August 02

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1820 John Tyndall, physicist, mountaineer and promoter of science in the Victorian era, born in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow.
  • 1969 Alfred O’Rahilly (84), Professor of Mathematical Physics and president of UCC (1943–54), founder of Cork University Press and ordained priest (1955), died.
  • 1981 Kieran Doherty (25), IRA Volunteer and TD for Cavan–Monaghan, died on the 73rd day of his hunger strike in the Maze Prison.
  • 1969 The RUC dispersed a loyalist crowd massing at Unity Flats. Clashes began as they pushed them back to the Shankill, barricades went up, shops were looted and police cars set on fire. Fighting went on over night until B-Specials were sent in and the situation calmed down.
  • 1914 Germany demanded of the Belgian government that they permit the free passage of German forces across her territory into northern France. Belgian neutrality had been guaranteed by Germany, France and Britain under the Treaty of London (1839). Belgium refused the German demand the following day. Around 100,000 people attended anti-war rallies across Britain, organised by the Labour Party and socialist activists.
  • 1812 Edward Smyth, sculptor, notably of the sixteen heads symbolising the rivers of Ireland and the statue of ‘Commerce’ on Gandon’s Custom House, Dublin, died.
  • 1820 John Tyndall (73), one of the leading scientists of the nineteenth century, born in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow. Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Royal Institution (1853–67), Tyndall was a pioneer in the new experimental sciences of physics and chemistry and made a number of significant scientific discoveries over his long career. A keen mountaineer—one of the first to climb the Matterhorn—he is nowadays best remembered, perhaps, for the ‘Tyndall scattering’, the first scientific explanation for why the sky is blue. He showed that atmospheric dust particles, and density in the air, scatter the shorter blue wavelength components of sunlight to a greater degree than the longer red wavelength components, which gives the sky its overall blue appearance. Most significantly—as we confront the effects of global warming and climate change—it was he who solved the riddle of the ‘greenhouse effect’. A century earlier the French scientist Joseph Fourier had questioned how the Earth maintained its warm temperature and concluded that, while heat from the sun passed easily through our atmosphere on the way to Earth, heat radiated outwards by the warm Earth must somehow be trapped in the atmosphere. In the summer of 1859 Tyndall conducted a series of simple experiments which established that Fourier’s controversial hypothesis was correct. While most gases are indeed transparent to light and heat, he showed that some, notably carbon dioxide, can absorb heat energy at certain wavelengths and remain in our atmosphere. His findings, in the same year as the publication of Darwin’s On the origin of species—then the hot topic amongst his colleagues—were accepted but not regarded as particularly important.
  • 1923 Warren G. Harding (57), 29th US president (Republican) and one of the most popular whilst in office, died of a heart attack. His administration, however, became a byword for corruption when a number of scandals were exposed after his death.

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