James Alfred Ewing

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James Alfred Ewing

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James Alfred Ewing was born in Dundee in 1855. He was the youngest of the three sons of the minister of St Andrew's Free Church. He received his schooling in the city at West End Academy and Dundee High School before obtaining a scholarship to study for a degree in engineering at Edinburgh University. In 1878 he became Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Physics at the newly established University of Tokyo. While in Japan Ewing undertook research into earthquakes and devised new types of seismometer. He also studied magnetism and gave the name to the phenomenon of hysteresis. He was the first professor of Mechanical Engineering at University College, Dundee, a post he held from 1883 until 1890. Appalled by the living conditions of the working classes in Dundee, especially compared to those in Japan, he became involved in improving these conditions, particularly the sewage system. In 1890 he was appointed Professor of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics at Cambridge University. It was during this period The Steam Engine and other Heat Engines was published. Ewing left Cambridge in 1903 to become Director of Naval Education at the Admiralty in Greenwich, a position he held until 1917. He was knighted in 1911. At the outbreak of the First World War Ewing agreed to become head of "Room 40", a specialist unit involved in deciphering German coded naval messages. In May 1916 Ewing was appointed Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University, and under his leadership the institution subsequently went through unprecedented expansion. He retired in 1929 and died in 1935.


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