James David Forbes

James David Forbes, principal at the University of St Andrews from 1859 to his death in 1868, studied the contradictory topics of heat and glaciers. Despite familial pressure to become a lawyer, Forbes (with David Brewster’s encouragement) pursued a career in science, studying at the University of Edinburgh in the 1820s. While there, Forbes won many academic prizes and began writing articles on meteorology. He became a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of London at only 21 years old. He invented the seismometer in 1842 and contributed papers to the ‘Edinburgh Philosophical Journal’ anonymously under the signature ‘Δ’. He won several awards from his work, including the Rumford Medal from the Royal Society in 1838, and the Gold Medal in 1843. While he was principal of the University of St Andrews, he oversaw many projects such as the restoration of St Salvator’s Chapel and the reorganisation of United College finances. Similarly, he made important reforms at the University of Edinburgh during his time there as professor of natural philosophy. Whilst engaging in various ‘heated’ scientific debates regarding his work with ice and glaciers, it was his study of heat which made the greatest contribution to science and had a resounding impact after his death.

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