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David Robertson

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Professor David Robertson (1875-1941)

1941 Obituary [1]

Professor DAVID ROBERTSON, D.Sc, died on the 8th January, 1941, at the age of 65.

Born in 1875, the grandson of David Robertson, LL.D., the well-known naturalist of Cumbrae, he early became acquainted with scientific subjects. He was educated at the Hermitage School at Helensburgh, and when he left he studied electricity and engineering in the West of Scotland Technical College and the University of Glasgow, where he gained the Sir John Pender Gold Medal and took the degree of B.Sc. in engineering. Later he was awarded the D.Sc. degree in recognition of his valuable research work.

After 2 years as lecturer in the Bradford Technical College, he worked, on original lines, for 38 years in Bristol, where he became Professor of Electrical Engineering in the Merchant Venturers' Technical College in 1902, and in the Faculty of Engineering in the University of Bristol in 1909. This position he held until his death.

He joined The Institution in 1900 as an Associate, and was elected an Associate Member in 1908 and a Member in 1912. He took an active part in the affairs of the Western Centre, of which he was Chairman in 1916. He was also President of the Bristol Association of Engineers in 1922. His 27 publications cover a wide field in engineering, and they reflect his character in attention to detail and accurate observation. The fact that he was confined to an invalid's chair by paralysis of the legs for the last 30 years of his life makes the achievement of his work so much the greater. With characteristic thoroughness and ingenuity he so adapted his methods of teaching and working that he was able to fulfil all his duties in a more than adequate manner. The beauty of his character was revealed by the way he bore this affliction, and his patience and kindliness were a constant source of inspiration to all who had the privilege of knowing him. No doubt his works training in the shops of Messrs. James White was responsible for his great interest in instruments, particularly clocks and stroboscopes. His stroboscope is in regular commercial use, and for the bell in the Bristol University tower he designed an entirely new device for the striking gear, a new escapement, and a new system for controlling the rate of the clock by means of wireless signals from Greenwich. His work on pendulums and escapements was very detailed and thorough. The majority of his papers were concerned with electrical matters, but in recent years he published a very important series of papers on the whirling of shafts and cognate problems. These did much to explain many puzzling phenomena in the running of loaded shafts, and have received high commendation from the special workers in that field. They are notable for the ingenuity displayed in devising experimental methods and for the criticism of previous work, much of which was mathematical. He was an advocate of the MKS system of units, and 36 years ago proposed the "Newton" for the unit of force, and the "Volt-second" for the unit of flux in that system. S.H.

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