Scotland’s rich heritage in the Sciences, Mathematics and Technology has left a proud trail of famous scientists to inspire and encourage others to follow in the footsteps.
Following on from my recent post of 10 Famous Scottish Scientists, here are another 10 Famous Scottish Scientists that we should give credit to, and take great pride in, for their innovation and discovery.
As a nation we should be doing all we can to ensure that the next generation of great Scientists will emerge from Scotland too.
1. Alexander Graham Bell
Scientist and Inventor
(1847 – 1922)
Credited with inventing the first practical telephone. He considered the telephone an interference and distraction to his work and never kept one in his study. He also carried out groundbreaking work into hydrofoils and aeronautics and in 1888 was a founding member of the National Geographic Society.
2. John Logie Baird
Engineer and Inventor
(1888 – 1946)
This Helensburgh-born engineer invented the world’s first working television system. He displayed his result to scientists in 1926 who had gathered in an attic in London to witness the achievement of capturing moving images of people. Within a couple of years, he’d successfully made the first trans-Atlantic transmission with his mechanical television system.
3. Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
Physicist, Meteorologist and Winner of a Nobel Prize in Physics
Invented the cloud chamber for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. It was whilst standing on the summit of Ben Nevis that it’s said he made the decision to try recreate the beauty of natural phenomenon such as coronas and glories in his lab. In 1911, using his cloud chamber, he was the first person to see and photograph the tracks of individual alpha- and beta-particles and electrons. The latter were to be described by him as “little wisps and threads of clouds”.
4. Robert Watson-Watt
Meteorology and Radio waves
The inventor of radar was born in Brechin; a descendant of James Watt, the famous engineer and inventor of the practical steam engine. In 1915, after graduating from University College, Dundee, he set about applying his knowledge of radio to locate thunderstorms to give warning to airmen. His work led to him ultimately using radio to detect aircraft, and following successful trials of his system a network of radar stations was set-up along the south coast of England just as war was breaking out in 1939.
5. Robert Angus Smith
Discovered and coined the term ‘Acid Rain’. In 1852, he was the first to spot the relationship between acid rain and environmental pollution, which had increased substantially since the Industrial Revolution with the sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides pouring out of factories. Far ahead of his time, in terms of his research and ideas, he published a book in 1872 titled, “Air and Rain” which spurred on growth in the field that he called, “chemical climatology.”
6. Thomas Graham
He may not have been the most gifted of lecturers according to his students, but he excelled in his practical laboratories. His investigations into the behaviour of crystallised compounds passing through membranes, as a method of separating large molecules from similar compounds, led to the technique of dialysis. Graham’s method is still in use in hospitals today, for purifying the blood of patients with kidney failure. His other great passion was studying the motion of atoms in liquids and gases, which led him to describe ‘Graham’s Law’ which states that the rate of effusion of a gas is inversely proportional to the square root of its molar mass.
7. William Ramsay
Chemist and Winner of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1852 – 1916)
The Glasgow-born chemist is credited for his services in the discovery of the noble gases for which he received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1904. In 1892 Ramsay’s curiosity was piqued by physicist, Lord Rayleigh’s observation that the density of nitrogen extracted from the air was always greater than nitrogen released from various chemical compounds. Ramsay then set about looking for an unknown gas in air of greater density, which—when he found it—he named argon.
While investigating for the presence of argon in a uranium-bearing mineral, he instead discovered helium, which since 1868 had been known to exist, but only in the sun. This second discovery led him to suggest the existence of a new group of elements in the periodic table. He and his co-workers quickly isolated neon, krypton, and xenon from the Earth’s atmosphere.
8. John Mallard
Known for his work in the development of radionuclide imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). In 1980, Mallard and his research team obtained the first clinically useful image of a patient’s internal tissues using MRI. His team, based at the University of Aberdeen, was responsible for technological advances that led to the widespread introduction of MRI. MRI is considered to be a safer diagnostic tool than X-rays and is more suitable for soft tissue, building up a picture of the human body by using high frequency radio waves.
9. Charles Macintosh
Macintosh is most famous for his waterproof cloth. In 1818, while analysing the by-products of a works making coal gas, he discovered dissolved india rubber. He joined two sheets of fabric together with this solution, allowed them to dry, and discovered that the new material could not be penetrated by water. He introduced the material a few years later as ‘Mackintosh’ and set up his own company to produce it, despite opposition from tailors who didn’t want to work with his cloth.
10. James Gregory
Mathematician and Astronomer
An Aberdeen-born mathematician who invented the first reflecting telescope (the ‘Gregorian’ telescope) in 1663, describing his design for it in his published work, ‘Optica Promota.’ He also described the method for using the transit of Venus to measure the distance of the Earth from the Sun, which was later advocated by Edmund Halley and adopted as the basis of the first effective measurement of the Astronomical Unit.