John Tyndall was a great scientist, describing the Tyndall Effect among other achievements in his field of physics. However, his great genius was in making and keeping friends. I believe that the X Club wouldn’t have come into existence without the good offices of John Tyndall.
We live in the sky, not under it – John Tyndall
He was a great friend to Thomas Hirst, Edward Frankland,Michael Faraday, and a supporter of science in general. He was a draftsman, surveyor, physics professor, mathematician, geologist, atmospheric scientist, public lecturer, mountaineer, science teacher, science writer, and as a science popularizer and communicator, Tyndall lectured on the benefits of a clear separation between science and religion. It leaves me kind of breathless when I look at that list!
A quick highlight of his scientific achievements:
- The Tyndall Effect: he described how light is scattered by particles in a colloid or in a very fine suspension. This effect is why the sky is blue.
- He studied and described the effects of radiant heat (infra-red radiation) on gases in the atmosphere and on gases and liquids in the laboratory.
- He proved that the principal properties of visible light can be reproduced for infra-red radiation – namely reflection, refraction, diffraction, polarisation, depolarisation, double refraction, and rotation in a magnetic field.
- He was the first to observe and report upon the phenomenon of thermophoresis in aerosols; thermophoresis is the movement of particles caused by a heat gradient.
- He invented a better fireman’s respirator, a hood that filtered smoke and noxious gas from air, as a result of his studies. For that alone, he should be praised.
- His studies on the atmosphere meant he was able to invent a better foghorn.
- He studied and described glaciers, and especially glacier motion.
A quick highlight of his achievements as a scientific philosopher and educator:
- He supported the separation of science and religion, for the sake of clarity for both. He wasn’t anti-religious, but he sincerely believed the underlying discourse of logic and rationality for science had no overlap or involvement with the discourse of spirituality for religion.
- He was among the first scientist to describe the Greenhouse Effect.
- He wrote many textbooks; his scientific tutorials for those people without a scientific background became so popular that the royalties became a comfortable source of income.
- He was a popular lecturer, as he often gave demonstrations of physics that were both entertaining and educational.
Although he received five honorary doctorates and was an honorary member of thirty-five scientific societies, Tyndall was never offered national honours. This was probably due to the controversy he often created about his opinions on science. Most famous of these controversies was his Belfast Address to British Association for the Advancement of Science. The speech gave a favourable account of the history of evolutionary theories, mentioned Darwin by name, and concluded by asserting that religious sentiment should not be permitted to “intrude on the region of knowledge, over which it holds no command”.