CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 980
TitleJames Clerk Maxwell, physicist: correspondence with Peter Guthrie Tait, Professor of Mathematics, Queens University, Belfast
Date1856 - 1932
Extent1 file: 0.01 linear metres
Creator NameMaxwell, James Clerk (1831 - 1879); professor and physicist.
Tait, Peter Guthrie (fl 1850 - 1859); professor of mathematics, Queens University, Belfast.
Administrative HistoryJames Clerk Maxwell was born in 1831 in Edinburgh, and was educated at Edinburgh University and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He showed precocious talent, and had a paper of his read to the Royal Society of Edinburgh when he was fourteen. He was Professor of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen, from 1856 to 1860 but lost his post at the amalgamation of King's and Marischal Colleges. He moved to King's College, London, but retired in 1865 to live on the family estate at Glenlair in Galloway. He was drawn back to work when he was appointed first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge in 1871. His researches were in several fields of physics and related subjects, including electromagnetism and Saturn's rings, and tribute was paid to his work by Albert Einstein. He was keen to make science popular and certainly helped in this, as his prose was clear and intelligible, even humorous. He died in 1879, aged only forty-eight.

Peter Guthrie Tait was born in Dalkeith on 28 April 1831. He was educated at Dalkeith Grammar School and Edinburgh Academy, and then studied at Edinburgh University and at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1852 and became a Fellow the same year. He was appointed Professor of Mathematics at Queen's College, Belfast, in 1854, and held the post there until 1860 when he became Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University. Tait became acquainted with Lord Kelvin (1824 - 1907) around this time and they both worked on the 'Treatise on natural philosophy' (1867). His other publications include 'An elementary treatise on quaternions' (1867), 'On the history of thermo-dynamics' (1868), 'Lectures on some recent advances in physical science' (1876), 'Heat' (1884), and 'Dynamics' (1895). Tait investigated the properties of ozone and verified Kelvin's discovery of the latent heat of electricity. He also researched into the flight of the golf ball. Tait resigned his Chair at Edinburgh in 1901. Professor Peter Guthrie Tait died on 4 July 1901.
SourceThe manuscripts were presented to the University Library in 1932 by J.G. Tait, 38 George Square, Edinburgh, the son of Professor Tait. In his covering letter (MS 980/5), he gives some information regarding persons mentioned in the correspondence. 1 file (10 items).
DescriptionThree letters containing material on physics, models Maxwell has constructed, his treatise on Faraday's 'lines of force', Maxwell's correspondence with other scientists, friends, teaching and work being undertaken by students at Aberdeen University, and some humorous observations. Negative photostats of these letters (MS 980/4) and correspondence regarding their provenance and Maxwell's handwriting (MS 980/5-7) are also included. The three letters listed here were written while he was in Aberdeen to his friend of Edinburgh and Cambridge student days, Peter Guthrie Tait, then Professor of Mathematics at Queen's University, Belfast.
AppraisalThis material has been appraised in line with normal procedures.
AccrualsNone expected.
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsThe records are available subject to the signed acceptance of the Department's access conditions.
Physical DescriptionNo physical conditions affecting use of collection.
Publication NoteAppreciations of Maxwell's work with special reference to his activities in Aberdeen were published in the Aberdeen University Review iii. 193-213 and xxxiii. 3-11 and 102-110 by R. T. Walker and R. V. Jones respectively.
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