Person: Eddington, Arthur Stanley
Eddington made important contributions to the theory of general relativity.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- In 1893 Arthur entered Brymelyn School in Weston-super-Mare which was mainly for boarders but he did not board at the school, being one of a small number of day pupils.
- The school provided a good education within the limited resources available to it and allowed Arthur to excel in mathematics and English literature.
- The level to which the school was able to take Arthur was, however, not very advanced and his good grounding in mathematics stopped short of reaching the differential and integral calculus.
- Eddington had not reached sixteen years of age at the time, and so officially he was too young to enter university.
- In his first year of study Eddington took general subjects before spending the next three years studying mainly physics.
- Although on a physics course, Eddington attended the mathematics lectures, being greatly influenced by one of his mathematics teachers, Horace Lamb.
- Before the end of 1905 Eddington had made the move to astronomy with his appointment to a post at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
- Eddington's first task was to complete the reduction of these photographic observations to determine an accurate value for the solar parallax.
- Eddington was a Smith's prize winner for an essay on the proper motions of stars in 1907, and he was awarded a Trinity College Fellowship.
- In 1913 Eddington was appointed to fill the vacant position of Plumian Professor of Astronomy.
- Although this distinction had become somewhat blurred over the years the appointment of Eddington was certainly seen as an appointment in experimental astronomy.
- However, the holder of the Lowndean chair died towards the end of 1913 and, in 1914, Eddington became director of the Cambridge Observatory.
- As we noted above Eddington came from a Quaker tradition and, as a conscientious objector, he avoided active war service and was able to continue his research at Cambridge during the war years of 1914-18.
- Eddington made important contributions to the theory of general relativity.
- In the following year Eddington led an eclipse expedition to Principe Island in West Africa.
- Eddington lectured on relativity at Cambridge, giving a beautiful mathematical treatment of the topic.
- In addition to his work in relativity theory Eddington also did important work on the internal structure of stars.
- Eddington had a long running argument with James Jeans over the mechanism by which energy was created in stars.
- Among Eddington's many books were philosophical works such as The Nature of the Physical World (1928), New Pathways of Science (1935) and The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939).
- Eddington's rather unusual view of the importance of the history of a subject comes over in these works.
- Kilmister explains how Eddington considered that epistemology is at the basis of physics, that physical laws and physical constants are the consequences of the condition of observation.
- It was Dirac's 1928 paper on the wave equation of the electron which had first set Eddington on the path of seeking ways to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity.
- Kilmister explains how Dirac's use of spinors had surprised Eddington and led him to study a generalisation of the Dirac algebra.
- Eddington was knighted in 1930 and received the Order of Merit in 1938.
- To launch out into unknown seas, to be venturesome even at the risk of error, Eddington felt himself called, and the reward of the pioneer came to him.
Born 28 December 1882, Kendal, Westmorland, England. Died 22 November 1944, Cambridge, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin England, Physics
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive