December 24, 1818-October 11, 1889
Physicist of electro-magnetismby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Thousands of scientists labored over hundreds of years to accumulate the vast amount of scientific knowledge now available. James Joule was one of these scientists. He greatly contributed to the field of physics through his discovery of Joule’s Law and the beginnings of the First Law of Thermodynamics. However, history glances over his life, highlighting only his scientific findings, although his life held so much more. James Prescott Joule was a man of God and a man of science who successfully blended his passion for science into his passion for his God.
James Prescott Joule was born in Salford, England on Christmas Eve 1818. His wealthy father, Benjamin Joule, owned a brewery. As a child, James was physically fragile due to a spinal problem. Later the problem would improve, but it affected Joule for the rest of his life. Tutors came to his home to teach James and his elder brother. At age 15, Joule worked in the brewery for a period of time. Then his father sent him and his brother to study under Dr. John Dalton, a well known English chemist and meteorologist.
Under Dr. Dalton, Joule first became interested in science. Joule later wrote in his autobiography that “it was from his (Dalton’s) instruction that I first formed a desire to increase my knowledge by original researches.”1 However, in 1837, Joule’s father’s health failed. Soon James and his brother returned home to run the brewery. Unfortunately, this meant that Joule could not attend university.
In 1838, at the age of 19, James Joule began experimenting and built an electro-magnetic engine. Frustrated by the inaccuracy of the units used for denoting electrical quantities, Joule invented a new and easy-to-use unit. The use of this new unit allowed him to examine the relationship between the heat generated in a wire with an electric current running through it.2 In 1840 he sent his first paper detailing his findings to the most reputable and well known scientific society in England – the Royal Society in London. Now, his resulting equation is known as Joule’s Law. Despite Joule’s accurate calculations and findings however, the Royal Society was not impressed and only published a short summary of his report.3
Joule continued experimenting, viewing his pursuit of science as pursuit of God.4 In 1843, Joule recognized the relationship between mechanical work, heat, and electricity. It was four years before his work gained approval when William Thomson came across it in 1847. Thomson realized the brilliance of Joule’s work and supported Joule’s findings. Slowly, other physicists then began to notice Joule’s work and eventually others, including famous physicist Michael Faraday, backed Joule’s calculations. With Faraday’s support, Joule read his paper about the relationship between mechanical work, heat, and electricity to the Royal Society. This time the Society accepted his findings, published his paper, and gave him membership status. To acknowledge Joule’s labor, the unit for energy and work was named ‘Joule.’ This unit is now taught in high school physics courses and used in all levels of physics.
Also, in 1847, James Joule married Amelia Grimes. Amelia supported Joule in his scientific explorations during their marriage, but she passed away after only six years, leaving Joule with a young son and daughter. Following his wife’s death, Joule sold the family brewery. This left him without business responsibilities and more time for his scientific endeavors.
In 1852, William Thomson teamed up with Joule and they experimented on a variety of subjects. Their cooperation resulted in discoveries that would later be the foundation of the First Law of Thermodynamics, the principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed. When they studied the behavior of gases, they noted that gas expands without doing work when it is cooled. This discovery, now called the Joule-Thomson effect, explains why refrigerators and air conditioners function.
Throughout his lifetime, Joule’s appreciation of God’s creation grew as he studied the principles of physics. Frequently he described his amazement at God’s creation, and he truly believed that science was a means to understanding God. He once wrote, “It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.”
James Joule’s contributions to science cannot be trivialized. The First Law of Thermodynamics, which he helped uncover, is an important scientific concept and is understood as a basic principle in physics today. Physicists often use Joule’s Law, the relationship between mechanical work and heat that Joule expressed. However, Joule’s accomplishments lie not only in science, but also in how he approached his work. Everything James Joule did was to the glory of God. Joule successfully integrated his pursuit of science into his pursuit of God.
1Lamont, Ann. James Joule. Answersingenesis.org. March 1993. http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v15/i2/joule.asp (accessed November 26, 2007)
2James Prescott Joule. http://www.nndb.com/people/275/000049128/ (accessed
November 29, 2007)
Lamont, Ann. James Joule. Answersingenesis.org. March 1993. http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v15/i2/joule.asp (accessed November 26, 2007)
3 Dr. Wile, Jay L. Exploring Creation with Physics. Anderson: Apologia Educational Ministries Inc., 2004
4 J.P. Joule, in a paper found with his scientific notebooks, as cited in: J.G. Crowther, British Scientists of the Nineteenth Century, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1962, p. 139. (I found this quote at http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v15/i2/joule.asp)
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3. Lamont, Ann. James Joule. Answersingenesis.org. March 1993. http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v15/i2/joule.asp (accessed November 26, 2007)
4. James Prescott Joule. http://www.nndb.com/people/275/000049128/ (accessed November 29, 2007)
5. Anderson, Antony. A brewer’s tale/ Review of ‘James Joule: A Biography’ by Donald S L Cardwell. New Scientist magazine issue 1703. February 10, 1990. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg12517034.800-a-brewers-tale--review-of-james-joule-a-biography-bydonald-s-l-cardwell-.html (accessed November 27, 2007)
6. Dr. Wile, Jay L. Exploring Creation with Physics. Anderson: Apologia Educational Ministries Inc., 2004
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