Person: Walker (2), Gilbert
Gilbert Walker was an English mathematician who was Senior wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge in 1889, and elected a fellow of Trinity College. His interest moved to meteorology and he worked in India from 1903 to 1924 becoming Director-General of the Indian Observatories. Returning to England, he was appointed Professor of Meteorology at Imperial College of Science and Technology. His interests included boomerangs, and the flight of birds.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Thomas Walker had been born on 1 November 1833 to John Walker and Mary Haslehurst at Dronfield, Derbyshire.
- On 11 September 1876 Gilbert entered Whitgift School in Croydon, London.
- In 1881 Walker won a scholarship to St Paul's School, a private school founded in 1509 occupying a site beside St Paul's Cathedral in London at this time.
- The headmaster at the time was Frederick William Walker (1830-1910), who was not related to Gilbert Walker, and the Senior Mathematical Master was Charles Pendlebury (1854-1941) who had been appointed to this position in 1877.
- St Paul's School moved to a new site in 1884, a area bordering the river Thames, in the middle of Walker's time at the school.
- Walker's interest in mechanics rapidly increased and he won the Smee Prize in 1885 for his essay on gyroscopes.
- On 22 December 1885 Walker was admitted as a pensioner to Trinity College, Cambridge but he spent his final two years at St Paul's School studying science in preparation for the intermediate University of London B.Sc. degree.
- In the late 1880s Walker had visited Australia and become fascinated by boomerangs.
- Not surprisingly, from then on he was known by his friends as "Boomerang Walker".
- In 1891 both Walker and Dyson were elected Fellows of Trinity.
- We have already seen in Walker's school report that his health was causing worries at that time and the stress of the mathematical tripos did lead to health problems.
- The paper was communicated by J J Thomson who may well have suggested it, for in conversation Walker often commented on the difficulty that applied mathematicians experienced in those days in Cambridge in finding something to work on, owing to the fact that their training did not involve any laboratory work.
- In 1895, his health now recovered, Walker was appointed as a lecturer in mathematics at Trinity College.
- Walker shared the 1899 Adams Prize with Joseph Larmor who submitted the essay Aether and matter; a development of the dynamical relations of the aether to material systems on the basis of the atomic constitution of matter, including a discussion of the influence of the earth's motion on optical phenomena.
- From about this time Walker began to apply for various positions.
- Walker applied for the post and was clearly a strong applicant having Lord Kelvin supporting his application.
- Eliot explained that he was seeking a person who had a strong mathematical background so, despite Walker having no experience in meteorology, his name was suggested.
- Aware of his lack of experience in meteorology and climatology, Walker decided that he had better gain some experience before moving to India.
- In India Walker worked at the Indian Meteorological Department at Simla where he had the ideal environment in which to develop and enjoy his wider interests.
- Scientific attempts to forecast the monsoon rains had started approximately twenty-five years before Walker's arrival in India, with official forecasts being issued beginning in 1886.
- Walker's first paper after taking up his post in India was Correlation in seasonal variation of climate (1909).
- This was the first of twenty papers by Walker with this title (actually he changed the title to Correlation in seasonal variation of weather part way through).
- Walker retired from his position at the Indian Meteorological Department and returned to England in 1924.
- For his work in India he was knighted on his return, becoming Sir Gilbert Walker in 1924.
Born 14 June 1868, Rochdale, Lancashire, England. Died 4 November 1958, Coulsdon, Surrey, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive