Duration: 1 h 30 min
Distance: 3.37 km
Note: We would like to thank Dr. Mario González Jiménez, director of Scotland constituency, for kindly sharing the Glasgow Scientific Tour with us. It was developed thanks to the information provided by The Friends of Glasgow West.
1. Joseph Black Memorial – Joseph Black
This bas-relief was created in 1953 by the Estonian-Scottish sculptor Benno Schotz on behalf of the government council of the University of Glasgow to remember the chemist Joseph Black.
Joseph Black was the son of a wine merchant from Ulster who was born in 1728 in Bordeaux. He came to Glasgow with 16 years to study Arts. Black spent 4 years of partying until his father ran out of patience and convinced him to study something more useful: Medicine. Then, he was hired to work as an Assistant for Prof. William Cullen. Allowing him to learn all about the techniques and knowledge in Chemistry. Finally, he started his thesis on magnesia alba (magnesium carbonate), the combination of carbon dioxide, water and magnesium. Black, 24 years old, had a very a revolutionary idea- as, at that time, it was thought there were four elements: earth, water, fire and air -. He weighed the magnesia alba before and after conducting his experiments. He discovered the loss of weight from this compound when heated or treated acids. He pointed out that the difference was due to the release of a gas – carbon dioxide – which he called fixed air. Black realized that the chemical properties of the fixed air were not the same as the only type of gas that was thought to exist: “the air”. He discovered that by burning the coal, fermenting food and breathing are also fixed gas was generated.
In 1756 he was appointed professor at the University of Glasgow and began to study the concept of heat with the help of James Watt – Mathematical Instrument Maker of the university- who invented the steam engine. Black developed a calorimeter to measure the changes in body temperature as he applied heat to discovered the latent heat of fusion. Joseph Black was a very good teacher. Many students from all over Europe and America enrolled in Glasgow University because of him. It was so good, that when he moved to the University of Edinburgh in 1766, the University of Glasgow was left barely without Science students. He died in 1799 and is buried in the famous Greyfriars Cemetery in Edinburgh.
2. George Beilby’s House – Frederick Soddy
11 University Gardens
In this house the name of isotopes was coined for the atoms which, belonging to the same chemical element, have different mass. They were discovered by Frederick Soddy.
Frederick Soddy was the son of a London merchant of corn. He was born in 1877 in Eastbourne, a small town on the south coast of England. Soddy studied chemistry in Oxford. When he finished-with honors- he went to work as an internship professor at McGill University in Montreal where he met the New Zealand scientist Ernest Rutherford who introduced him to nuclear chemistry and helped him discover that pure thorium, in time, gave off radon gas. That way, they found that some atoms were unstable and that radioactivity was the effect of their disintegration, reaching to name two radioactive series. Here the uranium was converted into lead and thorium was also converted into lead. Soddy name this process as transubstantiation.
In 1903 Soddy left Canada to work with Sir William Ramsay at University College London. One day, walking around London, he was surprised to see in the shop window that they sold radios at 8 shillings per milligram. So he bought a vial with 20 mg of radium to studied if the same thing happened to thorium. So he discovered that radium emitted helium instead of releasing radon. This helium was the origin of alpha radiation.
Soddy could not work very well with Ramsay, who had a strong personality, so as soon as he could (1904) he left London and came to Glasgow to form his own research group. George Beilby, president of the industrial chemical society, invited him to live together with him and his family in this house. Beilby was a wealthy industrialist whose fortune came from his association with William Young in the oil and ammonia industry. He was very interested in his work and its possible applications. In addition to providing accommodation, Beilby got money for Soddy so he could buy Marie Curie radio to do his experiments. Eventually, together they would open a radio factory in Balloch, next to Loch Lommond, taking advantage of the clean waters of the lake to separate the element and sell it to pharmacists and researchers.
