Thomson, James

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b. 16 February 1822 Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland)
d. 8 May 1892 Glasgow, Scotland
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Irish civil engineer noted for his work in hydraulics and for his design of the "Vortex" turbine.
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James Thomson was a pupil in several civil-engineering offices, but the nature of the work was beyond his physical capacity and from 1843 onwards he devoted himself to theoretical studies. Hhe first concentrated on the problems associated with the expansion of liquids when they reach their freezing point: water is one such example. He continued this work with his younger brother, Lord Kelvin (see Thomson, Sir William).
After experimentation with a "feathered" paddle wheel as a young man, he turned his attention to water power. In 1850 he made his first patent application, "Hydraulic machinery and steam engines": this patent became his "Vortex" turbine design. He settled in Belfast, the home of the MacAdam-Fourneyron turbine, in 1851, and as a civil engineer became the Resident Engineer to the Belfast Water Commissioners in 1853. In 1857 he was appointed Professor of Civil Engineering and Surveying at Queen's College, Belfast.
Whilst it is understood that he made his first turbine models in Belfast, he came to an arrangement with the Williamson Brothers of Kendal to make his turbine. In 1856 Williamsons produced their first turbine to Thomson's design and drawings. This was the Vortex Williamson Number 1, which produced 5 hp (3.7 kW) under a fall of 31 ft (9.4 m) on a 9 in. (23 cm) diameter supply. The rotor of this turbine ran in a horizontal plane. For several years the Williamson catalogue described their Vortex turbine as "designed by Professor James Thomson".
Thomson continued with his study of hydraulics and water flow both at Queen's College, Belfast, and, later, at Glasgow University, where he became Professor in 1873, succeeding Macquorn Rankine, another famous engineer. At Glasgow, James Thomson studied the flow in rivers and the effects of erosion on river beds. He was also an authority on geological formations such as the development of the basalt structure of the Giant's Causeway, north of Belfast.
James Thomson was an extremely active engineer and a very profound teacher of civil engineering. His form of water turbine had a long life before being displaced by the turbines designed in the twentieth century.
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Bibliography
1850, British patent no. 13,156 "Hydraulic machinery and steam engines".
Further Reading
Gilkes, 1956, One Hundred Years of Water Power, Kendal.
KM

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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