- Category : Physicist
- Type : GE
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Prevention 2
James Prescott Joule FRS (24 December 1818 – 11 October 1889) was an English physicist and brewer, born in Salford, Lancashire. Joule studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work (see energy). This led to the Law of conservation of energy, and this led to the development of the First law of thermodynamics. The SI derived unit of energy, the joule, is named for James Joule. He worked with Lord Kelvin to develop the absolute scale of temperature. Joule also made observations of magnetostriction, and he found the relationship between the current through a resistor and the heat dissipated, which is now called Joule's first law.
The mechanical equivalent of heat
Joule wrote in his 1845 paper:
... the mechanical power exerted in turning a magneto-electric machine is converted into the heat evolved by the passage of the currents of induction through its coils; and, on the other hand, that the motive power of the electro-magnetic engine is obtained at the expense of the heat due to the chemical reactions of the battery by which it is worked.
Joule here adopts the language of vis viva (energy), possibly because Hodgkinson had read a review of Ewart's On the measure of moving force to the Literary and Philosophical Society in April 1844.
Further experiments and measurements by Joule led him to estimate the mechanical equivalent of heat as 838 ft·lbf of work to raise the temperature of a pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. He announced his results at a meeting of the chemical section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Cork in 1843 and was met by silence.
Joule was undaunted and started to seek a purely mechanical demonstration of the conversion of work into heat. By forcing water through a perforated cylinder, he was able to measure the slight viscous heating of the fluid. He obtained a mechanical equivalent of 770 ft·lbf/Btu (4.14 J/cal). The fact that the values obtained both by electrical and purely mechanical means were in agreement to at least one order of magnitude was, to Joule, compelling evidence of the reality of the convertibility of work into heat.
Joule now tried a third route. He measured the heat generated against the work done in compressing a gas. He obtained a mechanical equivalent of 823 ft·lbf/Btu (4.43 J/cal). In many ways, this experiment offered the easiest target for Joule's critics but Joule disposed of the anticipated objections by clever experimentation. However, his paper was rejected by the Royal Society and he had to be content with publishing in the Philosophical Magazine. In the paper he was forthright in his rejection of the caloric reasoning of Carnot and Émile Clapeyron, but his theological motivations also became evident:
I conceive that this theory ... is opposed to the recognised principles of philosophy because it leads to the conclusion that vis viva may be destroyed by an improper disposition of the apparatus: Thus Mr Clapeyron draws the inference that 'the temperature of the fire being 1000 °C to 2000 °C higher than that of the boiler there is an enormous loss of vis viva in the passage of the heat from the furnace to the boiler.' Believing that the power to destroy belongs to the Creator alone I affirm ... that any theory which, when carried out, demands the annihilation of force, is necessarily erroneous.
In 1845, Joule read his paper On the mechanical equivalent of heat to the British Association meeting in Cambridge. In this work, he reported his best-known experiment, involving the use of a falling weight, in which gravity does the mechanical work, to spin a paddle-wheel in an insulated barrel of water which increased the temperature. He now estimated a mechanical equivalent of 819 ft·lbf/Btu (4.41 J/cal).
In 1850, Joule published a refined measurement of 772.692 ft·lbf/Btu (4.159 J/cal), closer to twentieth century estimates.
Reception and priority
Much of the initial resistance to Joule's work stemmed from its dependence upon extremely precise measurements. He claimed to be able to measure temperatures to within 1⁄200 of a degree Fahrenheit (3 mK). Such precision was certainly uncommon in contemporary experimental physics but his doubters may have neglected his experience in the art of brewing and his access to its practical technologies. He was also ably supported by scientific instrument-maker John Benjamin Dancer.
However, in Germany, Hermann Helmholtz became aware both of Joule's work and the similar 1842 work of Julius Robert von Mayer. Though both men had been neglected since their respective publications, Helmholtz's definitive 1847 declaration of the conservation of energy credited them both.
Also in 1847, another of Joule's presentations at the British Association in Oxford was attended by George Gabriel Stokes, Michael Faraday, and the precocious and maverick William Thomson, later to become Lord Kelvin, who had just been appointed professor of natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Stokes was "inclined to be a Joulite" and Faraday was "much struck with it" though he harboured doubts. Thomson was intrigued but sceptical.
Unanticipated, Thomson and Joule met later that year in Chamonix. Joule married Amelia Grimes on 18 August and the couple went on honeymoon. Marital enthusiasm notwithstanding, Joule and Thomson arranged to attempt an experiment a few days later to measure the temperature difference between the top and bottom of the Cascade de Sallanches waterfall, though this subsequently proved impractical.
Though Thomson felt that Joule's results demanded theoretical explanation, he retreated into a spirited defence of the Carnot-Clapeyron school. In his 1848 account of absolute temperature, Thomson wrote that "the conversion of heat (or caloric) into mechanical effect is probably impossible, certainly undiscovered" – but a footnote signalled his first doubts about the caloric theory, referring to Joule's "very remarkable discoveries". Surprisingly, Thomson did not send Joule a copy of his paper but when Joule eventually read it he wrote to Thomson on 6 October, claiming that his studies had demonstrated conversion of heat into work but that he was planning further experiments. Thomson replied on the 27th, revealing that he was planning his own experiments and hoping for a reconciliation of their two views. Though Thomson conducted no new experiments, over the next two years he became increasingly dissatisfied with Carnot's theory and convinced of Joule's. In his 1851 paper, Thomson was willing to go no further than a compromise and declared "the whole theory of the motive power of heat is founded on ... two ... propositions, due respectively to Joule, and to Carnot and Clausius".
As soon as Joule read the paper he wrote to Thomson with his comments and questions. Thus began a fruitful, though largely epistolary, collaboration between the two men, Joule conducting experiments, Thomson analysing the results and suggesting further experiments. The collaboration lasted from 1852 to 1856, its discoveries including the Joule-Thomson effect, and the published results did much to bring about general acceptance of Joule's work and the kinetic theory.
Kinetics is the science of motion. Joule was a pupil of Dalton and it is no surprise that he had learned a firm belief in the atomic theory, even though there were many scientists of his time who were still skeptical. He had also been one of the few people receptive to the neglected work of John Herapath on the kinetic theory of gases. He was further profoundly influenced by Peter Ewart's 1813 paper On the measure of moving force.
Joule perceived the relationship between his discoveries and the kinetic theory of heat. His laboratory notebooks reveal that he believed heat to be a form of rotational, rather than translational motion.
Joule could not resist finding antecedents of his views in Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke, Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) and Sir Humphry Davy. Though such views are justified, Joule went on to estimate a value for the mechanical equivalent of heat of 1034 foot-pound from Rumford's publications. Some modern writers have criticised this approach on the grounds that Rumford's experiments in no way represented systematic quantitative measurements. In one of his personal notes, Joule contends that Mayer's measurement was no more accurate than Rumford's, perhaps in the hope that Mayer had not anticipated his own work. Joule has been attributed with explaining the Green Flash phenomenon in a letter to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society in 1869: actually, he just noted (with a sketch) the last glimpse as bluish green.
Joule died at home in Sale and is buried in Brooklands cemetery there. The gravestone is inscribed with the number "772.55", his climacteric 1878 measurement of the mechanical equivalent of heat, in which he found that this amount of foot-pounds of work must be expended at sea level to raise the temperature of one pound of water from 60 to 61 F. There is also a quotation from the Gospel of John, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work". The Wetherspoon's public house in Sale, the town of his death, is named after him "The J P Joule". The family brewery still lives on but now located in Market Drayton.