Arthur Schuster

Arthur Schuster

Sir Franz Arthur Friedrich Schuster FRS (September 12 1851–October 17 1934) was a versatile German-born British physicist known for his work in spectroscopy, electrochemistry, optics, X-radiography and the application of harmonic analysis to physics. He contributed enormously to making the University of Manchester a centre for the study of physics.

Early life and education

Arthur Schuster was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany into a family of merchants and bankers. Following their marriage in 1849, his parents had converted from Judaism to Christianity and their children were brought up in that faith. In 1869, his father moved to Manchester where the family textile business was based. Arthur, who had been to school in Frankfurt and was studying in Geneva, joined his parents in 1870 and he and the other children became British citizens in 1875.

From his childhood, Schuster had been interested in science and after working for a year for Schuster Brothers he persuaded his father to let him study at Owens College. He studied mathematics under Thomas Barker and physics under Balfour Stewart, and began research with Henry Roscoe on the spectra of hydrogen and nitrogen. He spent a year with Gustav Kirchhoff at the University of Heidelberg, and having gained his PhD, returned to Owens as an unpaid demonstrator in physics. Schuster later used his family's wealth to buy material and equipment and to endow readerships in mathematical physics at Manchester and meteorology at Cambridge. He also contributed to the Royal Society and the International Union for Co-operation in Solar Research.

After a further period of study in Germany with Wilhelm Eduard Weber and Hermann von Helmholtz, he returned to England, where his knowledge of spectrum analysis led to him being appointed to lead an expedition to Siam, to photograph the coronal spectrum during the total solar eclipse of 6 April 1875. This was an important appointment for such a junior scientist.


On his return to Manchester, he began research on electricity and then went on to spend five years at the Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. His status there was quite unofficial; he was neither a student nor a fellow. He worked with Maxwell and with Rayleigh. In 1881 he was appointed to the Beyer Chair of Applied Mathematics at Owens, by now one of the colleges of the new Victoria University. He succeeded his teacher Balfour Stewart as professor of physics in 1888. This appointment gave him the opportunity to establish a large, active teaching and research department. In 1900 a new laboratory, for which he had fought and which he had designed, was officially opened. It was the fourth largest in the world. The laboratory quickly became a serious rival to the Cavendish; see Manchester Science Hall of Fame. Much of this later fame was associated with Ernest Rutherford who succeeded Schuster as Langworthy Professor in 1907. Schuster resigned from the chair, partly for health reasons and partly to promote the cause of international science. He ensured that Rutherford would succeed him.

Schuster is perhaps most widely remembered for his periodogram analysis, a technique which was long the main practical tool for identifying statistically important frequencies present in a time series of observations. He first used this form of harmonic analysis in 1897 to disprove C. G. Knott's claim of periodicity in earthquake occurrences. He went on to apply the technique to analysing sunspot activity. This was an old interest. In 1875 Stewart's friend and Roscoe's cousin, the economist Jevons, reported, "Mr. A Schuster of Owens College has ingeniously pointed out that the periods of good vintage in Western Europe have occurred at intervals somewhat approximating to eleven years, the average length of the principal sun-spot cycle."

Schuster is credited by Chandrasekhar to have given a fresh start to the radiative transfer problem. Schuster formulated in 1905 a problem in radiative transfer in an attempt to explain the appearance of absorption and emission lines in stellar spectra.

Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Schuster family was subjected to anti-German prejudice in the press and, in Arthur's case, in some quarters of the Royal Society. His brother Sir Felix Schuster had to issue a statement pointing out the family's loyalty to Britain and that they all had sons serving in the British army. On the day Arthur gave his presidential address to the 1915 British Association meeting, he learned that his son had been wounded.

Sir Arthur Schuster was regarded by his contemporaries as a mathematical physicist of exceptional ability but also as a capable administrator and teacher, and an advocate for the role of science in education and industry.

Honours and awards

Schuster was elected to the Royal Society in 1879, and knighted in the 1920 New Year Honours. [LondonGazette |issue=31712 |date=30 December 1919 |startpage=3 |supp=yes] Other honours include doctorates from the universities of Geneva (1909), St Andrews (1911), and Oxford (1917) and the award of the Royal, Rumford and Copley medals of the Royal Society (1893, 1926 and 1931).

Schuster served as secretary of the Royal Society and was elected vice-president (1919–20) and foreign secretary (1920–24). He also served as secretary of the International Research Council (1919–28) and on the management committees for the Meteorological Office (1905–32) and National Physical Laboratory (1899–1902, 1920–25).


Further reading

* Beginning in 1871 Schuster contributed many articles to the Royal Society journals. These articles are available online at JSTOR and at Gallica.

* Arthur Schuster "Biographical Fragments" London; Macmillan (1932). - An attractive collection of reminiscences about Schuster's education and his expeditions with recollections of the scientists he knew.

* Richard J. Howarth, ‘Schuster, Sir Arthur (1851-1934)’, "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed 31 August 2005.

External links

*Arthur Schuster, "On Lunar and Solar Periodicities of Earthquakes ", [ "Proceedings of the Royal Society of London", Vol. 61 (1897)] , pp. 455–465 - Schuster's first paper on the use of the technique he later called the periodogram

* Arthur Schuster, "On the Periodicities of Sunspots", [ "Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A", Vol. 206. (1906)] , pp. 69-100. - Schuster's later paper on sunspots

* Schuster's ['EC/1879/19'&dsqDb=Catalog Royal Society citation] signed my Maxwell, Joule, and others

* Obituary in [ "Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society"]

* [ Obituary Notices : Fellows:- Schuster, Sir Arthur, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 95, p.326]

* There is a photograph of Schuster at the [
] and many more (as well as the X ray photographs he took) at [ Wellcome Images] .

* The story of Schuster and the medical use of X-rays is told at [ Sir Arthur Schuster A pioneer in the use of X-Rays]

* The position of Schuster at the Cavendish is described in [ Cavendish Laboratory: the First Ten Years]

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title=Beyer Chair of Applied Mathematics at University of Manchester
years=1881 – 1888
after=Horace Lamb
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