Engineer and physicist. Born in Edinburgh, Rankine became Professor of Civil engineering and Mechanics at the University of Glasgow in 1855. He became a pioneer in the field of thermodynamics, producing important publications in this area.
He also studied forces in frame structures, molecular physics and fatigue in metals, particularly in relation to railway axles which led to new methods of construction. Rankine also undertook pioneering work in soil mechanics, considering earth pressures and the stability of retaining walls. He also designed schemes for improving rivers and harbours.
Rankine was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1853. He died in Glasgow and his name is remembered in the principle known as the Rankine cycle, which he developed and is used as a thermodynamic standard for rating the performance of steam turbines.