Edward Arthur Milne was an English astrophysicist and mathematician, best known for developing the theory of kinematic relativity. Even though his theory met with considerable opposition, it had a significant impact on the scientific community and made them rethink old ideas and led to new approaches to the fundamental concepts of space and time. He was small in stature, but possessed extraordinary talent and was a constant source of inspiration to others. His early researches were into the atmosphere of the Earth and Sun, internal physics of the stars and the theory of limb darkening. He was also a brilliant mathematician and helped the armed forces in both the world wars with his exceptional skills. He was instrumental in development of an integral equation of great mathematical interest, what is now called Milne's integral equation. He published works on numerous subjects ranging from philosophy of science and mathematics to physics and astronomy. He had the modesty and simplicity of character that often goes with scientific genius, and he also bore personal adversities with audacity and dignity. His life was a tribute to scientific research and through his ideas and principles he laid the foundation for more profound study on cosmological patterns and various other facets of astronomy.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on February 14, 1896 in Hull, Yorkshire, England to Sidney Arthur Milne, a headmaster and his wife, Edith Cockcroft, a teacher. He was the eldest child in his family with two younger brothers.
He received his early education from the Hymers College, Hull, England. In 1914, he won an open scholarship in mathematics and natural science to study at Trinity College, Cambridge University.
He secured the highest number of marks ever scored in the examination. While studying at Cambridge for one and a half year, he was inspired by Chapman and Hardy.
His education at Cambridge was intervened by World War I. Although he was deemed unfit for military duty due to his poor eyesight, he was assigned on a team working on ballistics at the Anti-Aircraft Section of the Munitions Inventions Department in 1916.
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In 1917, he was appointed a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.
From 1919 to 1924, he served as the assistant director of the solar physics observatory at the Trinity College. It was here that he focused his attention to work on stellar atmosphere.
While working at the observatory, he was also appointed as the mathematics lecturer (1924–1925) and university lecturer in astrophysics (1922–1925) in Trinity College. In 1923, he collaborated with R.H.Fowler to study absorption lines in stellar spectra.
From 1925 to 1928, he served as a professor of applied mathematics in the Victoria University of Manchester. While at Manchester, he continued his research in radiative equilibrium and the structure of stellar atmospheres.
In 1929, he became a Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, a post he held until his death in 1950. In later years, he turned his attention towards cosmological patterns and its relative effects.
During World War II, he again worked on ballistics. He researched on armor piercing weaponry and the stability of projectiles. He also served as the president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1943 to 1945.
Some of his published work includes ‘Thermodynamics of the Stars’ (1930), ‘The White Dwarf Stars’ (1932), ‘Relativity, Gravitation and World-Structure’ (1935) and ‘Kinematic Relativity’ (1948).
One of his significant contributions was the role he played when he was part of a highly skilled group of mathematicians during the First World War. He was instrumental in the development of a technique that enabled anti-aircraft and naval guns to accurately target Zeppelin bombers.
His work on radiative equilibrium and the theory of stellar atmospheres with R.H. Fowler led to the determination of the temperatures and pressures associated with spectral classes, the theory of limb darkening and improved understanding of line profiles in stellar spectra.
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One of his most notable works was the development of kinematic relativity related to cosmology. His theory featured an expanding universe, but it was nonrelativistic and used Euclidean space. Although his contemporaries initially disagreed with this theory, it helped to sharpen mainstream ideas about space-time and led to important work by others in future.
Awards & Achievements
In 1918, he was conferred the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
In 1922, he was awarded the prestigious Smith’s Prize for an essay on the darkening of the limb of a stellar disk.
In 1935, he received the Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal.
In 1941, he was awarded the Royal Medal by the Royal Society.
In 1945, he became the recipient of distinguished Bruce Medal, one of the highest honors in the field of astronomy. It was awarded by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for his outstanding lifetime contributions to astronomy.
‘Milne’, a large lunar crater located in the southern hemisphere on the far side of the Moon is named after him.
‘11767 Milne’, an asteroid discovered in 1971, was named in his honor.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1928, he married Margaret Campbell. They were blessed with two daughters and a son. Unfortunately, Margaret died during the birth of their son.
In 1940, he married again, this time to Beatrice Brevoort Renwick. They had a daughter but unfortunately, Beatrice also died in 1945.
He died of a heart attack on September 21, 1950, at the age of 54, in Dublin, Ireland while preparing to give a set of lectures.