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LORD KELVIN

[By Jambs Collier.] [Special Rights Secured by the * Star.’] Many a life is cut in two by some change of pursuit or some great catastrophe, while others (indeed, most) flow on, whether smoothly qr roughly, without a break. lord Kelvin’s life resembled that of a -mighty river, which took its rise in the mountain tops, whence it derived ite momentum, but when it reached the plains coursed along with but few changes of either speed, level, or direction. And it passed into eternity ae a great river is lost in the ocean. —British. Association.— Lord Kelvin was not one of the most regular attendees at the meetings of the British Association, being often abroad on cable-laying business, but when he could not be present he usually sent one or more memoirs to he read in his absence. The meeting whjre ho figured most prominentlv was that held at Edinburgh in 1871. Ho was then president and his address was one of the most important ever delivered before the association. Unlike most of its predecessors and successors, it was not confined to a single subject, but was ns discursive as Kelvin’s addresses usually were. He enlarged on the imperative requirement, in all the sciences, of accurate and nvnutc measurement. and he made good his thesis, as few of his contemporaries could have done, by illustrations drawn from a variety of fields. He, showed, with remarkable novelty, how science had gained by the applications of its own discoveries. He praised the work of Clerk Maxwell and Clausius on the kinetic theory of gases, Jjut he disiderated a still more comprehensive molecular theory, which should explain the inner mechanism of the atom. He believed that the atom must be regarded as “ a piece of matter with shape, motion, and laws of action.” He gave a I'ck as ho passed at the nebular theory. He condemned spontaneous generation. —Origin of Life.— But how did life originate, then? Kelvin .answered his own question, and the answer startled the most advanced thinkers there. If a volcanic island springe up from the depths of the ocean and in a few years clothes itself with vegetation, we at once assume that have been wafted to it through the air, or carried on the claws of birds, or floated to it on planks. This thought was apparently the source of his new theory. For he next asked if the beginning of vegetable life on this enith could not be thus accounted for. As lie believed that from time immemorial there have been many worlds of life besides cur own, he regarded it as in the hi -best degree probable that there are countless seed-bearing meteoric stones moving about through space. Now, one such mos«-grown meteoric stone from the ruins of another world, falling upon this earth, might lead to its becoming clothed with vegetation. —Criticisms.— Thomson was aware that the speculation might seem “ wild and visionary.” Many supposed it to he an elaborate scientific joke. But no, he was in dead earnest. Even if it were, as lie claimed, not unscientific, it was obvious to most, as Huxley afterwards showed, that it only removed the. difficulty one stage further back. He had still to admit that the evolution of li'o from a meteorite-borne germ remained to be accounted for. But if the joke was not Kelvin’s, it gave rise to jokes on the part of others, just as Falstaff, if not witty himself, was the cause of wit in other men. Clerk_ Maxwell made on it one of his jeux d’espiit, which was ‘img. Sir Alexander Grant, principal of the University, with mock ind gnation, moved a vote of thanks to the president, characterised it as an astounding heresy. For weeks ‘ Punch ’ poked fun at him, while Clitford ridiculed That simpler protoplasmic shape Which came down in a fire escape. It was no joke, said Herbert Spencer to the present writer. It was one of the fantastic theories that he was always launching. It was not even new. Six years before Kelvin propounded it, though possibly not before be conceived it, Herrmann Kberhard Richter brought forward the hypothesis that space was full of the germs'of living bodies, which nrght burst into life and give rice to a whole world of living things. R d ruled and anticipated as” it might be. Kelvin did not therefore relinquish bis tlieo-y. In successive years, as lale ns 1381. be reiterated it. Tie even got a committee of the British Association appointed to examine meteoric dust and ascertain whether anv of it contained either traces or actual specimens of life. Many years later (in 1897) he confessed that mathematics and dynamics fail us when we arc co”frouted with the problem of the origin of life on earth.

