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Prof. Sir James Alfred Ewing


1855 - 1935

Engineer, physicist and educator. Born in Dundee, the youngest son of a Free Church minister, Ewing was educated at West End Academy and the High School of Dundee. He studied engineering at the University of Edinburgh under Peter Guthrie Tait (1831 - 1901) and Fleeming Jenkin (1833-85), and spent a summer working with William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824 - 1907).

He joined the newly-established University of Tokyo in 1878 at remarkably young age of 23, as Professor of Mechanical Engineering. During his five years there he established a teaching programme, undertook research into earthquakes and contributed to the development of the modern seismometer. Also studying magnetism, he gave a name to the phenomenon of hysteresis, whereby a physical property lags behind changes in the effect causing it.

Ewing went on to serve as the first Professor of Engineering at Dundee (1883-90) and then Professor at Cambridge (1890 - 1903). He also investigated the crystalline structure of several metals. He became Director of Naval Education in the United Kingdom (1903-16) and served as Head of the Admiralty's code-breaking department, the so-called 'Room 40', from 1914-17. He was appointed Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh in 1916.

His works include Treatise on Earthquake Measurement (1883), The Strength of Materials (1899), The Steam Engine and Other Engines (1910) and Thermodynamics for Engineers (1920) and The Mechanical Production of Cold (1921).

Ewing was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1878), serving as the President (1924-29). He was named a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1906, knighted in 1911 and granted Freedom of City of Edinburgh in 1929, on his retirement from the university. The Ewing Building at the University of Dundee and Ewing House in the Pollock Halls of Residence (Edinburgh) are named in his honour. The James Alfred Ewing Medal has been presented by the Institution of Civil Engineers since 1938.


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