augustus Young, the eminent astronomer. A sketch with a portrait will be found in The Popular Science Monthly for July, 1905.—We further much regret to record the deaths of two other distinguished American men of science: Dr. Nicholas Senn, the surgeon, and Dr. Coleman Sellers, the engineer.—Among foreign men of science the deaths have occurred of M. Janssen, director of the Meuden Astrophysical Observatory, and of Dr. Alphonso Sella, professor of experimental physics at Rome.

The Hayden memorial medal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia has been conferred on Dr. Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.—Professor Simon Newcomb has been elected a foreign member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Mr. G. K. Gilbert a corresponding member of the Munich Academy of Sciences.—Dr. W. W. Keen, professor of surgery at Jefferson College, has been elected president of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, to succeed Professor Edgar F. Smith, vice-provost of the University of Pennsylvania and professor of chemistry, who declined reelection.—The American Philosophical Society will hold a general meeting on April 23, 24 and 25.

Mr. John D. Rockefeller has added $2,191,000 to his previous gifts to the University of Chicago, making the total amount of these nearly $24,000,000. Of Mr. Rockefeller's recent gift, the sum of two million dollars is for permanent endowment; the sum of $155,000 is to meet the deficit for 1907, and the sum of $36,000 is for miscellaneous purposes.

By the will of the late William George Pearce, Trinity College, Cambridge University, receives about two million dollars. This is one of the largest gifts or bequests ever received by an English university.