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Tyndall, John

light scattering studies particles

[ tin dl] (1820–93) British physicist: made pioneering studies of heat and the scattering of light.

Tyndall lacked a university education, leaving school to work as a surveyor and civil engineer in Ireland. He subsequently studied physical sciences at Marburg in Germany and became first a professor and later director of the Royal Institution. He was a talented lecturer and popularizer of science.

Tyndall’s early research was on diamagnetism, but he is chiefly remembered for his studies of heat. He measured the thermal conductivity of crystals along their different axes, investigated the effect of radiant heat on gases and made pioneering studies of glaciers (he was also one of the first men to climb the Matterhorn). His studies of the scattering of light by fine particles in the air and in liquids resulted in his discovery in 1859 of the Tyndall effect, whereby a beam of light is made visible by such scattering. Following work on the frequency-dependence of the scattering of light, Tyndall was the first to realize why the sky is blue: atmospheric dust particles scatter the shorter wavelength (blue) components of sunlight to a greater degree than the longer wavelength (red) components. His interest in airborne particles led him to study airborne microorganisms and to support arguments against spontaneous generation in the 1870s. Practical innovations due to him include an improved fog horn for use at sea, and the fireman’s respirator.

He died tragically. His devoted wife confused two medicines he took routinely and gave him an excessive dose of his sleeping draught (chloral); antidotes failed and he died within hours. She survived him by 47 years.

Typology [next] [back] Tyndale, William (William Tindall, William Hutchins, William Huchyns, William Hychyns) (c. 1494–1536) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION

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