Campus curiosities 16 The electric professor, Glagow university

November 4, 2005

While the rest of the world relied on gas or candle, at the heart of Glasgow University's campus, night was banished by electric light. In fact, by Christmas 1881, number 11 The Square, the home of Sir William Thomson - Lord Kelvin - became the first to be entirely lit by incandescent lamps.

Glasgow's professor of natural philosophy was responsible for many advances in classical physics, from revealing heat to be a form of energy to drawing up the laws of thermodynamics. To his home he brought a host of innovations, including a scientific clock with a centrifugal governor and weights stretching down into the cellar - a timepiece unmatched for accuracy for 30 years.

Kelvin also patented the non-drip tap with conical valve seating, which is still used today. He wired up his home using the cores of telegraph cables wrapped in strips of beeswax and had lemon-shaped lightbulbs manufactured in Newcastle installed throughout. Three years later he developed the safety fuse.

The house is now the office of the vice-principal for physical sciences and engineering. The original light fittings were stripped out decades ago. The clock is still in situ - but it no longer works.

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