William Thomson 1824 – 1907

Born in Belfast in July 1824, his most noted achievement was the investigation of “Absolute Zero” and the creation of the Absolute Temperature Scale, which was later renamed the Kelvin scale. He showed an extensive knowledge of many scientific fields and was indeed a most gifted person. A fact demonstrated by the fact that he became an undergraduate at Glasgow University in 1835 aged only eleven!! His mother, Margaret Gardiner, was a native of Glasgow. Lord Kelvin moved to Cambridge to complete his degree before he returned to take up post as Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow

William Thompson was presented with the title Lord Kelvin in 1866 after he helped to calculate the required thickness of the world’s first transatlantic telegraph cable. His achievements and investigations are too great to all be listed here, but some of his geological achievements include the first calculation into the age of the Earth. He put this at between 20 and 400 million years. Later, he lowered the limit to between 20 and 40 million years (current estimations are over 4500 million years). He contributed to our understanding of the internal structure of the Earth, the physics of ice, sea level changes and the polar ice caps, and the contribution of internal heat of the Earth to surface temperatures.

During his lifetime Lord Kelvin was showered with honours, but his presidency of the Geological Society of Glasgow for twenty years (1872-1893) demonstrates his interest and commitment in the Geological Sciences. Many of the scientific instruments he developed and used are still held today in the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow.