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Thomas Andrews

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Thomas Andrews (1813-1885)

1813 Thomas Andrews was born on 19 December, in Belfast, Ireland. He was eldest of the six children of Thomas John Andrews, a linen merchant of Belfast, and his wife, Elizabeth.

1835 Following studies in Britain and Paris, he received a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh.

1845 He was appointed vice president of Northern College in Belfast.

1849 He and helped to prepare Northern College for its reorganization as Queen's College, Belfast.

He was professor of chemistry at Queen's College from 1849 to 1879.

As a chemist and physicist he established the concepts of critical temperature and pressure and showed that a gas will pass into the liquid state, and vice versa, without any discontinuity, or abrupt change in physical properties.

He also proved that ozone is a form of oxygen.

1885 Thomas Andrews died on 26 November, in Belfast.

1886 Obituary[1]


Science has recently lost, in the person of Dr. Andrews, a zealous devotee and a successful investigator. He was born in Belfast in December, 1813; and, after a distinguished academical career in Glasgow and Dublin, he took his medical degree in the University of Edinburgh in 1835.

He did not allow his professional duties, however, to wholly absorb his attention. He carried out several researches of a medico-chemical and physical nature, and embodied his results in articles contributed to the leading scientific journals. Thus, in his first published contribution to science, he endeavoured to show that the blood of cholera-stricken patients contains less than the normal quantity of water, whilst, in another paper, he dealt with the electrolytic decomposition of sulphuric acid, proving that the composition of the gas evolved at the cathode depends greatly on the temperature of the acid.

Dr. Andrews, though of a highly nervous temperament, was a calm inquirer and a very patient experimenter. After his election to the Professorship of Chemistry in Queen’s College, Belfast, he became emphatically a laboratory man; and his pastime, as well as his delight, was his scientific work. His name will long be honoured among physicists for his two great classical researches. In the first of these he discovered the existence of a “ critical ” temperature for carbonic acid, nitrous oxide, ammonia, and other gases, and he established the important fact that there is no discontinuity between the liquid and gaseous states of matter.

In the second, he determined with care the thermal equivalent of the energy due to a variety of chemical combinations, such as that of oxygen with hydrogen, copper and zinc, and that of chlorine with phosphorus, tin and iron. The results of Favre and Silbermanu were published subsequently to those of Andrews, and show, in a striking manner, the accuracy of his determinations.

Dr. Andrews likewise took up the study of ozone some time after the discovery of that body by Schön-bein in 1840, and he had the merit of proving, by an admirable series of experimental tests (Phil. Trans., 1856), that, whether generated by the electrical machine, or evolved at the anode in the electrolysis of water, or by the oxidation of phosphorus in moist air, it is always the same simple body, viz., a condensed and highly active form of oxygen.

Dr. Andrews allowed himself a few excursions into the regions of history and politics; but he was happier in his laboratory note-books than he proved to be in his politico-literary publications.

In 1869 he gave the Bakerian lecture before the Royal Society, selecting for his subject “The Continuity of the Liquid and Gaseous States of Matter.” He was again chosen Bakerian lecturer in 1876, on which occasion he pointed out the further development of his favourite subject of investigation. It is not too much to say that the work of Dr. Andrews naturally and immediately led up to the complete solution of the great physical problem of the liquefaction of the so-called “permanent” gases. By his discovery of “ critical ” temperature, he showed why Faraday’s repeated attempts ended in failure, and prepared the way for the brilliant achievements of Cailletet and Pictet.

Dr. Andrews was a friend of many foreign savants, among whom were Dumas and Liebig. He was also a regular reader of French and German scientific periodicals. During his residence in France and Germany he applied himself to acquire a thorough knowledge of the languages of those countries, which knowledge he rightly deemed to be now-a-days essential to every English man of science.

Dr. Andrews was elected an F.R.S. in 1849, and was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as a corresponding member of the Royal Society of Gottingen. He was President of the Glasgow meeting (1876) of the British Association ; and, in the discharge of his duties, gave an eloquent review of the science of the period.

In 1845, he was appointed first Vice-President of Queen’s College, Belfast, which position he soon exchanged for the higher one of President. He held this office until 1879, when he resigned in order to spend his remaining years in quiet and seclusion. It is not improbable that he shortened his life by his idiosyncracy of taking but two meals a day—an early breakfast and a late dinner—and allowing himself no refreshments of any kind between meals. One would hardly have expected such an abstemious peculiarity from a man of his scientific attainments.

Dr. Andrews died on November 26, leaving behind him the reputation of an eminent physicist and a genial, warm-hearted friend."

See Also


Sources of Information

  • [1] Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
  • [2] Oxford DNB