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Frederick Thomas Trouton

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Frederick Thomas Trouton (1863-1923)


1923 Obituary [1]

FREDERICK THOMAS TROUTON was born in Dublin on the 24th November, 1863.

He was educated at Dungannon Royal School and afterwards at Trinity College, Dublin, where he had the reputation of being a clever pupil, keen on scientific work. On taking his degree his work was further rewarded by the award to him of a large gold medal. Prof. G. F. Fitz-Gerald was at that time Erasmus Smith Professor of Experimental Science. Trouton was one of his most distinguished pupils and later became his assistant and was thenceforward closely associated with his work.

FitzGerald was one of the few who took seriously Clerk Maxwell's electromagnetic theory of light, and when Hertz and Lodge began publishing their experimental researches the Dublin laboratory at once became active. Trouton repeated and extended Hertz's experiments especially with a view to a determination of the direction of the vibrations of light (see Nature, vol. 39), and to an examination of the phases of secondary waves (see Nature, vol. 40). As a result, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1897.

Later on, again in response to FitzGerald's stimulus, he attacked a subject which has not yet passed out of the controversial stage, namely the relative motion of the earth and aether. "The fundamental idea of the experiment is that a charged electrical condenser, when moving through the aether, with its plates edgeways to the direction of motion, possesses a magnetic field between the plates in consequence of its motion in accordance with the generally held view that a moving charge is equivalent to an electric current."

Trouton, after FitzGerald's death, further developed the investigation in connection successively with H. R. Noble and A. O. Rankine. In every case no effect indicative of relative motion was ever observed.

Trouton had meantime (in 1902) come to London as Quain Professor of Physics at University College. Together with his pupils he there carried out various researches, chiefly in connection with the general properties of matter. Subjects such as viscosity in solids and in quasi-solids like pitch and cobbler's wax engaged his attention. He devised various ingenious methods of tackling such problems. In the later active years of his life he made a very large number of measurements (many of which are still unpublished), conducted with the most scrupulous care, on the phenomena of absorption and adsorption ; for example, the adsorption of vapour by glass or by flannel, and still later adsorption from solutions by silica.

These experiments were being prosecuted when in 1912 he was seized by a serious illness from which he never recovered. He lived in a state of partial paralysis, though retaining his mental faculties, until the 21st September, 1922, when he passed painlessly away at the age of 58 years at his house at Downe in Kent.

As a scientific man Trouton was characterized, not by great knowledge, but by great instinct. He was a born experimentalist and had some amused contempt for the validity claimed for scientific theories. It must be remembered that the theories of physics had not yet gone into the melting-pot; to-day his attitude would not have caused so much surprise. He is most widely known for a numerical relation in connection with molecular latent heats and discovered by him when a student, which is known universally as Trouton's law. Those who came into personal contact with him knew that they had to deal with a man of sterling integrity in all his dealings. He was of a kindly disposition. Although too serious intellectually to be regarded as gay, yet Ms conversation flashing with Irish wit and whimsicality could keep a room alive with laughter. He was fond of an outdoor life ; he delighted in gardening, cycling, tennis and golf, and took a great interest in the athletic life of University College. He married Annie, the daughter of George Fowler of Liverpool, who survives him. He lost two sons in the war : two sons and three daughters remain.

He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1900.


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