James Thomson Northern Ireland

Biography of James Thomson

James Thomson (1822-1892) was a graduate of the University and Regius Professor of Civil Engineering from 1873 to 1889. He was awarded an LLD in 1870.

Born in Belfast, the elder brother of William (later Lord Kelvin), Thomson came to Glasgow when his father, James, was appointed Professor of Mathematics. He matriculated to study Engineering and Natural Philosophy at the University in 1834 and graduated BA in 1839 and MA with honours in 1840. He gained experience working in engineering works and, with his brother, began research in the new sciences of thermodynamics and energy. He also collaborated with Lewis Gordon, the Regius Professor of Engineering at the University, on improving the design of water wheels, and patented his "vortex water wheel" in 1850. He became a consulting civil engineer in Belfast from 1851 until 1857, when he was appointed Professor of Civil Engineering at Queen's College in the city. He returned to Glasgow on his appointment to the Regius Chair in 1873.

Thomson became best known for his work on the improvement of water wheels, pumps and turbines and his research into the effect of pressure on the freezing point of water. He resigned his Chair in 1889 when his eyesight began to fail and was succeeded by a former student and assistant, Archibald Barr.


James Thomson
Engineer and Physicist

Born 16 February 1822, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Died 8 May 1892.
GU Degrees: BA, 1839; MA, 1840; LLD, 1870;
University Link: Alumnus, Professor
Occupation categories: engineers; inventors; physicists
NNAF Reference: GB/NNAF/P145540
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Record last updated: 7th Jul 2008

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Northern Ireland Northern Ireland
Place of Birth

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University Connections

University Roles

  • Alumnus
  • Professor

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