Top ten Irish scientists of all time

Ernest Walton, Irish physicist

Ireland certainly offers a rich cultural history, and science is no exception. Below, find some of the most famous scientists Ireland has produced, as well as their contributions to science in all forms.

Just months ahead of Dublin’s celebration of being named European City of Science 2012, reports on the top scientists who called Ireland their home:

1. Ernest Walton (1903-1997), born in Dungarvan, Co Waterford

Walton was a pioneer nuclear physicist, and is the only Irish science Nobel Laureate. He and John Cockroft “split the atom” (disintegrated lithium) using the first successfully built particle accelerator, built by Walton,at Cambridge in 1931.

2. Robert Boyle (1627-1691), born at Lismore Castle, Co Waterford

Sometimes referred to as ‘The Father of Chemistry,’ Boyle published The Special Chemist in 1661. In it, he questioned alchemy, the pseudo-scientific predecessor of chemistry. He taught that the proper object of chemistry was to determine the composition of substances. Boyle was the first to coin the term “analysis.” He formulated “Boyle’s Law” in 1661 which states that the pressure and volume of a gas are inversely related at constant temperature.

3. Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874 –1922)

An Anglo-Irish explorer, Shackleton was one of the principal figures of the Heroic Age of Antartic Exploration. In 1907, he led the now famous Nimrod Expedition to Antarctica in which he and three companions which marked the farthest south latitude at 88° 23′ S, 97 geographical miles (114 statute miles, 190 km) from the South Pole, the closest convergence in exploration history up to that time. Shackleton is known also for the Endurance Expedition or The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–1917), its last major expedition. Along with his expedition, he made the first ascent of Mount Erebus and the discovery of the approximate location of the south magnetic pole.



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4. William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1864), born in Dublin

Hamilton became professor of astronomy at TCD and royal astronomer of Ireland. Hamilton was a prodigy and knew 13 languages by the age of 9. He introduced the terms ‘scalar’ and ‘vector’ into mathematics, and he invented the method of quanternions as a new algebraic approach to 3D geometry. This turned out to be the seed of much modern algebra.

5. George Boole (1815-1864)

Boole was the first professor of mathematics at Queens College, Cork, today University College Cork. Sometimes referred to as The Father of Computer Science, Boole developed his system of Boolean Algebra while in Cork. This is used today in the design and operation of electronic computers and electronic hardware responsible for modern technology.

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6. George Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911), born in Dun Laoghaire

Stoney became professor of natural philosophy at Queens College, Galway, today NUIG. His most notable scientific work was his conception and calculation of the magnitude of the ‘atom’ of electricity, for which he proposed the name ‘electron’.

7. William Thomson (1824-1907) (Lord Kelvin), born in Belfast

Thomson is a world-renowned physicist who introduced the Kelvin scale of temperature, the absolute scale. His work on the conversion of energy led to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In 1886, he was also closely involved in the laying of the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable under sea between Ireland and Newfoundland.