Archive for the History Category

Searching for Synge

Posted in History, mathematics, Television with tags , , on November 14, 2019 by telescoper

John Lighton Synge (above; 1897-1995), who was an expert on geometrical approaches to general relativity, was regarded by many as the most eminent Irish mathematician and physicist since Sir William Rowan Hamilton. Synge (whose uncle was the famous playwright John Millington Synge) was born in Dublin and had spells at Trinity College Dublin, the University of Toronto and various universities in the USA before taking up a position as Senior Professor at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) in 1948 from which he retired in 1972.

I have been asked by a friend to find out if there are any video recordings of Synge talking or lecturing. A quick google search turns up nothing, so I thought I would put this request out into the blogosphere to see if anyone is aware of anything.

Given the dates it seems likely that any recordings of him would be originally on film (or perhaps television) which would have to be transferred to digital format. Perhaps there is archive material at Trinity College or DIAS that could be suitable?

Upcoming conference in Ireland on the history of physics

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff on November 13, 2019 by telescoper

Much as I dislike the word “upcoming”, it is my pleasure to reblog this announcement about a conference to be held at Trinity College next summer (June 17th to 19th). In particular the deadline for abstracts is only a month away (December 15th) so if you would like to contribute a talk you have until then to submit an abstract!

Antimatter

Just a quick post to highlight the fact that December 15th marks the deadline for submission of abstracts for the 4th International Conference on the History of Physics. The conference marks the fourth in a biennial series of meetings supported by the UK Institute of Physics and the European Physical Society that aim to bring together historians of science and physicists with an interest in the history of their subject and will take place at Trinity College Dublin on June 17th-19th. The website for the conference is here and previous iterations of the conference can be found here.

fiop-poster05112019

I have attended all three of the previous meetings of this conference series and they were most interesting. As the conference takes place in Ireland this time around, I have been heavily involved in the preparations, from chairing the scientific programming committee to attending regular meetings of the organizing committee…

View original post 79 more words

Newton’s Laws in Translation

Posted in History, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 13, 2019 by telescoper

I’m about to do some lectures about Newton’s Laws of Motion to my first-year Mathematical Physics class so I thought I’d put up a quick post about how these laws have been expressed through the years. The original versions in the Principia (frontispiece above, first published in 1687) are of course in Latin. I did five years of Latin at school, but found most of the Principia impenetrable when I tried to read it in the original

 

The laws of motion are however fairly clear, perhaps because they are familiar in English:

Lex I: Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus illud a viribus impressis cogitur statum suum mutare.

Lex II: Mutationem motus proportionalem esse vi motrici impressæ, & fieri secundum lineam rectam qua vis illa imprimitur.

Lex III: Actioni contrariam semper & æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æqualeset in partes contrarias dirigi.

As I am teaching in a room in the old college here in Maynooth (which was founded in 1795), I looked for a contemporary English translation. This is from 1792:

Law I: Every body perseveres in a state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.

Law II: The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.

Law III: To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual action of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.

And finally here’s the modern version I was taught at School:

First Law: Every body continues in a state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is acted upon by an external (unbalanced) force.

Second Law: The rate of change of momentum of a body is proportional to the impressed force, and is in the direction in which this force acts.

Third Law: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction,

an alternative form of the Third Law being:

Third Law: If Body A exerts a force on Body B then Body B exerts a force on Body A which is equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.

Going back to the 1792 English translation, the exposition of the second law continues:

If a force generates a motion, a double force will generate double the motion, a triple force triple the motion, whether that force be impressed altogether and at once, or gradually and successively. And this motion (being always directed the same way with the generating force), if the body moved before, is added to or subtracted from the former motion, according as they directly conspire with or are directly contrary to each other; or obliquely joined, when they are oblique, so as to produce a new motion compounded from the determination of both.

If only Newton had known vector notation!

 

 

No More Poppies

Posted in Biographical, History, Politics with tags , , , , on November 9, 2019 by telescoper

Over the years I have written quite a few pieces on this blog, around the time of Remembrance Sunday, about the wearing of a poppy, the last being in 2016. I have worn a poppy at this time of year for most of my adult life, but in 2017 I decided to stop.

