Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but did you know that this tiny country of 4 million people has been responsible for many of the scientific advancements which our modern world’s technology is largely based upon?
The Irish Turn You On
The establishment of the huge hydro electricity station on the Shannon River in Ardnacrusha in the 1920s was the impetus for the creation of the world’s first national electric grid. We take universal electricity access for granted these days but less than a century ago the possibility of plugging in to an electric socket anywhere you are was a science fiction dream, yet one realized by the Irish.
Skyping? Thank Kelvin
William Thompson from Belfast is better known to science as 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, PRSE: the very first scientist to realize that heat, light, movement, and electromagnetism were all manifestations of energy. His contributions were of such importance that the absolute temperature scale is named after him. The next time you’re chatting with your European friends on Skype keep in mind that Baron Kelvin was also responsible for the first transatlantic telegraph cable back in 1866.
Wireless From Whisky to the Titanic
Guglielmo Marconi may have been born in Bologna, Italy but his mother was Annie Jameson from Daphne Castle in County Wexford which made him the great grandson of John Jameson, the founder of the famous whiskey distillery Jameson & Sons. His first wireless transmitting station was at Marconi House in the county of his mother’s birth, and established the first consistent trans-Atlantic radio telegraph service in 1907 in Clifden communicating with Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, on the other side of the pond. The Titanic’s two wireless operators worked for Marconi, and the ship itself was built in Belfast and departed from Cobh.
Eire Proved Einstein Right & Wrong
Ernest Thomas Walton of County Waterford was the first to split the atom and prove that Einstein’s amazing equation of E=mc2 was actually correct, becoming the first Irish citizen to win the Nobel Prize (along with his collaborator John Cockroft). However, Ireland was not solely in Professor Einstein’s cheering section as Albert had long refused to accept various aspects of quantum mechanics as he could not correlate them with his theological beliefs until John Bell from Belfast proved beyond even Einstein’s doubt that those quantum processes actually existed.
The Color of Your Irish Eyes
The next time you’re uploading a photo to Instagram of a magnificent colored sunset make sure to thank John Joly of County Offaly who invented the very first process which produced a color image from a single photographic plate back in 1895. Not satisfied with bringing color to photography, Joly also invented radiotherapy for treating cancer, as well as being the first to describe how radioactivity in rocks contributes to the heat at the core of the Earth itself.
Computing Was Born in Cork
While teaching at University College Cork in the mid 19th century, George Boole discovered a way to write mathematical equations which described logical processes. Nearly a century later his work was used to build an electrical circuit where a Yes/No logical statement was used to turn an electrical flow on and off, and it is that application which is at the heart of every computing device on Earth today. Boolean logic algebra of AND, OR, and NOT is familiar to anyone who has done an advanced web search.
But that’s not all…
- Robert Boyle of County Waterford was the originator of modern chemistry.
- Robert Mallet of Dublin was the founder of seismology.
- Humphrey O'Sullivan of County Cork invented the rubber heel for shoe soles.
- John Philip Holland of County Clare built the first successful submarine.
- Sir Hans Sloane of County Down invented chocolate milk which was later sold by the Cadbury Brothers.
- Robert Perceval of Dublin popularized adding carbon dioxide bubbles to water, leading to the modern soft drink industry.
- …and of course, Arthur Guinness invented the eponymous brew which is the best-selling alcoholic drink of all time.
So drink up and celebrate the Irish! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!