George Beilby was a great defender of women’s rights. One evening he held a dinner at his house and invited Dr. Margaret Todd, who had just published a biography of Sophia Jex-Blake, the first female doctor in Scotland. In the course of the dinner, Soddy related his latest discovery: he had observed that by following the decompositions of some elements, he was encountering atoms that had the same atomic number but different weight. Therefore, these atoms had to be in the same place on the periodic table despite being different. That is when Margaret Todd suggested the name of isotopes for these atoms, which in Greek means in the same place. In 1918 Soddy accepted a teaching position at Oxford University where he devoted most of his time to improve Science teaching at the university. In 1921 he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry and died in 1956. His motto, which governed his entire life, was “beauty and truth and duty, that’s all y’need to know.”
3. Lord Kelvin’s House – Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin
11 Professors’ Square
The physicist William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, lived in this house from 1870 until his retirement in 1899. It was built by the university and was one of the first houses in the world which was illuminated with electricity.
William Thomson was born in Belfast in 1824 and was the son of a mathematics professor at the Royal Institution of Belfast. In 1832, when he was 8 years old, his father was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Glasgow; that is why they moved to Scotland. Little William passed the tests to enter at the university with only 10 years, becoming the youngest student at the University of Glasgow. His career was meteoric and with only 22 years old, he got the chair of natural philosophy (physics).
As a researcher, Thomson had a wide variety of scientific interests, including thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, and he made important discoveries in all of them. He proposed an absolute temperature scale and made fundamental contributions to the field of mechanical energy and heat. He always looked for practical applications of his discoveries. Together with an industrialist named James White, he founded a company called Kelvin & White in which they manufactured scientific instruments and electric machines that made them tremendously rich.
He was responsible for the first transatlantic cable in 1866, between Wall Street in New York and the City of London. He also invented the marine compass which became a standard instrument for the vast majority of the great ships of the time. In 1892 Queen Victoria ennobled him for his scientific contributions and for his opposition to Irish autonomy. Its title, Lord Kelvin, took the name of the river that passes next to the university and that crosses during this tour. In 1899 he retired and moved to a mansion on the coast. He also re-enrolled as a student at the university, becoming the oldest student at the University of Glasgow. William Thomson died in 1907 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
4. The Hunter Memorial – William & John Hunter
This monument was designed by the Scottish architect John James Burnet and inaugurated on June 24, 1925. The monument commemorates the brothers John and William Hunter.
The Hunter brothers were born in East Kilbride, south of Glasgow, in the eighteenth century. William, ten years older than John, also studied medicine with William Cullen, Joseph Black’s teacher. Then he moved to London where he studied obstetrics. Soon, he opened his own practice in the English capital, where he began to investigate the anatomy of the pregnant woman, with the help of his brother John, who assisted him in the dissections. Eventually both brothers would become two of England’s most successful (and wealthy) doctors. William was named the personal physician of Queen Charlotte, George III wife. John also development his research on medicine; he described the growth of the teeth or the role of the lymphatic system.
The two brothers were inveterate collectors and founded their own museums – both called Hunterian. John’s is in London and William’s is in the University of Glasgow, just behind this monument. The Hunterian Collection of the university was the first museum in Scotland. John was also a bit extravagant and collected live animals, which seems to have inspired Hugh Lofting to create the character of Dr. Dolittle. John also inspired another great character in literature: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His house, like the character of Robert Louis Stevenson, also had two doors, one for his home and one for his collection, and his popularity and envy caused by his extravagances spread the obviously false rumor that he ordered murders to have more bodies to dissect. William died single in 1783 and his brother ten years later in 1793. John had a wife and four children.
5. Lord Lister Statue – Joseph Lister
Joseph Lister was born in 1827 into a Quaker family in Essex. He was a good student and he spoke perfect French and German. He went to university at University College London, one of the few universities that allowed Quakers. There, he studied botany and then medicine, a career that ended in 1853. He moved to Edinburgh, where he became the assistant of the best surgeon in Scotland, James Syme. He married his daughter, Agnes, and as a honeymoon they enjoyed a tour for 3 months by several medical institutes in France and Germany. A maybe not too romantic honeymoon, but that suits them, as Agnes was in love with surgery and Lister and was always her assistant in the operating room. In 1861 he obtained a surgeon position at the Royal Infirmary of Glasgow and a professor at the University of Glasgow.
