Sunday, August 02, 2015

John Tyndall: 195th birthday

Climate alarmists don't care about science which is why you can't find an alarmist blog that would remind its readers about the anniversary of the birth of one of the most important scientists who helped to establish the "greenhouse effect".

John Tyndall was born on August 2nd, 1820, to the wife of an Irish police constable. The family had emigrated from Southwest England. He got schooled in technical drawing and land surveying which was helpful in the mid 1840s when he was paid big bucks for railway planning during a train boom.

When he was 27, he felt rich enough and wanted to grow intellectually so he began to teach mathematics at a boarding school. Along with another young colleague, Edward Frankland, they realized that the Germans were a superior race when it came to experimental physics and chemistry. They moved to Marburg a year later. Hermann Knoblauch (German Garlic) became an important senior collaborator of Tyndall over there.

In 1850 or so, he or they did some experiments with diamagnetic materials – crystals. Their work was a combination of down-to-earth experiments with some rather modern theory about the molecular arrangement that makes diamagnetism possible. Tyndall was elected the Fellow of the Royal Society. He was very influential – much of the influence boiled down to the excitement of Michael Faraday about Tyndall's work.

We sometimes talk about people whose work was undervalued when they were alive. Well, I would tend to agree that in the early stages, Tyndall was the opposite – a bit overrated guy. But he was destined to become a highly prolific scientist.

In the late 1850s, he started to do something where he made bigger advances, I think: the absorption of infrared radiation by gases. Just to be sure, the greenhouse effect was pointed out by Joseph Fourier in the 1820s but that work was purely theoretical in character.

When I say that Tyndall added some experimental dimension to the greenhouse effect, I mean a heavily experimental one, indeed. The gadget above is nontrivial and I don't even want to study how it worked. At any rate, he measured the absorption of the infrared (thermal) radiation by the gases in the atmosphere – nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane etc. – and was able to recognize what was the most important greenhouse gas.

This greenhouse gas is often underestimated by the greenhouse alarmists these days – although sometimes they sign a petition against the dihydrogen monoxide, too. ;-)

To a large extent, the experiments were straightforward but someone had to do them. This possibility to see what's going on played a marketing or educational role. People take science more seriously if they can see it – even if the science is totally obvious.

However, Tyndall's ambitions haven't avoided theory, either. He wanted the experiments to establish what was happening at the microscopic level, too. He figured out that there was some correlation between the formation of new molecules and the infrared (he would call it "ultrared": "infrared" became fashionable in the 1880s) absorption.

He had to isolate the effect of particulate impurities on the optical properties and also described the "Tyndall scattering [effect]" off these dust particles. He also observed thermophoresis, essentially the repulsion of these aerosol particles away from heat. Most of the experiments with gases have been done with liquids, too.

Tyndall has shown that the infrared radiation behaves much like visible radiation when it comes to reflection and other things.

He has also invented better respirators, studied the amount of CO2 in the air we exhale, found new ways to destroy bacterial spores, wrote a book about sound propagation in the air, and invented a better foghorn. We could go on and on and on – he has authored 147 articles.

The Alps and glaciers, popularization and wealth, religion

However, Tyndall was also one of the early Alpinists. He visited the Alps repeatedly and became one of the pioneers of mountain climbing as we know it today. During these vacations, he didn't stop being a scientist. He studied glaciers – especially regelation (melting rate depends on pressure) he became enthusiastic about.

He gave some hundreds of popular science talks and wrote about a dozen of science book. He belonged among staunch supporters of Darwin and the separation of the church and state – unlike most of his English colleagues and contemporaries who were more conservative. He emphasized that prayers were basically useless but wanted not to be considered anti-religious. ;-)

When he was 55, he finally married – a good age for marriage. Along with his wife, a daughter of a lawmaker, they built a summer chalet in Swiss Alps. He was wealthy at that time. When he died at age of 73 (overdose of a chemical to fight his insomnia), his wealth – accumulated mostly from the popular books – was GBP 22,000 which looks like a small number but it was actually equal to 275 average annual salaries of a police constable at that moment.

If he could have gotten the royalties for his scientific contributions to the greenhouse hysteria, he would have undoubtedly become wealthier than Bill Gates.

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