John Tyndall (biography)

John Tyndall: an ‘X’emplar of scientific and technological education; ed Padraig Hogan; (NCEA 1980). This contains biographical studies by N D McMillan and J Meehan, and a concluding assessment by W H Brock.

Introducing Tyndall as ‘Xemplar’

Cover Note from Ernest Walton:

Few people today know much about the career of John Tyndall who, starting with no special advantages, achieved in popular esteem a high position as a scientist. This success came largely from his great gifts as a lecturer who could explain scientific ideas in an aftractive way to audiences who had had little or no contact with science. Impressive demonstration experiments played a central part in these lectures and so he maintained and possibly enhanced the tradition established by his illustrious predecessors at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, namely, Thomas Young, Sir Humphrey Davy, and Michael Faraday.

His influence contributed much towards getting science recognised as an important part of a general education and towards getting student practical work recognised as important in the teaching of science. His best original work was on the motion of glaciers, the transmission of radiant heat through matter and the scattering of light.

The many references to the sources of their information given by the authors will be valuable to any reader wishing to acquire more details about particular points. I am happy to recommend the book with much confidence to all interested in the history of science and the lives of scientists.

26 January 1980.

E. T. 5. WALTON 1951 Nobel Prize winner in physics


Foreword by Director of NCEA

During recent recent years it has been widely remarked that one of the distinguishing characteristics of holders of NCEA awards is the close relevance to the needs of Irish Industry of the courses of study which they have followed in order to gain the award.

Very many employers and others have viewed NCEA certificates, diplomas and degrees as qualifications rendering their holders immediately employable, particularly in technological industries and indeed one of the criteria for recognition of a course of studies by the Council has been the “suitability for employment” envisaged for its students by the designers of the course.

The prominence of this concern for the acceptability of its awards in industrial and commercial life is a necessary, perhaps even an inevitable, feature of the Council’s early work when one considers that its main involvement has been with technological and business education, mainly at certificate and diploma level.

As the nature of the Council’s work becomes more complex however – not only in the fields with which it is already involved, but also in non-technological education and in the rapid expansion of degree level courses – additional perspectives are continually called for. These perspectives help to create and maintain the educational awareness which is essential to the identification of highest quality in new and developing fields of study among all parties involved in the process of course design and recognition.

Among such perspectives are those which focus on the educational context of learning as distinct from the vocational outcomes of learning. Here the experience of learning itself, in any particular field of study, is brought under consideration with a view to high- lighting the discoveries which advance the field of study and high- lighting also the manner in which students can be introduced to these advances.

The following historical study on the important but, until recently, much neglected work of Irish scientist John Tyndall is a fine illustration of this developmental process in the case of the natural sciences, and more particularly physics. In these pages one can trace the story of the emergence of physics from the older discipline of natural philosophy, its difficulties in establishing itself as a “respectable” field of academic study and the involvement of many of the most renowned nineteenth century scientists in this struggle.

I hope this richly illustrated book will be widely read and enjoyed not only by those professionally engaged in the teaching of science in Ireland but also by those both in Ireland and abroad whose business it is to introduce students to a disciplined study of any field of enquiry, and not least, by all those who have a declared interest in this enterprise.

P. MacDiarmada


Table of Contents:

Foreward / Author’s preface / List of plates

Chapter 1 Life and Work

Chapter 2 A Revolutionary Educational Experiment; Queenwood College, Hampshire.

Chapter 3 Controversy and Leadership; The Lecture Polemicist and Physics Teacher

Chapter 4 The Great Albermarle Street Conspiracy*; Towards the “X”propriation of the Scientific Aristocracy .

Chapter 5 Educational and Philosophical Work at the Royal Institution; Consolidation and “X”pansion of “X”power. . .

Chapter 6 Professionalization and Popularization of Science; On the Genesis of the Curriculum Subject Physics

Afterword / References / Index

* (Otherwise known as the ‘X-Club’)


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John Tyndall  inspired the name Tyndall Publications. You can read more about his life on our John Tyndall (Physicist) page.