Jul 252016
 

The Royal Observatory.Blackford Hill View, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ

A new observatory for Edinburgh was opened in 1896 on top of one of the Braid Hills. It was made possible by the largesse of James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres, a keen and extremely wealthy amateur astronomer, who left his instruments and library to the Scottish nation. The situation of the observatory gives it spectacular vistas over the city, Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. The observatory is still in use and is home to the University of Edinburgh Institute of Astronomy, an establishment of a UK Research Council and a Visitor Centre.

It is possible to visit the observatory, but only by prior arrangement. You can find out how to book from the link the the observatory’s website below.

Caricature of James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford (1847–1913).

Caricature of James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford (1847–1913).

Detail of the observatory buildings.

Detail of the observatory buildings.

Star design on the brackets for a downpipe at the Royal Observatory.

Star design on the brackets for a downpipe at the Royal Observatory.

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Jul 252016
 

Merchiston Castle.Merchiston Campus, Napier University, 10 Colinton Road, Edinburgh EH10 5DT

Now on the campus of Napier University, Merchiston Castle was once the family home of John Napier (1550–1617). It was here that Napier developed the concept of logarithms. Napier was inspired by the work of Paul Wittich, one of the assistants of the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, whose work was brought back to Scotland by John Craig, a Scot who taught mathematics at the University of Frankfurt an dem Oder. Logarithms have many important applications, including plotting the tranjectories of the rockets that took the first men to the moon.

No public access.

Portrait of John Napier, 1616.

Portrait of John Napier, 1616.

John Napier plaque, Merchiston Castle.

John Napier plaque, Merchiston Castle.

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Jul 252016
 

Camera Obscura.549 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2ND

Edinburgh is home to the oldest camera obscura in Britain, which first opened in 1853. The original proprietor of this popular tourist attraction was Maria Theresa Short, who came from a family of Edinburgh scientific instrument makers and had previously run a Popular Observatory on Calton Hill, before this was closed by the City Council in 1851. The camera obscura allows visitors to view scenes of the surrounding streets, projected onto a large table in the viewing room. Nowadays the other rooms in the tower are given over to a variety of exhibitions on optics.

The Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is open to the public on purchase of a ticket. See link below for times and prices.

Detail of the Camero Obscura tower.

Detail of the Camero Obscura tower.

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Jul 252016
 

Former Waterson's sealing wax factory.46 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9TJ

John James Waterston (1811-83) lived in a house on St John’s Hill, next to the sealing wax factory owned by his family. The house is long since gone, but the factory building still stands. Waterson, a surveyor by profession, wrote a paper on the kinetic theory of gases, which he submitted to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1845. It was rejected by the referee, Sir John William Lubbock, as ‘nothing but nonsense’. Only after Waterston’s death was it  realised that the paper had prefigured the later theory of Rudolf Clausius and James Clerk Maxwell.

John James Waterston (1811–83).

John James Waterston (1811–83).

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Jul 252016
 

James David Forbes' house.86 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 3BU

James David Forbes, who was born at this address, pipped his mentor David Brewster to the post of Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in 1833, much to the disgust of the latter. As Brewster was aware, Forbes’ appointment owed more to political connections rather than to his scientific reputation. Nonetheless, he went on to do important research on the polarisation and refraction of radiant heat. This work revealed the similarity of heat to visible light,  promoting the idea of a continuous spectrum of radiation. He also taught Edinburgh’s most famous physicist, James Clerk Maxwell.

The ground floor of the house is now a shop.

James David Forbes (1809–68).

James David Forbes (1809–68).

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Jul 252016
 

Site of the Luckenbooths.Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 1SG

In the centre of the High Street close to this spot in the 17th century stood the so-called ‘luckenbooths’. In one of these was the family home of John Keill. Keill deserves the blame for inspiring the acrimonious priority dispute between Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz over the invention of the calculus. In 1701 he accused Leibniz of taken Newton’s unpublished work on ‘fluxions’ and publishing it as his own, calling them ‘differentials’. Newton was convinced by Keill of Leibniz’s plagiarism and so began a long and bitter dispute between them and their followers.

1647 map of Edinburgh by James Gordon of Rothiemay showing luckenbooths behind St Giles Cathedral.

1647 map of Edinburgh by James Gordon of Rothiemay showing luckenbooths behind St Giles Cathedral.

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Jul 252016
 

College Wynd

College Wynd, Cowgate, Edinburgh EH1 1JH

It was close to here that James Gregory, the University of Edinburgh’s first professor of Mathematics, lived between his appointment in 1674 and his death in 1675. Gregory had invented the reflecting telescope in 1663. Although the design predates Newton’s reflecting telescope of 1668,  a successfully functioning version was not constructed until several years later. The largest working optical telescope in the UK, constructed in 1962 by the University of St Andrews, was named the James Gregory Telescope in his honour. It is still used by the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

No public access.

Portrait of James Gregory (1638–75).

Portrait of James Gregory (1638–75).

 

College Wynd from a map of 1647 by James Gordon of Rothiemay. The horizontal street at the top is the Cowgate. The middle of the three vertical streets is College Wynd, the main approach from the town to the University.

College Wynd from a map of 1647 by James Gordon of Rothiemay. The horizontal street at the top is the Cowgate. The middle of the three vertical streets is College Wynd, the main approach from the town to the University.

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Jul 252016
 

Arthur's Seat.Edinburgh EH8 8HG

It was on Arthur’s Seat, the great volcanic plug that overlooks Edinburgh, that George Sinclair (d.1696) tested and calibrated the mercury barometer he had developed for estimating the depths of mines. In his book on hydrostatics, published in 1672, he described his barometer as well as a diving bell he had invented. Sinclair was an important advocate of the use of theoretical knowledge for practical ends. Like his contemporary Robert Boyle, Sinclair was also a strong believers in ghosts and spirits, whose existence he saw as proof of the truth of religion.

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Jul 252016
 

Charles Glover Barkla's house.Hermitage of Braid, 69 Braid Rd, Edinburgh EH10 6JF

Now the visitor centre for a nature reserve, this was once the home of Charles Glover Barkla, who became the University of Edinburgh’s eleventh professor of Natural Philosophy in 1913. Barkla won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1917 for his work on X-rays. He was the first to demonstrate that X-rays could be polarised, showing that they were transverse electromagnetic radiation. Unfortunately his reputation was later damaged by his claim to have identified so-called ‘J-radiation’, a form of short-wave radiation incompatible with the predictions of quantum theory, which turned out to be spurious.

Open to the public.

Portrait of Charles Glover Barkla, Nobel Foundation, 1917.

Portrait of Charles Glover Barkla, Nobel Foundation, 1917.

 

Interior of John Glover Barkla's house as it is now.

Interior of John Glover Barkla’s house as it is now.

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Jul 252016
 

Max Born's House84 Grange Loan, Edinburgh EH9 2EP

Max Born, who became the second Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in 1936, was one of the founders of quantum mechanics. Born in Germany into a distinguished academic family of Jewish descent, he was forced to leave his homeland when he was suspended without pay from his post at Göttingen University by the Nazis. After short spells in Oxford and Bangalore he came to Edinburgh. In 1954, the year in which he retired to his native Germany, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics.

No public access.

Portrait of Max Born, Nobel Foundation, 1954.

Portrait of Max Born, Nobel Foundation, 1954.

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