For one thing, there is no pressure to wear a poppy here in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish people see the poppy mainly as a symbol of British militarism and colonial oppression. At a concert to mark the Armistice last year I saw only a few audience members wearing a poppy, and most of them were the shamrock version commemorating the sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the Great War.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really been that susceptible to peer pressure, so that’s not the main reason for my not wearing a poppy. The main reason is that over the past couple of years the poppy has been appropriated by the likes of racist thug, career criminal and founder-member of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson):

I simply cannot bring myself to wear the same badge as this horrible racist gobshite, nor can I stand the hypocrisy of those politicians who make a show of wearing it while happily encouraging the rise of nationalism that caused all the suffering just a century ago. The message of the poppy is supposed to be `Lest We Forget’. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.

I have a lecture on Monday 11th November at 11am, when the traditional two minutes’ silence to mark the 1918 armistice is observed. Fortunately, lectures at Maynooth run from five past the hour until five to, so I will be able to observe this on my own before I start the lecture. But I won’t be wearing a poppy.

Is it disrespectful to the war dead to refuse to wear a poppy? No, of course it isn’t. What is disrespectful to them is to seek to reoeat the mistakes that led to wars in the first place.

The Royal Society really needs to work on its history of the telescope

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 30, 2019 by telescoper

An important corrective to frequently repeated fallacies about the history of telescopes in astronomy. The Royal Society really shouldn’t be making mistakes like this!

The Renaissance Mathematicus

One would think that the Royal Society being one of the eldest, but not the eldest as they like to claim, scientific societies in Europe when presenting themselves as purveyors of the history of science, would take the trouble to get their facts right. If, however, one thought this, one would be wrong. Last week on the Internet the Royal Society was pushing a slide show, under their own name, on Google Arts and Culture on the history of the telescope in astronomy that in terms of historical accuracy is less than one, as a historian of science, nay of the telescope, might hope or indeed wish for.

The slide show in question is titled, Silent Harmony: astronomy at the Royal Society: Discover how innovation in telescopes and other optical instruments changed the way we see the universe. Following the title slide we have another general blurb slide…

View original post 835 more words

Happy Birthday, Quaternions!

Posted in History, mathematics with tags , , , , on October 16, 2019 by telescoper

Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865)

Today, October 16th, is Hamilton day! It was on this day 176 years ago, in 1843, that  William Rowan Hamilton first wrote down the fundamental result of quaternions. Apparently he was walking from his residence at Dunsink Observatory into Dublin when he had a sudden flash of inspiration  and wrote the result down on the spot, now marked by a plaque:

 

Picture Credit: Brian Dolan

This episode  is commemorated by an annual Hamilton Walk. Sadly,  Broombridge (Droichead Broome) is near the bridge (Broom Bridge) where Hamilton had his Eureka moment and it is on the main commuter line from Maynooth into Dublin. This is ironic because Quaternion algebra does not commute. (Geddit?)

Although it is quite easy to reach Broombridge from Maynooth, I sadly can’t attend the walk this year because I’m teaching this afternoon.

P.S. Maynooth is also home to the Hamilton Institute which promotes and facilitates research links between mathematics and other fields.

Dinner with Wagner

Posted in History, Opera with tags , , , on October 13, 2019 by telescoper

Before dinner with the RAS Club on Friday evening I was looking through the display cabinets at the Athenaeum and saw this, the record of a dinner involving a member and guests on 23rd May 1877. The member was electrical engineer, businessman and Fellow of the Royal Society Carl Wilhelm Siemens and among is guests was Richard Wagner:

Dinner started early and was evidently a lengthy affair, much like Wagner’s operas!

That reminds me of a famous review of one of Wagner’s operas by a critic who clearly wasn’t a fan.

Parsifal is an Opera by Richard Wagner that starts at half past five. Three hours later, you look at your watch and it’s quarter to six.

P.S. There is a photograph taken of Wagner (whose 64th birthday was on 22nd May) during his visit to London in 1877: