Person: Fowler, Ralph
Ralph Howard Fowler was an English physicist and astronomer. He also worked on thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Ralph's early education was handled at home by a governess.
- At the age of 13, in 1902, Ralph won a scholarship to Winchester College placing second in the entrance examination (which apparently annoyed him despite the fact that he was sick at the time).
- Ralph's academic ability was exceptional at Winchester.
- At Winchester Ralph made numerous friends.
- A bit later they moved on to Glebelands, Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, but not before Ralph got in a bit of cricket, playing for Norfolk County for some time.
- In December of 1906, Ralph won a Major Scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, and he left for Trinity during Michaelmas term 1908.
- Needless to say, Cambridge was quite good to Ralph - or, rather, Ralph was quite good to Cambridge.
- After completion of his degree, Ralph took to researching pure mathematics.
- Ralph was not immune.
- Ralph himself was severely wounded in the shoulder at Gallipoli.
- For it was Hill who was ultimately the catalyst that brought Ralph's mathematical ability into the realm of physics.
- Fowler came in just as they began to test the instrument in the field.
- As talented young scientists joined the group, it came to be known as "Hill's brigands" and it was here that Fowler made some of his most endearing friendships, not the least of which was E A Milne, who wrote several articles and obituaries on Fowler both before and after his death.
- Fowler soon became Hill's second in command working with the Experimental Department of HMS Excellent on Whale Island.
- Fowler, being Assistant Director, was resident in Portsmouth while Hill traveled often to London often for commune with higher ranks.
- Hill eventually became a brevet Major while Fowler was made a Captain, RMA.
- Fowler recruited a long list of able mathematicians to join the group and, combined with Hill's inspirations, Fowler's mathematical ability led the group to a number of important works.
- Far from being a "paper-pusher", Fowler apparently was active in both the experiments as well as the laborious paper-writing.
- For his ballistics work, Ralph was awarded the OBE in 1918.
- In 1919 Fowler left the service and returned to Trinity, though he was to have a part in the newly formed Ordnance Board during the Second World War later on.
- This was when Fowler came under the influence of Lord Rutherford who had just been appointed Cavendish Professor.
- The two became very good friends and Fowler was eventually appointed College Lecturer in Mathematics in 1920.
- In 1922, Ralph became a Proctor at Cambridge which, being a Marine, he was well-suited for, finding himself chasing after undergraduates frequently and, on one occasion, injuring himself doing so.
- It was also in 1922 that Ralph began what would be his most seminal work.
- Having developed a new technique for approaching physical chemistry through statistical mechanics, the two, and later Fowler alone, justified a number of formulae and calculations performed by the likes of Saha, Lindemann, and Chapman.
- In 1922-23, Ralph established the validity of the dissociation formula for high temperature ionization.
- In early 1923, Ralph along with E A Milne, wrote a seminal work on stellar spectra, temperatures, and pressures.
- 1926 marked the publication of his most seminal individual paper which linked the gaseous degenerate state (obeying quantum statistics, co-discovered by P A M Dirac, who was introduced to quantum theory by Fowler himself) to white dwarf stars.
- Fowler's range of interests kept him going throughout the next two decades as he produced papers on spectroscopy, physical chemistry, what is now known as condensed matter physics (or solid state physics), and magnetism in materials.
- It must be said that Sir Ralph Fowler was a brilliant physicist.
- No less than fifteen Fellows of the Royal Society and three Nobel Laureates were supervised by Fowler between 1922 and 1939.
- Those who studied under Fowler had a tremendous admiration for him.
- It was Fowler who ultimately introduced Paul Dirac to the burgeoning field of quantum theory in 1923 leading Dirac to the forefront of its ultimate discovery in 1925.
- Fowler also put Dirac and Werner Heisenberg in touch with each other through Niels Bohr.
- This experience also made Fowler influential enough to affect the actions of Britain and her allies twenty years later in the second World War.
- During this later War, Fowler acted as a liaison between Britain and Canada and, later, Britain and the United States.
- Early in his career, after receiving his degree, Fowler took to examining the behavior of the solutions to certain second-order differential equations.
- When Milne divulged his thoughts to Fowler, Ralph immediately developed a new solution for different values of nnn and all types of boundary solutions.
- In this paper, Fowler showed that the material of white dwarf stars must consist of a gas obeying Fermi-Dirac statistics - that is, it must be in a degenerate state.
- Fowler's genius was in his ability to apply intense mathematical rigour to a variety of physical problems.
Born 17 January 1889, Fedsden, Roydon, Essex, England. Died 28 July 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