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Sir George Gabriel Stokes, Bart (1819–1903): his impact on science and scientists

Ranford, P; (2020) Sir George Gabriel Stokes, Bart (1819–1903): his impact on science and scientists. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences , 378 (2174) , Article 20190524. 10.1098/rsta.2019.0524. Green open access

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Abstract

Lucasian Professor Sir George Gabriel Stokes was appointed joint-Secretary of the Royal Society in 1854, a post he held for the unprecedented period of 31 years, relinquishing the role when he succeeded T.H. Huxley as President in 1885. An eminent scientist of the Victorian era, Stokes explained fluorescence (he also coined the word) and his hydrodynamical formulae (the ‘Navier–Stokes equations’) remain ubiquitous today in the physics of any phenomenon involving fluid flows, from pipelines to glaciers to large-scale atmospheric perturbations. He also made seminal advances in optics and mathematics, and formulae that bear his name remain widely used today. The historiography however appears to understate Stokes's significant impact on science as unacknowledged collaborator on a wide range of scientific developments. His scientific peers regarded him as a mentor, advisor, designer of crucial experiments and, as editor of the Royal Society's scientific journals, arbiter of the standards of excellence in scientific communication to be attained before publication would be considered. Three brief case studies on Stokes's correspondence with Lord Kelvin, Sir William Crookes and the chemist Arthur Smithells exemplify how his impact was conveyed through the work of other scientists. This paper also begins consideration of why the character and worldview of Stokes led him to eschew personal reputation and profit for the sake of science and the Royal Society, and of how the development of the discipline of history of science has impacted on historiography relating to Stokes and others. / This article is part of the theme issue ‘Stokes at 200 (Part 1)’.

Type: Article
Title: Sir George Gabriel Stokes, Bart (1819–1903): his impact on science and scientists
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2019.0524
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2019.0524
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Crookes, Kelvin, Smithells, Stokes, historiography, journals
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Philosophy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10101865
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