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British Industrial History

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Peter Guthrie Tait

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Professor Tait was a Scottish physicist and mathematician who helped develop quaternions, an advanced algebra that gave rise to vector analysis and was instrumental in the development of modern mathematical physics.

1831 Peter Guthrie Tait was born on 28 April 28, in Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland.

1852-54 He was a fellow and lecturer at Peterhouse College, Cambridge.

Tait took a professorship in mathematics at Queen's College, Belfast, Ireland. There he joined the noted Irish chemist Thomas Andrews in research on the density of ozone and the effect of electric discharges on oxygen and other gases.

1860 He became a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.

1867 Tait made fundamental contributions to the theory of quaternions, as evident in Elementary Treatise on Quaternions, which went through three editions. In collaboration with the English physicist Sir William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), Tait produced Treatise on Natural Philosophy, which traced the concept of conservation of energy to the work of Sir Isaac Newton. Their efforts were vital to the newly emerging concept of energy and its properties. After the publication of the Treatise, Tait concentrated on studies of thermoelectricity and thermal conductivity (the capacity for heat flow). He wrote The Unseen Universe with the Scottish physicist Balfour Stewart.

1868 His Sketch of the History of Thermodynamics was highly controversial because of its British bias.

1873 He wrote Introduction to Quaternions with Philip Kelland.

1876-84 He conducted a pioneering study in the topology of knots.

1878 A sequel to The Unseen Universe, Paradoxical Philosophy, was published.

1886-92 He published an important series of papers on the kinetic theory of gases.

1890-93 He produced classic papers on the trajectory of the golf ball.

1901 Peter Guthrie Tait died on 4 July 4, in Edinburgh.

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online