—Aze of the Earth.— About- 1866 67 new ground \vm 1-tken by tbn orno”cnlfi 'if Dn-rwhvMn. ]/>rd K'dvin was f think. the first to t-ak* it-. He was tll > ’troiogbt. lint inking his etnnd on nhvMcal principle 3 and the law of thermo-r-n’.-ln, l-'w'tv, he laid it down that the ape of the earth e„n!d not exceed 100 milbone of years. That seamed a liberal allow--m- ’ hut he contended that it was not r-"lV greet as the Harwinians rc-ne-'v- d * Bome of the geologists. on the H V-r ’hand, were not content with 100. ' mo. or even a millCu tnil'm-i years, but de n v'ti'b-1 an nnl’rrrtefi Wigth of time. ■Rnt Ivih f 'ir A. Oeikie and Huxley pro-rr.tl’-'nl'-Ives cont-nt with 100 milVons Three vea-n later the battlefield I'to n u vsie*. T.erd Kelvin’s ...: of 100 millions as deelnced heal ...v-d-rtiv-’iv. i« fH-nfeesor • T 'dm TV w c-n'-md dl utterly wad mm*'’. H/V----at the interior of th» c'obe. limn'* ~ p:„h t "mvp-fatnre. c'mdv-t beat hotter than tho=e in the met, the cart-A —-ill bare to t-e lengthened ?00 Kelvin replied that, after mreh :,, n ,,; rv and research, he could find no ,va..,’ant for ihinkhm that thermal condurliritv increases with temrwratnre T„. Or/i! eyneriments showcii that rnnducm--11 v was less, not creates at hi<rh lemnernt l-Vrirrn scientists, he declared, were as inevorable a* hinwplf In refusing sun heat and dnvli-hf for more than a score, or a verv f-v c f ,sK, of mdlmns of veers. Clarence Kino of the 1 ,S„ would no more than 0-1 rmOions. and in lors Kebn’u reduced his estimate to from 20 to 40 millions of wars. —Xe-.v Factor 1 .- - Afoanwhile a new airencv was brought on Una scene. Kadinm and radlo-acthutv ,vere discovered; the spontaneous evolution of heat from radium and the detection of small onanrttics of radio art I’m bodies hi the earth’s crust revealed the existence of a new internal sourer* of heat. (< The researches of Air 8-frntt on the radioactivity of rocks,” say= Sir George Darwin, “prove that we e.annot regard the earth sjnanlv as a cooling crlohe, and therefore Lord Kelvin’s argument as to the age of Thp earth, as derived from the observed gradient of temnerntnre. must he illusory.” The evidence points to a period many times as great ns Kelvin allowed for the whole history of the solar system. T-ord Kelvin further contended that at the time when the earth solidified the dav had nearly it = present length. The calculations of Sir Oeortre Darwin, on the other Viand, the computed effects of the tidal friction of solid bodies, “ the plasticity of the most refractory matter when under great stresses, and the contortions of geoIrwieal strata ” appear to prove that Kelvin’s estimates are almost ludicrously short of the truth. And now physicists more modern than Kelvin are willing to grant the Darwinian geologists an amount of time far in excess of their wildest demands. —The Kelvin Compass.— Lord Kelvin was a many-sided man, and, in defiance of Cicero and Mark Pattison, he spread out his mind over a wide surface. He was a sailor at heart._ he told tlie marine engineers, and, as a skilled and daring yachtsman, ho made many contributions ' to navigation. He invented a sounding machine; he improved lighthouse lights; he devised a tide analyser, a tide gauge, and tide-predicting machines; and he did much mathematical work in connection with other naval problems. But doubtless his invention of an improved mariner’s compass is the greatest of hit j

