John Tyndall

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John Tyndall

Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, Ireland
Death 4 Dec 1893 (aged 73)
Haslemere, Waverley Borough, Surrey, England
Burial Haslemere, Waverley Borough, Surrey, England
Memorial ID 117036980 · View Source
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Physicist. He gained notoriety during Victorian England for being a promoter of science. He discovered that water vapor and carbon dioxide absorb much more radiant heat than gases of the atmosphere (ozone) and argued the consequent importance of those gases in moderating the Earth's climate, hence the greenhouse effect. He also studied the diffusion of light by large molecules and dust, known as the “Tyndall Effect.” and he performed experiments demonstrating that the sky's blue color was the result of scattering of the Sun's ray by molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. Born to a poor Protestant Irish family, his father was in law enforcement. After a basic education in local schools, he became a surveyor in Ireland and England from 1839 to 1847, mainly employed by the railroad companies. In 1847, he taught mathematics at Queenswood College, a private boarding school. At this point, his interest turned from engineering to science, as a result, he spent his life's savings to earn a Ph.D. Degree in Science from the University of Marburg, Germany attending 1848 to 1850. He stayed another year to work with German professors Robert Bunsen and Heinrick Magnus, who were thought to be the most advanced experimental science instructors of the Victorian era. Returning to England, he was one of the most advance scientists in England, yet he had difficulty finding employment. In 1853, he was appointed professor of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution in London. He became friends with another physicist, Michael Faraday, who was known for his research in electromagnetism and discovering several organic compounds. While at Royal Institution, he gained confidence by presenting hundreds of entertaining lectures with demonstrations to audiences compiled of students, other scientists workingmen, and aristocrats including Prince Albert, as Tyndall continued his research. With the ability to hold the ears of his listeners, his lectures were on scientific subjects unknown to his audience. Although he had a strong, tough appearance from being a mountain climber, he became known as a sensitive person and would easily defend the “underdog.” With his scientific colleagues including Thomas H. Huxley, the X Club was started in 1864, which was a private club of nine members that exerted on the scientific and cultural climate of their time. Scientists did not work alone in a vacuum, but had others supporting their projects. According to documents, he played a hugely significant part in Louis Pasteur's research on bacteria. After the 1874 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Belfast in Ireland, he was accused of materialism and atheism for proclaiming that the study of the universe belonged to science rather than theology. He stated that matter had power within itself to produce life or as he referred, spontaneous generation. He was also involved with other controversies such as the effect of prayer, and Ireland's independence from England. He married Louisa Charlotte Hamilton, daughter of Lord Claud Hamilton and a devote Christian, in Westminster Abbey in London on February 29, 1876; he was going to be 56 years old that year and she 31. In the community, there was a discussion about his beliefs and being married in a Christian church. It was known that she helped him with his experiments, as notes state “our findings” but a lady did not receive acknowledgment for scientific research in Victorian England. Their marriage was a happy one and she enjoyed mountain climbing throughout the world with him. He invented an instrument to purify air, which later led to a way of preserving food. Bringing the state-of-the-art 19th century experimental physics to a wider audience, he published more than a dozen science books, along with articles on mountain climbing and religion. One of his books was “Louis Pasteur: The Vaccine Inventor.” He received five honorary doctorates and a member of 35 scientific societies. Mike Hulme's article in the professional journal, “Weather” May 2009, Vol 6 No. 5 is entitled “On the Origin of the Greenhouse: John Tydall's 1859 Interrogation of Nature.” In today's world, the importance of Tydall's research of 160 years ago on the greenhouse has gained much importance. James Bryant Conant's 1959 book, “Pasteur's and Tyndall's Study of Spontaneous Generation” explaining the close relationship between these two scientist and their research. While at the Royal Institution, he held the positions of Professor of Natural Philosophy from 1853 to 1887; upon Faraday's death, Superintendent of the House from 1867 to 1887; Director of the Laboratory from 1867 to 1887; and after retirement, Honorary Professor from 1887 to 1893. In England and Ireland, there are research academic scholarships bearing his name as well as research facilities such as Tyndall National Institute and the Tyndall Research Center for Climate Change. He died when his wife accidentally gave him an overdose of sleeping medication. Over his lifetime, he was a draftsman, surveyor, physics professor, mathematician, geologist, atmospheric scientist, public lecturer, and a mountain climber.

Bio by: Linda Davis

Family Members


In Loving Memory
John Tyndall
Scientist Teacher Mountaineer
Born 1820 Died 1893
Louisa Charlotte
his wife
Born 1845 Died 1910



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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: julia&keld
  • Added: 13 Sep 2013
  • Find A Grave Memorial 117036980
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for John Tyndall (2 Aug 1820–4 Dec 1893), Find A Grave Memorial no. 117036980, citing Saint Bartholmew's Churchyard, Haslemere, Waverley Borough, Surrey, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .