- James David Forbes
name = James David Forbes
caption = James David Forbes
April 20, 1809
December 31, 1868
nationality = Scottish
Rumford Medalof the Royal Society, (1838) Gold Medal of the Royal Society, (1843)
James David Forbes (
April 20, 1809- December 31, 1868) was a Scottish physicistwho worked extensively on the conduction of heat, seismologyand glaciology. Forbes was a resident of Edinburghfor most of his life, educated at the University and a professor there from 1833 until he became principal of the United College of St. Andrews in 1859.
He was born in
Edinburgh, the fourth son of Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet, of Pitsligo. He entered the University of Edinburghin 1825, and soon afterwards began to contribute papers to the "Edinburgh Philosophical Journal" anonymously under the signature "Δ" [ Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. XIX, p ii] . At the age of nineteen he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and in 1832 he was elected to the Royal Society of London. A year later he was appointed professor of natural philosophy in Edinburgh University, in succession to Sir John Leslie and in competition with Sir David Brewster, and during his tenure of that office, which he did not give up till 1860, he not only proved himself an active and efficient teacher, but also did much to improve the internal conditions of the university. In 1859 he was appointed successor to Brewster in the principalship of the United College of St. Andrews, a position which he held until his death at Clifton.
As a scientific investigator he is best known for his researches on heat and on glaciers. Between 1836 and 1844 he published in the "Trans. Roy. Soc. Ed." four series of "Researches on Heat," in the course of which he demonstrated that
tourmalinewould polarise infrared thermal radiation, by transmission through a bundle of thin mica plates inclined to the transmitted ray, and by reflection from the multiplied surfaces of a pile of micaplates placed at the polarizing angle, and also its circular polarizationby two internal reflections in rhombs of rock salt. His work won him the Rumford Medalof the Royal Society in 1838, and in 1843 he received its Royal Medalfor a paper on the "Transparency of the Atmosphere and the Laws of Extinction of the Sun's Rays passing through it."
In 1846 he began experiments on the temperature of the earth at different depths and in different soils near Edinburgh, which yielded determinations of the thermal conductivity of trap-tufa,
sandstoneand pure loose sand. Towards the end of his life he was occupied with experimental inquiries into the laws of the conduction of heat in iron bars, and his last piece of work was to show that the thermal conductivity of iron diminishes with increase of temperature.
His attention was directed to the question of the flow of glaciers in 1840 when he met
Louis Agassizat the Glasgow meeting of the British Association, and in subsequent years he made several visits to Switzerland, where he was particularly impressed by Bernhard Studer's theories, [http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0016%2FAdd.Ms.a%2F204 Letters from Forbes in the Whewell papers] , to William Whewell. Forbes wrote that ' [Studer's] merit has not been sufficiently recognized elsewhere partly owing to the jealousy of the French'. and also to Norwayfor the purpose of obtaining accurate data. His observations led him to the view that a glacier is an imperfect fluid or a viscous body which is urged down slopes of a certain inclination by the mutual pressure of its parts, and involved him in some controversy with Tyndall and others both as to priority and to scientific principle.
During these expeditions, he made many measurements of the
boiling pointof waterat various altitudes. [ [http://www.stat.unc.edu/faculty/rs/source/Data/forbes.dat Forbes' data] Column 1 is a serial number; 2, boiling point in Fahrenheitand 3, pressure in inches of mercury] This data set, published in 1857, is often known in statisticsas "Forbes' data", its utility being that:
*It illustrates how a
curvilinearrelationship between a dependent and independent variablecan be transformed into a linear modelby knowledge of the physical phenomenonobserved.
*It emphasises the importance of residuals analysis in
linear regressionas the residuals manifest an outlierthat is not apparent in a visual inspection of the raw data.
Forbes was also interested in
geology, and published memoirs on the thermal springs of the Pyrenees, on the extinct volcanoes of the Vivarais ( Ardêche), on the geology of the Cuchullin and Eildon hills, etc. In addition to about 150 scientific papers, he wrote "Travels through the Alps of Savoy and Other Parts of the Pennine Chain, with Observations on the Phenomena of Glaciers" (1843); "Norway and its Glaciers" (1853); "Occasional Papers on the Theory of Glaciers" (1859); "A Tour of Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa" (1855). He was also the author (1852) of the "Dissertation on the Progress of Mathematical and Physical Science," published in the 8th edition of the " Encyclopædia Britannica".
*"Forbes's Life and Letters", by
John Campbell Shairp, PG Tait and A. Adams-Reilly(1873)
*"Professor Forbes and his Biographers", by
* [http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blseismograph4.htm Forbes' seismometer] .
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