Arthur Eddington

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Arthur Eddington : biography

28 December 1882 – 22 November 1944

In popular culture

Eddington was portrayed by actor David Tennant in the television film Einstein and Eddington (duration 89 minutes), a co-production of the BBC and HBO, broadcast in the UK on Saturday 22 November 2008, on BBC2. The film touched on Eddington’s rumored repressed homosexuality. "The story we tell is of a man who couldn’t quite face the fact that he was gay."

Arthur Eddington is a primary focus in the short story "The Mathematician’s Nightmare: The Vision of Professor Squarepunt" by Bertrand Russell, a work featured in The Mathematical Magpie by Clifton Fadiman.

Honours

Awards

  • Smith’s Prize (1907)
  • Bruce Medal of Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1924)
  • Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (1924)
  • Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1924)
  • Prix Jules Janssen of the French Astronomical Society (1928)
  • Royal Medal of the Royal Society (1928)
  • Knighthood (1930)
  • Order of Merit (1938)
  • Hon. Freeman of Kendal, 1930 Who’s who entry for A.S. Eddington.

Named after him

  • Lunar crater Eddington
  • asteroid 2761 Eddington
  • Royal Astronomical Society’s Eddington Medal
  • Eddington mission, now cancelled
  • Eddington Tower, halls of residence at the University of Essex
  • Eddington Astronomical Society, an amateur society based in his hometown of Kendal
  • Eddington, a house (group of students, used for in-school sports matches) of Kirkbie Kendal School.

Service

  • Gave the Swarthmore Lecture in 1929.
  • Chairman of the National Peace Council 1941–1943.
  • President of the International Astronomical Union; of the Physical Society, 1930–32; of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1921–23
  • Romanes Lecturer, 1922
  • Gifford Lecturer, 1927

Biography

Early years

Eddington was born in Kendal, Cumbria, England, the son of Quaker parents, Arthur Henry Eddington and Sarah Ann Shout. His father taught at a Quaker training college in Lancashire before moving to Kendal to become headmaster of Stramongate School. He died in the typhoid epidemic which swept England in 1884. His mother was left to bring up her two children with relatively little income. The family moved to Weston-super-Mare where at first Stanley (as his mother and sister always called Eddington) was educated at home before spending three years at a preparatory school.

In 1893 Stanley entered Brynmelyn School. He proved to be a most capable scholar, particularly in mathematics and English literature. His performance earned him a scholarship to Owens College, Manchester (what was later to become the University of Manchester) in 1898, which he was able to attend, having turned 16 that year. He spent the first year in a general course, but turned to physics for the next three years. Eddington was greatly influenced by his physics and mathematics teachers, Arthur Schuster and Horace Lamb. At Manchester, Eddington lived at Dalton Hall, where he came under the lasting influence of the Quaker mathematician J.W. Graham. His progress was rapid, winning him several scholarships and he graduated with a B.Sc. in physics with First Class Honours in 1902.

Based on his performance at Owens College, he was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in 1902. His tutor at Cambridge was the distinguished mathematician R.A. Herman and in 1904 Eddington became the first ever second-year student to be placed as Senior Wrangler. After receiving his M.A. in 1905, he began research on thermionic emission in the Cavendish Laboratory. This did not go well, and meanwhile he spent time teaching mathematics to first year engineering students. This hiatus was brief.

Astronomy

In January 1906, Eddington was nominated to the post of chief assistant to the Astronomer Royal at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. He left Cambridge for Greenwich the following month. He was put to work on a detailed analysis of the parallax of 433 Eros on photographic plates that had started in 1900. He developed a new statistical method based on the apparent drift of two background stars, winning him the Smith’s Prize in 1907. The prize won him a Fellowship of Trinity College, Cambridge. In December 1912 George Darwin, son of Charles Darwin, died suddenly and Eddington was promoted to his chair as the Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy in early 1913. Later that year, Robert Ball, holder of the theoretical Lowndean chair also died, and Eddington was named the director of the entire Cambridge Observatory the next year. In May, 1914 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and won their Royal Medal in 1918 and delivered their Bakerian Lecture in 1926.