Ireland throughout the ages has produced some outstanding scientists and with some of the best schools in the UK and Ireland there will be more to come. Listed here are the great scientists of this region or closely linked with it.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE, FRS, FRAS, FinstP 1943 Lurgan, Co. Armagh
Education: Lurgan College, Glasgow University, Cambridge University – it was during her research, with great tenacity, she repeatedly pointed out to her supervisor her detection of a new outer space signal. This was her discovery of Pulsars – one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century.
However, it was her supervisor Prof. Hewish who took the Nobel prize jointly with Prof. Martin Ryle. Dame Bell Brunell is known for co-discovering the first four Pulsar radio stars and as an advocate for women, black ethnic minorities and refugee students who seek to become physics researchers. Each of these groups are under represented in physics.
Earnest Walton FRS 1903 – 1995 Belfast, Co. Antrim
Education: Methodist College Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, University of Cambridge. Earnest Walton is our star modern day scientist – he won the Nobel prize for Physics in 1951. Working with John Cockcroft at Cambridge University Cavendish Laboratory they built the first linear accelerator and
carried out the first ever artificial “splitting the atom”. This world-famous experiment provided the experimental proof that Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation E = mc2 is correct.
John Desmond Bernal (JD Bernal) 1901 – 1971 Nenagh, Co. Tipperary
Education: Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, Cambridge University.
Bernal’s research laid the foundations of molecular biology. He worked with William Bragg and in 1932 he worked on the development of X-ray crystallography with Dorothy Hodgkin paving the way for the discovery of the DNA double helix, for which he should have shared the Nobel Prize. Working
with the British ministry of defence, he was scientific advisor to Admiral Mountbatten. He advised Churchill on the D-Day landings by designing floating prefabricated harbours as well as selecting the landing places in Normandy from his knowledge of medieval poetry. Peace was inmportant to him
and he helped found UNESCO and wrote the best-selling book ‘World Without War’. He was a friend of Picasso.
Sir Joseph Larmor FRS FRSE DCL LLD 1857 – 1942 Magheragall, Co. Antrim
Education: Royal Belfast Academical Institution, Queen’s University, Belfast, St John’s College, Cambridge University. While at Cambridge, Cavendish Laboratory, Larmor worked alongside J. J. Thomson and together they were an exceptional pair. Larmor made innovations in the understanding of electricity, dynamics, thermodynamics, and the electron theory of matter. His most influential work was Aether and Matter, a theoretical physics book published in 1900.
Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin PRS 1824 – 1907 Belfast, Co. Antrim
Education: University of Glasgow Following Sir Hans Sloane, he was our next President of the Royal Society. His statue stands at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens Belfast. A prolific researcher, writing more than 650 scientific papers
and 70 patent applications. He was presented with the title Lord Kelvin in 1866 after he helped to calculate the required thickness of the world’s first transatlantic telegraph cable. His achievements and investigations are many and include the demonstration of the reversible heat engine, and determining the Kelvin as the base unit of temperature, with absolute zero calculated as -273.
Mary Ward (née King) 1827 – 1869 Ferbane, Co. Offaly, Castle Birr, Castle Ward Education: Mary and her sisters were educated at home. However, she was of a renowned scientific family connected to Birr Castle where she was a frequent visitor. Mary Ward is described as Naturalist, Astronomer, Microscopist, Science Author, Artist. She made significant contributions to Microscopy.
Much of her work was done at Castle Ward in between having 8 children. She was a bestselling science writer, producing her own illustrations. Her books included ‘Sketches with the Microscope’ and ‘Telescope Teachings’. In 1869, Mary Ward was travelling in a steam carriage at Birr Castle when
she was thrown from the vehicle and killed. Her cousin, the Earl of Rosse, had designed the car.
Sir William Rowan Hamilton MRIA FRSE 1805 – 1865 Lismore Castle, Co. Dublin Education: Taught by his Uncle James Hamilton at Talbot Castle, Trim, Co Meath and then at Trinity College, Dublin.
William Rowan Hamilton was a giant in the field of physics for all who followed him – as a mathematician his theories, elucidation and development of new areas of mathematics gave James Clark Maxwell
the mathematical tools to describe electromagnetism and the properties of light in his famous Maxwell Equations. Hamilton discovered Quaternions and introduced the differential operator – del, to facilitate the special vector differentiation of Quaternions.
Robert Boyle FRS 1627 – 1691 Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford
Education: Robert and his brothers were fostered out to a local family and received private tuition until he was sent to Eton College. Famous for Bolye’s Laws of gases and one of the pioneers of modern experimental scientific method his scientific achievements are numerous. Boyle was in the era of needing to invent your own equipment to do your research, and inventions such as the vacuum pump have led to all pneumatics systems
since. He is known as a Natural Philosopher, Chemist, Physicist, Inventor and hailed as Father of Modern Chemistry. Robert Boyle was a celebrated scientist in London at the time of Hans Sloane’s arrival and their friendship was instrumental in Sloane’s early success.