William John Macquorn Rankine
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William John Macquorn Rankine, (; 5 July 1820 – 24 December 1872) was in the first place a Scottish mechanical engineer and on second place civil engineer, physicist and mathematician. He was a founding contributor, with Rudolf Clausius and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), to the science of thermodynamics, particularly focusing on the first of the three thermodynamic laws.
Rankine developed a complete theory of the steam engine and indeed of all heat engines. His manuals of engineering science and practice were used for many decades after their publication in the 1850s and 1860s. He published several hundred papers and notes on science and engineering topics, from 1840 onwards, and his interests were extremely varied, including, in his youth, botany, music theory and number theory, and, in his mature years, most major branches of science, mathematics and engineering. He was an enthusiastic amateur singer, pianist and cellist who composed his own humorous songs. He was born in Edinburgh and died in Glasgow, a bachelor.
Born in Edinburgh to British Army lieutenant David Rankine and Barbara Grahame, of a prominent legal and banking family. Rankine was initially educated at home but he later attended Ayr Academy (1828-9) and, very briefly, the High School of Glasgow (1830). Around 1830 the family moved to Edinburgh; in 1834 he studied at a Military and Naval Academy with the mathematician George Lees; by that year he was already highly proficient in mathematics and received, as a gift from his uncle, Newton's ''Principia'' (1687) in the original Latin.
In 1836, Rankine began to study a spectrum of scientific topics at the University of Edinburgh, including natural history under Robert Jameson and natural philosophy under James David Forbes. Under Forbes he was awarded prizes for essays on methods of physical inquiry and on the undulatory (or wave) theory of light. During vacations, he assisted his father who, from 1830, was manager and, later, effective treasurer and engineer of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway which brought coal into the growing city. He left the University of Edinburgh in 1838 without a degree (which was not then unusual) and, perhaps because of straitened family finances, became an apprentice to Sir John Benjamin Macneill, who was at the time surveyor to the Irish Railway Commission. During his pupilage he developed a technique, later known as Rankine's method, for laying out railway curves, fully exploiting the theodolite and making a substantial improvement in accuracy and productivity over existing methods. In fact, the technique was simultaneously in use by other engineers – and in the 1860s there was a minor dispute about Rankine's priority.
The year 1842 also marked Rankine's first attempt to reduce the phenomena of heat to a mathematical form but he was frustrated by his lack of experimental data. At the time of Queen Victoria's visit to Scotland, he organised a large bonfire situated on Arthur's Seat, constructed with radiating air passages under the fuel. The bonfire served as a beacon to initiate a chain of other bonfires across Scotland.
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