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Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science


‘Tides and Waves,’ by George Airy

This bound article is signed Jan. 1884, by which time Darwin was Plumian Professor at Cambridge, a position he held until his death in 1912. The influential mathematician and astronomer Sir George Biddell Airy (1801-1892) graduated from Trinity College in 1824, became Lucasian professor of mathematics in 1826, and Plumian professor of astronomy and director of the newly established Cambridge University Observatory in 1828. In 1835, Airy became the 7th astronomer royal at Royal Greenwich Observatory, his tenure lasting 46 years. Amongst his numerous achievements, Airy was also adviser to the government on matters involving physical science, including the work of the tidal harbours commission. In the mid-1820s, he produced his Mathematical Tracts, which included introductions to lunar theory and the figure of the earth. His promotion of experimental physics, his work at Greenwich, and his studies into the density of the Earth, had a great influence on later research, including that of Darwin. After leaving Cambridge, Airy maintained a close connection with the University. In the 1860s, he led the call for changes to the undergraduate syllabus, seeking more emphasis on mathematical physics and the inclusion of major new topics such as electricity, magnetism and thermodynamics. The article ‘Tides and Waves’ was published in volume 5 of the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana in 1845 and became an influential treatise on the nature of tides.

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