William John Macquorn Rankine - Encyclopedia

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WILLIAM JOHN MACQUORN RANKINE (1820-1872), Scottish engineer and physicist, was born at Edinburgh on the 5th of July 1820, and completed his education in its university. He was trained as an engineer under Sir J. B. Macneill, working chiefly on surveys, harbours and railroads, and was appointed in 1855 to the chair of civil engineering in Glasgow, vacant by the resignation of Lewis Gordon, whose work he had undertaken during the previous session. He was a voluminous writer on subjects directly connected with his chair, and, besides contributing almost weekly to the technical journals, such as the Engineer, brought out a series of standard textbooks on Civil Engineering, The Steam-Engine and other Prime Movers, Machinery and Millwork, and Applied Mechanics, which have passed through many editions, and have contributed greatly to the advancement of the subjects with which they deal. To these must be added his elaborate treatise on Shipbuilding, Theoretical and Practical. These writings, however, corresponded to but one phase of Rankine's immense energy and many-sided character. He was an enthusiastic and most useful leader of the volunteer movement from its beginning, and a writer, composer and singer of humorous and patriotic songs, some of which, as "The Three Foot Rule" and "They never shall have Gibraltar," became well known far beyond the circle of his acquaintance. Rankine was the earliest of the three founders of the modern science of Thermodynamics on the bases laid by Sadi Carnot and J. P. Joule respectively, and the author of the first formal treatise on the subject. His contributions to the theories of Elasticity and of Waves rank high among modern developments of mathematical physics, although they are mere units among the 150 scientific papers attached to his name in the Royal Society's Catalogue. The more important of these were collected and reprinted in a handsome volume (Rankine's Scientific Papers, London, 1881), which contains a memoir of the author by Prof. P. G. Tait. Rankine died at Glasgow on the 24th of December 1872.

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