John Leslie’s Research in Heat and Capillary Action

John Leslie (1766 - 1832)

John Leslie (17661832)

On April 10, 1766, Scottish mathematician and physicist Sir John Leslie was born. Leslie is best remembered for his research into heat. He gave the first modern account of capillary action in 1802 and froze water using an air-pump in 1810, the first artificial production of ice.

John Leslie entered the University of St Andrews and studied Divinity at Edinburgh University starting from 1784. During the following years Leslie worked as a private tutor and prepared a  translation of Buffon’s Natural History of Birds, published in 1793. John Leslie continued his physical studies, published them in Nicholson’s Philosophical Journal and earned the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society of London for his work on Experimental Inquiry into the Nature and Properties of Heat.

During the early 19th century, Leslie succeeded John Playfair in the chair of mathematics at Edinburgh.[4] There, he published two volumes of A Course of Mathematics-the first, entitled Elements of Geometry, Geometrical Analysis and Plane Trigonometry, in 1809, and the second, Geometry of Curve Lines, in 1813. The third volume, on Descriptive Geometry and the Theory of Solids was never completed.

In 1813, John Leslie published A Short Account of Experiments and Instruments depending on the relations of Air to Heat and Moisture. This work was based on his invention of a process of artificial ice-making. Also in 1818, Leslie published On certain impressions of cold transmitted from the higher atmosphere, with an instrument (the aethrioscope) adapted to measure them which appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Leslie became a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and he was promoted to the chair of natural philosophy, which he held until his death. His famous work about multiplication table The Philosophy of Arithmetic was published in 1820. In 1823 he published, chiefly for the use of his class, the first volume of his never-completed Elements of Natural Philosophy.

During his career, John Leslie  based many of his contributions to the field of physics on the differential thermometer and Leslie was able to employ it in a great variety of investigations, connected especially with photometry, hygroscopy and the temperature of space. In 1820 he was elected a corresponding member of the Institute of France. John Leslie died in 1832.

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