Scientific Papers.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)

Introductory Note

WILLIAM THOMSON, Baron Kelvin of Largs, was born in Belfast, Ireland, June 24, 1824. He was the son of the professor of mathematics at Glasgow University, and himself entered that institution at the age of eleven. By the time he was twenty-one he graduated from Cambridge as Second Wrangler, and, after studying in Paris, he returned to Scotland to become, as professor of natural philosophy, the colleague of his father and elder brother. The story of his life thenceforth is the record of amazingly brilliant and fruitful scientific work, recognized by the award of almost all the honors appropriate to such service, from learned societies, universities, and governments at home and abroad. His part in laying the Atlantic Cable was the occasion of his receiving knighthood, and in 1892 he was raised to the peerage. He held his professorship at Glasgow for fifty-three years, and later was chosen its Chancellor. He died on December 17, 1907, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Lord Kelvin’s activities were remarkable for both profundity and range. A large number of his results are to be appreciated only by the highly skilled mathematician and physicist; but his speculations on the ultimate constitution of matter; his statement of the principle of the dissipation of energy, with its bearing upon the age of life on the earth; his calculations as to the age of the earth itself, and much more, are of great general interest. His fertility in practical invention was no less notable. He contrived a large number of instruments; his services to navigation and ocean telegraphy being especially valuable. Long before his death he was recognized as the most distinguished man of science of his time and country, and he was also the most loved.

The lectures which follow are favorable examples of his power of exposition in subjects in which he had no superior.