John Scott Russell - Encyclopedia

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JOHN SCOTT RUSSELL (1808-1882), British engineer, was born in 1808 near Glasgow, a "son of the manse," and was at first destined for the ministry. But this intention on his father's part was changed in consequence of the boy's early leanings towards practical science. He attended in succession the universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow, - taking his degree in the last-named at the age of sixteen. After spending a couple of years in workshops, he settled in Edinburgh as a lecturer on science, and soon attracted large classes. In 1832-33 he was engaged to give the natural philosophy course at the university, the chair having become vacant by the death of Sir John Leslie. In the following year he began his remarkable series of observations on waves. Having been consulted as to the possibility of utilizing steam-navigation on the Edinburgh & Glasgow canal, he replied that the question could not be answered without experiments, which he was willing to undertake if a portion of the canal were placed at his disposal. The results of this inquiry are to be found in the Trans. Roy. Soc. Ed. (vol. xiv.), and in the British Association Reports (seventh meeting). The existence of the long wave, or wave of translation, with many of its most important features, was here first recognized, and it was clearly pointed out why there is a special rate, depending on the depth of the water, at which a canal-boat can be towed at the least expenditure of effort by the horse. The elementary mathematical theory of the long wave was soon supplied by commentators on Scott Russell's work, and a more complete investigation was subsequently. given by Sir G. G. Stokes. Russell indulged in many extraordinary and groundless speculations, some of which were published in a posthumous volume, The Wave of Translation (1885). His observations led him to propose and experiment on a new system of shaping vessels, known as the wave system, which culminated in the building of the "Great Eastern." His activity and ingenuity were also displayed in many other fields, - steam-coaches for roads, improvements in boilers and in marine engines, the immense iron dome of the Vienna Exhibition, cellular double bottoms for iron ships, &c. With Mr Stafford Northcote (afterwards Lord Iddesleigh), he was joint-secretary of the Great Exhibition of 1851; and he was one of the chief founders of the Institution of Naval Architects. He died at Ventnor on the 8th of June 1882.

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