naval achievement*. The origin of ft was in a manner, accidental. In the year 1871 he undertook to contribute an article to ‘ Good Words.’ It took him three years to write the first article, and five more to write the second. Was it procrastination? To some extent; but the truth was that (as he said) he knew too little of the subject to write on It. 6o he set to work, fie found existing compasses full of defects, and he considered how they might be improved. The articles, in fact, gave birth to a new compass—Kelvin’s compass. He came at the end—not quite at the end—of a succession of improvers : Flinders, Barlow, the French mathematician Poisson, Airy, Archibald Smith, and Evans, who each added something; hut many defects remained. After five years’ working at the subject and a year and a-half of experimental work on land and at sea, Kelvin removed all of them, and produced what was virtually a now compass. His troubles were not then over. He received but scanty encouragement from the Admiralty, while the Astronomer-Royal, when he had inspected the instrument, bluntly declared “it won’t do,” Hearing of this, Kelvin ejaculated: “So much for the Astronomer-Royal’s opinion.” He brought his improvements before the United Service Institution and before naval men, the Bri- | tish Association, and the Institute of EnI gineers, but the Admiralty was still imers and in the German and Russian war- | ships, but the Admiralty remained as im- 1 pregnable as one of its own ironclads. ' Naval officers commending Kelvin’s inventions at headquarters were treated like burglars. After 13 years the moss-grown department at length adopted it, in 1889. It had, however, but a short existence. Another sort of compass, partly built on Kelvin’s principles, largely superseded it m 1906. —A Deep-sea Sounder.— Finding Kelvin at the workshop of White, his partner, examining toils of piano wire, Joule inquired their use, and was told that they were for sounding. “ For sounding what note?” he guilelessly asked. “ The deep C,” Kelvin wittily replied. In 1872, on board of his vatht, he sounded to a depth of 2,700 fathoms with a sinker and a three-mile line made up of lengths of piano steel wire. It had many superiorities over the old hempen rope—its more rapid operation, its compactness, and its convenience for taking flying soundings. Again he met with op- | position from the Admiralty, and he had 1 to take out a patent to, bring the sounder | into use. I —Lighthouse Lights.— Various methods had been proposed or used to prevent lighthouse lights from being mistaken for one another. Kelvin i now proposed that lighthouses should flash | out, in long and short flashes—that is, in 1 dots and dashes—some distinctive letter of : the Morse code. This plan was exten- ; sively adopted after two years, and by ; 1875 100 such flashing lights were in use ; around the British Islands. I —John Hopkins Lectures.— In 1883. on the invitation of the trustees, Kelvin delivered at the Johns Hop- | kins University, Baltimore, a course of I 20 lectures to a select audience of 21 men | of science, with a number of “amateur i casuals” —iu all, between 60 and 70. The | subjects of the lectures were: The wave I theory of light, the ether, refraction and I reflexion, and double refraction. But this bald outline gives no real idea of the I wealth of matter the lectures contain, i Professor Silvanus Thompson rightly says of them that, as an intellectual effort, they stand without a parallel. Spokeu without a MS., or even a skeleton (what j a convincing disproof of his alleged in- , ability to speak; he was an excellent speaker), they made a mark not only on the university where they were delivered, but on mathematical Europe as well, and I they had a powerful effect on his own thought for the rest of his days. —A Great Molecular Theory.— So early as the spring of 1846, while he was still at Cambridge, Kelvin was already trying to connect electricity and magnetism with force. The solution of the problem flashed across him at the end of the same year when inagurating his teaching at. Glasgow, and a few months later I he definitely formulated the requisite equaj tionfi. At the meetings of the British As- | eociation in Edinburgh and Montreal, in ; 1871 and 1884, he gave an account of the kinetic theory of gases, as developed up to those date's, especially by Clausius and Clerk Maxwell. Ho described it as “the greatest achievement yet made in the molecular theory of matter.” No such comprehensive theory of matter had ever before been imagined, but still Kelvin was not satisfied. It was yet only a part of a still more comprehensive theory. In 1890 he threw out a suggestion to the effect that electricity should be made a mediator ■ between ponderable matter and the ether. ; Having done that much he let the theory go out of his sight for many years. Then came a confession. His most strenuous efforts for 55 rears he himself characterised as having ’’ failure” carved on their tomb. He knew no more of electric and magnetic force, or of the relation between electricitv, matter, and ether than he had taught, his students 50 year* ago. _ Was that failure? All, no; his place is with the immortals. —The Man.— We have hut little space left to paint the man. Helmholtz described him as tall, slight. shy. and almost girlish in appearance. hut'with such an ebullient imagination that the great savant felt himwooden In- the side of him. Principal Lan~ said that his face shone while he lectured. He carried constantly with him a green note honk, where, in all comranies he jotted down his ideas or calculotinn-'’ What would the Berliners say of me if I. did that? asked Helmholtz of his wife. He was not quite unworldly. The French boasted that the great chemist Berthelot never took out a patent. Kelvin took out seventv. Ho died almost a million-

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19141212.2.68

Bibliographic details

LORD KELVIN, Issue 15674, 12 December 1914

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2,381

LORD KELVIN Issue 15674, 12 December 1914

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