James Paton


Born: 2 September 1903 in Cowdenbeath, Fife, Scotland
Died: 26 August 1973 in Edinburgh, Scotland

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James Paton was born in Cowdenbeath, Fife, but spent his early years in Kelty [1]:-
With parents who were fond of music, and with four lively younger brothers, his early days in the family home at Ackergill, Kelty, were happy ones. He was within walking distance of Blairadam, Ben Arty and Loch Leven, and he soon developed a great love of unspoiled nature. Throughout his life he enjoyed camping in Glen Feshie, walking and climbing in the Scottish mountains, and above all the cultivation of his beautiful garden at Abernethy in Perthshire.
He completed his secondary education at Beath Secondary School, Cowdenbeath, Fife in 1921, and matriculated at the University of Edinburgh in the same year. His original intention was to study forestry but his interests moved to mathematics and physics and he graduated M.A. with honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1925. He then continued studying for a B.Sc. which he completed with honours in physics. He accepted a post at the Meteorological Office in London in 1927 but returned to Edinburgh in the following year when appointed to a Lectureship in Natural Philosophy. He remained on the staff at Edinburgh University throughout his career, being a Lecturer from 1928 to 1950, a Senior Lecturer from 1950 to 1954, a reader from 1954 to 1964, and finally Head of Department of Meteorology from 1964 until his death in 1973.

On 4 January 1950 the 'Aims of Science Teaching Conference' was held at King's Buildings Edinburgh with Paton as one of the delegates. The report of the Conference refers to Paton's talk:-

Dealing with "The Optical Properties of the Atmosphere," Mr James Paton said that while mirages were caused by abnormal gradients of temperature in clear air in the lower atmosphere, most of the striking day optical phenomena like rainbows, halves and coronal were produced by reflection and refraction in water droplets or ice crystals. Examination of the spectra of aurora and the night sky yielded valuable information concerning the composition and temperature of the high atmosphere.
Paton joined the Edinburgh Mathematical Society in March 1929. He was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 4 March 1946, his proposers being Charles T R Wilson, William M H Greaves,Sir Edmund T Whittaker, George A Carse.

An obituary, written by M A S Ross, appears in the Royal Society of Edinburgh Year Book 1974, pages 15-18.
We give a version of this obituary at THIS LINK.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson


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Mathematicians born in the same country

Additional Material in MacTutor

  1. Obituary: RSE

Honours awarded to James Paton
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1. Lecturer at the EMS 


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JOC/EFR November 2007
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School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

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