JAMES PRESCOTT JOULE, 1818-1889
JOULE is one of the most peculiar figures in the history of science. His quality as an experimenter has never been surpassed. The rapid maturity of his powers, his intellectual independence and clarity, and theoretical insight into the significance of his experiments might have made him an immediately fascinating personality!, But he seems to inspire respect rather than excitement. The student usually learns that he was a great experimenter who determined the mechanical equivalent of heat, and established the principle of the conservation of energy, the chief contribution of the nineteenth century to physical science. An account of the measurement of the rise of temperature produced in water by rotating paddles is followed by comments on the comprehensive nature and importance of the principle of the conservation of energy. The student tries to be properly impressed, and passes on to something less important, but apparently more interesting. What is the explanation of this tendency to admire rather than respond to Joule's extraordinary achievements?