It was during his years in Glasgow that he carried out most of his research. Inspired by Louis Pasteur’s germ theory-food did not get bad if it was heated or treated with chemicals to kill them-Lister was the first to propose that the infections had a bacterial origin and he began to investigate what chemicals could act as disinfectants.
It is important to know under what conditions the surgery was at that time to understand the revolution that Lister carried out. At the time, it was thought that the origin of the infections was the stale air, so hospitals were ventilated every day at noon worsen pneumonia patient’s situation. Moreover, the doctors did not follow any hygiene measures. Lister tested the disinfection with different chemical compounds and discovered that if he sprayed the instruments of the surgery with a solution of carbolic acid –phenol the ratio of patients surviving the operations rise considerably. The same thing happened if the surgeon washed his hands and wore gloves treated with his solution before operating. One day, a 7-year-old boy was brought to Lister with so deeps wounds in his leg that other doctors recommend his amputation. However, Lister applied phenol in the wounds and wrapped them with clean and disinfected bandages. Four days later, when removing the bandages, there was no infection and six weeks later the bones had been perfectly joined. With this case Lister gained a great reputation and his theory was immediately accepted. Lister was appointed professor of the University of Edinburgh in 1869 and in 1881 he moved to London, where he improved the surgical technique of mastectomy. In 1893, during a vacation in Italy, Agnes passed away and Lister decided to retire from medicine. He died in 1912 at his country house in Kent. At his death the Royal Infirmary wanted to pay tribute to him with this statue designed by George Henry Paulin that, due to the Great War, could not be melted and placed in the Kelvingrove Park until 1924.
6. Stewart Memorial Fountain – Robert Stewart
This fountain was built in 1872 by the architect James Sellers and the sculptor John Mossman. It was erected in honor of Robert Stewart who was the provost of Glasgow, that is to say, the mayor between the years 1851 and 1854. He was a pioneer of public health and during his tenure he managed to build a canalization canal to bring water from Loch Katrine to Glasgow to fight waterborne diseases, mainly typhus and cholera. The work was completed in 1859 and its effectiveness was quickly proven during the great epidemic of cholera and British typhus of 1866 in which only 55 people died in Glasgow. By comparison, during the 1832 epidemic, more than 4,000 died, despite the fact that Glasgow had half the population.
The fountain is built in 1872 of granite and sandstone and is adorned with a figure of broce of the Lady of the Lake, protagonist of a poem by Sir Walter Scott. At the base, you can see the bust of Stewart, the shield of Glasgow and the one of Scotland. Other decorations are the symbols of the zodiac and the fauna of the Trossachs region, where Lake Katrine is located. The fountain was restored in 2009 to mark the 150th anniversary of Stewar’s courageous work.
7. Archibald Young’s House – Albert Einstein
5, Park Gardens
Archibald Young was the Royal Professor of Surgery at the University of Glasgow between 1924 and 1939. Archibald had been a surgeon during the Second Boer War and also in the First World War, during which he revolutionized the treatment of bullet wounds, although his specialty was neurosurgery and pain management. The reason why the tour goes through his house is because, this man, besides being a great surgeon, was in charge of housing Marie Curie and Albert Einstein on his visits to Glasgow and at the entrance of his house he took the famous photo of Einstein smoking his pipe -Mrs Young did not let smoking inside his house-. Einstein visited Glasgow in June 1933, where he received an honorary doctorate from the university and at the same time took refuge from the instability that had caused the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. He also taught the Gibson Lecture in the Bute Hall of the University, where he spoke about the theory of relativity and the history of his scientific work.
