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Prof. James David Forbes


1809 - 1868

Physicist and traveller. Born in Edinburgh, the grandson of the noted Edinburgh banker Sir William Forbes (1739 - 1806), Forbes was educated at the University of Edinburgh and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at the age of only 19. In 1833, Forbes was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh but left in 1860 to succeed Sir David Brewster (1781 - 1868) as Principal of St Andrews University and served in this role until his death.

Forbes became interested in structure and movement of glaciers when he met the Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz (1807-73) in Glasgow. He travelled to the mountains of Europe to study these at first hand, making the first British ascent of the Jungfrau. As a result he was created the first honorary member of the Alpine Club.

His books include Travelling through the Alps of Savoy (1843) and the Theory of Glaciers (1859). He also worked on the transmission of heat, showed experimentally that the temperature of the earth increases with depth, researched the thermal springs of the Ardeche (France) and the geology of the Cuillins and Eildon Hills.

He died at Clifton.


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