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On this day in history in 1889, died James Joule.
Joule was a brewer and a physicist who established that various forms of energy are of the same essence and can be exchanged one for another, and from this formed the First Law of Thermodynamics that energy cannot be created nor destroyed.
James Prescott Joule was born on 24th December 1818, at Salford into a family of brewers, producers of Joules’ Ales. He was home tutored until aged sixteen when he was sent to Manchester University to study under John Dalton. After mastering the basics of arithmetic and geometry, Joule progressed to the study of electricity and experimented by applying electric shocks to the family servants.
After leaving university, Joule entered the family business as a brewery manager. He became interested in the idea of replacing the brew room steam engines with the newly invented electric motor. In studying the practicalities of this innovation, he wrote several scientific papers on which he contributed to the journal, Annals of Electricity. By 1840, he had stated what he called Joule’s Law, which expresses the relationship between heat, the current, which generates it, and the conductor through which it passes. By 1843, he had established the value of an amount of work required to produce a given quantity of heat, a unit he called a Joule, and discovered that heat was a form of energy independent of the materials, which produced it.
In 1852, when working with Kelvin, he discovered that a gas allowed to expand, without performing work, would lower its temperature. This produced the basis for the science of refrigeration, which allowed the transportation of food products across continents in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century.
Joule spent many years trying to calculate the mechanical equivalent of heat. After several attempts, he calculated the figure of 772.55 feet/pound/Btu, which in scientific terms denotes the energy required to raise a pound weight, by one foot in height, represented in British Thermal Units.
Joule’s obsession with his scientific work led to the failure of his brewing business, which closed its doors in 1878. Joule was able to continue his work with the aid of a civil list pension of £200 per annum. He died in 1889 at his home in Sale and was buried at Brooklands Cemetery. On his tombstone is inscribed the magical figure of 772.55. [Sale Brooklands Cemetery, Marsland Road, Sale, Cheshire, M33 3NR]
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