Glasgow

The University of Glasgow was founded in 1451. George Sinclair was first Professor of Mathematics from 1691. (See Robert Rankins article in BSHM Newsletter 31 (1966), pp. 44-46).

Robert Simson (1687-1768) was the third Professor for 50 years from 1711 to 1761. He was largely self-taught as no lectures in mathematics were available when he was a student. Simson's 1756 edition of Euclid was in use until the early 20C.

Colin MacLaurin (1698-1746) entered in 1709 at age 11 and soon discovered mathematics, in which he was encouraged by Simson. The present student mathematical society is named for him.

Adam Smith was a student in 1737-1740 and later Professor of Logic (1751-1764), and also of Moral Philosophy (1752-1764) and Lord Rector in 1787.

James Stirling and John Sinclair were also students. Stirling surveyed the river in 1752.

James Watt (1736-1819) got his start in life as Mathematical Instrument Maker to the University, c1756. Since he had not served a normal apprenticeship, he could not join the guild. However the University was outside the jurisdiction of the guilds and could appoint him. His first responsibility was to systematise a donated collection of astronomical equipment. The Hunterian Museum of the University preserves the model Newcomen engine which John Anderson, professor of Natural Philosophy, asked Watt to make work in winter 1763-1764. It was his work on this that inspired his invention of the separate condenser, with the subsequent tripling of the efficiency of the steam engine. Watt was walking upon Glasgow Green on a Sunday afternoon in early 1765 when the idea of the separate condenser occurred to him, inspired by Black's teaching. Watt was then in a small workshop off King Street. The Engineering Gallery of the Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery, in Kelvingrove Park, has two steam engines built by Watt in the late 18C. The current Engineering building is named for him.

William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) (1824-1907) was the son of James Thomson who came from Belfast to Glasgow as Professor of Mathematics in 1832. William entered the University in 1834 at age 10 (or 11), graduating in May 1840 at age 16 (or 17). On 1 May 1840, he borrowed Fourier's Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur from the University library and mastered it in a fortnight on a trip through Europe, reading it in Frankfurt when he was supposed to be studying German. After a period at Cambridge and Paris, he was elected Professor of Natural Philosophy on 11 Sep 1846, holding this chair for 53 years and creating the first British (or world?) laboratory for physical science and it evolved into a research laboratory with strong industrial applications. His address was 2 The College, Glasgow. In 1851, he presented a paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh which first stated the second law of thermodynamics. Statue in Kelvingrove Park in front of the University. He is buried in the Necropolis, east of the Cathedral, but other sources say he is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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James Thomson, brother of Kelvin, became Professor of Civil Engineering in 1873. He contributed to thermodynamics and to the harmonic analyser. (The Thomson's sister, Mrs Elizabeth King, was grandmother to Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister.)

There is a statue of Thomas Carlyle in Kelvingrove Park.

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Thomas Muir (1844-1934) was an assistant in mathematics, and a Chair was named for him in 1966.

George Alexander Gibson (1858-1930) was assistant at the University of Glasgow, later professor at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (now Strathclyde University) from 1895, then professor at the University of Glasgow from 1909 until his retirement in 1927. He was interested in the history of mathematics and in 1928 his friends raised funds to endow a lecture on the history of mathematics, delivered about every four years. Speakers have been: Einstein, John Dougall, Aitken, Turnbull, Coulson, Needham, Collingwood, Truesdell, Whiteside, Schlapp, Whitrow, Fowler. [Robert A. Rankin, George A. Gibson and the Gibson lectureship in the history of mathematics, BSHM Newsletter 29 (Summer 1995) 7-8.]

Gibson was succeeded by Thomas Murray MacRobert (1884-1962) during 1927-1954. MacRobert was succeeded by Robert Alexander Rankin (1915- ) during 1954-1982. After a gap due to financial reasons, Robert Winston Keith Odoni (1947- ) succeeded Rankin in 1989. A Simson Chair was founded in 1955 and held by Ian Naismith Sneddon (1919- ) in 1956-1985.

Frederic Soddy (1877-1956) was Lecturer in Physical Chemistry from 1904 until at least 1914 and carried out much of his work on isotopes here which gave the theoretical basis for the periodic table. He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1921. Mathematicians will know him for his result on the radii of four touching circles.

A. R. Forsyth was born in Glasgow; Alexander Thom, the archaeo-astronomer, was a student and learned astronomy here; Horatio Scott Carslaw (1870-1954), Robert John Tainsh Bell (1877-1963) and James Morton Hyslop (1907-1984) were students who took up posts abroad and wrote books of some note.

Hans Zassenhaus spent a year here just after the Second War.
The University has portraits of Simson, James Thomson, MacRobert, Rankin, etc. For recent history, see Robert A. Rankin, Mathematics, in A Faculty for Science A Unified Diversity A Century of Science in the University of Glasgow; ed. by Robert Young Thomson, University of Glasgow 1993, pp. 19-31.

Donald Michie's Turing Institute was at George House, 36 North Hanover Street. The Alan Turing Institute is now in London.

The University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, descends from Anderson's Institution of 1796, a model for the Royal Institution and Birkbeck College, etc. It became Anderson's University in 1828, then Anderson's College in 1877, the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College in 1887, the Royal Technical college in 1912, the Royal College of Science and Technology in 1956, finally merging with the Scottish College of Commerce to form the University of Strathclyde in 1964. John Anderson (1726-1796) was professor of natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1757 until his death. He left the bulk of his estate to found the Institution. [Ian Tweddle, British Libraries #8: The Andersonian Library, University of Strathclyde, BSHM Newsletter 29 (Summer 1995) 32-35.]


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An extract from The Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles created by David Singmaster

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