8. Free Church College – John Kerr
30 Lynedoch Street
All the towers that you see in this place belong to the facilities of the College of the Free Church of Scotland. The building with the three towers-two twins and a Neo-Romanesque campanile-was designed by Charles Wilson in 1857 and was where the classes were held. The fourth tower – perpendicular neogothic style – belonged to the Park Church, the campus church that was built at the same time and partially demolished in 1968.
The most important professor of this college was the Reverend John Kerr. John Kerr was born in 1824 in Ardrossan. In 1841 he enrolled as a theology student at the University of Glasgow. He also enrolled in some science subjects, becoming very close to the professor, William Thompson, six months older than him. When finishing his studies, he was named Reverend, although he hardly exercised as such. He began teaching mathematics and physics at the school of teachers of the Free Church of Scotland that was in this building and continued collaborating with his friend, the future Lord Kelvin, in new experiments. In 1875, in the laboratory of this college, he discovered that by applying an electric field to a material it became birefringent,which meant that is possible to control the path of a ray of light with an electrical circuit. Thanks to their discovery-seeked for years by Faraday without success-, today we can enjoy television or fiber optic communication, among other examples. John Kerr was also one of the greatest defenders of the metric system in the British Empire, although as you can see every day was not very successful.
John Kerr and Lord Kelvin were lifelong friends literally, since they both died in 1907 four months apart. John Kerr is buried in the Necropolis of Glasgow with his wife.
9. William Ramsey’s house – William Ramsey
2 Queen Crescent
William Ramsey was born in this house in 1852. He was the son of a civil engineer and given the wealthy position of his family he was educated at the Glasgow Academy, one of the best schools in the city. Located next to the Kelvin River in Kelvinbridge, is a Harry Potter type kind of school in which four houses compete among each other. When he was a child, Ramsey wanted to be a chemist and as soon as he finished school he enrolled in the University of Glasgow to achieve his dream. In addition, to learn more, in the afternoons he worked as an apprentice in the analysis laboratory of Robert Tatlock, located on George Street, more or less where the University of Strathclyde is now located. William Ramsey had a lot of talent for experiments and great self-esteem, so in the middle of his studies he left and went to Heidelberg, Germany, to tried to become a student of the most important chemist of the time, Robert Bunsen, famous for create the homonymous cigarette lighter. After six months trying it, he did not succeed and he end up doing his thesis with Wilhelm Rudolph Fittig at the University of Tübingen. In 1872, already a doctor, he returned to Glasgow and began to work first as a professor at Anderson College, the beggining of what is now the University of Strathclyde and then at the University of Glasgow. There he investigated the volume occupied by different compounds at their point of boiling. This work would give him a great ability to handle gases, which would be very useful for his later discoveries.
In 1880 he moved to Bristol and in 1887 to London where one day, at a seminar of physicist William Strutt, better known as Lord Rayleigh, he heard that synthetic nitrogen was lighter than nitrogen isolated from the atmosphere. Ramsay guessed that it was because the atmospheric nitrogen must be contaminated with a heavier gas and went to work to try to isolate it. Six months later he wrote a letter to Rayleigh informing him that he had managed to isolate a new gas from atmospheric nitrogen and that gas appeared to be completely inert, so he had called it argon, which is vague in Greek. After this discovery he continued his experiments and soon discovered other gases in the air: neon, krypton and xenon. He also characterized for the first time helium, a gas that was only known to exist in the sun because it could be deduced from its spectrum. For all this he won the Nobel Prize in 1904.
After the Nobel, he devoted himself mainly to collecting prizes, teaching and making money advising companies. That’s where his main failure as a scientist comes from. One company paid him a large sum of money to approve a method to extract gold from seawater. The confidence that generated its approval caused many people to invest their money in the company, which began buying land on the coast for their factories. However, over time it was discovered that the system was a pyramid scheme. After this loss of prestige, Ramsay returned to the investigation and with Frederick Soddy detected helium in the emanations of the radio. Of the entire column of noble gases in the periodic table, the only element he did not discover was radon, although he spent a lot of time researching it. Perhaps the radioactivity of this gas caused the nasal cancer that ended his life in 1916.