Kelvin’s Desk

I spent a few days this week up in Glasgow (I am beginning to realize I prefer Scottish cities to English ones, except for London itself), helping evaluate the work being done up there as well as in Cardiff and Strathclyde to search for gravitational radiation using experiments like LIGO (in the US) and GEO (in Europe). Aside from doing my peer-review part for the STFC (the new funding council created out of the old PPARC and CCLRC agencies), I got to spend a few minutes sitting at Lord Kelvin‘s desk.

Me at Kelvin's desk

Kelvin (born William Thomson; he took his Lordship from the Kelvin River next to the University of Glasgow) was part of the 19th-Century flowering of physics that, in a sense, consolidated what we now call “classical physics”, at the same time leaving open the necessity for “modern physics” that would be exploited by Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and the rest. Kelvin’s particular contributions were largely in the realm of thermodynamics: the physics behind heat and energy, crucial, in particular, to the 19th-Century industrial revolution alongside the scientific one; he also had a played a crucial in the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cables, presaging our 20th-Century communications and information revolutions.

On an only-vaguely related note, one of the topics discussed in Glasgow was the expected signal from a pair of binary black holes, spiralling in towards one another and releasing huge amounts of gravitational radiation. My friend and colleague Janna Levin worked to understand the dynamics of that inspiral (engendering some controversy about its possible chaotic nature). More recently, Janna has written a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which has just won the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for “an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose debut work… represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.”
You can hear more direct from Janna in this interview on PRI’s Studio 360. Congratulations to Janna!

2 responses to “Kelvin’s Desk”

  1. Brett avatar

    But where did he put his computer? Looks a bit cramped. He could have had a laptop, I suppose ..

  2. Andy Lawrence avatar

    One of my favourite desks Andrew, and I shall be visiting it myself on Thursday. Next time you visit me in Auld Reekie I can let you sit at C.G.Barkla’s desk. (Nobel prize 1917, proved X-rays are transverse waves). Or if you are really good, Richard Kenway will let you peek at Max Born’s box file of dodgy preprints, labelled “Idiots”.