19th Century Mathematical Physics
A series of talks on Lord Kelvin, Peter Guthrie Tait and James Clerk Maxwell.
This lecture is jointly held with the British Society for the History of Mathematics.
For the other BHSM lectures, follows these links:
The Memoirs and Legacy of Évariste Galois, by Dr Peter Neumann
Triangular Relationships, by Dr Patricia Fara
Mathematics, Motion and Truth, by Professor Jeremy Gray
Mathematics and the Medici, by Jim Bennett
Planes and Pacifism, by Dr June Barrow-Green
From World Brain to the World Wide Web, by Professor Martin Campbell-Kelly
History from Below, by Dr Stephen Johnston
The Celestial Geometry of John Flamsteed, by Dr Allan Chapman
Mathematics in the Metropolis, by Adrian Rice
Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1846 to 1899. An FRS, FRSE, knighted in 1866, awarded the Order of Merit in 1902, and in death buried beside Newton at Westminster Abbey, Kelvin was in his lifetime considered the pre-eminent natural philosopher of the Victorian Age. But the passage of time, and the supplanting of classical physics, have eroded his reputation. This talk will survey Kelvin's life and work, and seek to show why the assessment of Kelvin's importance by his contemporaries was not misplaced.
Listen to the lecture
Peter Guthrie Tait (1831 - 1901) was significantly less famous than his friends Maxwell and Kelvin, but unfairly so because he was an important and prolific mathematical physicist. He was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh from 1859, narrowly beating Maxwell to the post, and worked on a variety of topics including thermodynamics and the kinetic theory of gases. In a fantastic experiment involving smoke rings, Tait and Kelvin came up with a new atomic theory based around the idea of knots and links. This took on a mathematical life on its own, with Tait becoming one of the world's first topologists and inventing conjectures which remained unproven for over a hundred years.
Listen to the lecture
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) was one of the most important mathematical physicists of all time, after only Newton and Einstein. Within a relatively short lifetime he made enormous contributions to science which this lecture will survey. Foremost among these was the formulation of the theory of electromagnetism with light, electricity and magnetism all shown to be manifestations of the electromagnetic field. He also made major contributions to the theory of colour vision and optics, the kinetic theory of gases and thermodynamics, and the understanding of the dynamics and stability of Saturn's rings.