James Prescott Joule Biography


Birthday: December 24, 1818 (Capricorn)

Born In: Salford, Lancashire, England, UK

James Prescott Joule was an English physicist, best known for establishing the relationship between mechanical work and heat transfer. This study later led to discovery of the ‘The ‘Law of Conservation of Energy’ which states that ‘Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed; it can only be transferred from one form to another’. He was a creative and confident child, fascinated with heat and electricity from his early years. Most of his knowledge regarding electricity and magnetism was self-taught through which he created a mark for himself in scientific history. After years of research, he designed an experiment which led to the discovery of the first law of thermodynamics, which is still considered one of the major breakthroughs in field of heat transfer study. The S. I. unit for measuring energy, Joule, named after him, highlights the significance of his contribution to physics and its various branches. Along with Lord Kelvin, he also developed the absolute scale of temperature and discovered the Joule-Thomson effect.. Even though he was a man of science, he had a religious and spiritual personality. He had an unparalleled devotion towards nature’s beauty and the laws that govern it.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In December

Died At Age: 70


Spouse/Ex-: Amelia Grimes

father: Benjamin Joule

mother: Alice Prescott Joule

siblings: Benjamin

Physicists British Men

Died on: October 11, 1889

place of death: Sale, Cheshire, England, UK

City: Salford, England

More Facts

awards: 1870 - Copley Medal
1852 - Royal Medal

Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 24 December, 1818 in Manchester, England to Benjamin Joule, a wealthy brewer and Alice Prescott Joule, daughter of John Prescott of Wigan. He was one of the five children of Benjamin & Alice.
He was a delicate and frail child, unable to attend regular school and received his early education at home from his aunt.
As a child, he was fascinated with electricity and its effects. He used to conducts experiments at home and in one of the experiments in one of experiments, he inadvertently shocked and knocked out one of his servants.
His father’s health declined and he, along with his elder brother, Benjamin, was forced to work in brewery, at the age of 15. Alongside, he received his education from John Dalton, a famous English chemist.
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In 1838, at the age of nineteen, he constructed an electro-magnetic engine.
In 1840, he worked on replacing the brewery’s steam engines with newly invented electric motor for scientific and economic purposes. He wanted to enhance the machines in his brewery for achieving higher efficiency.
In 1841, he designed an experiment to establish the relation between current, resistance and heat in a conductor. This relationship is known as Joule’s first law.
In 1845, he reported about the paddle wheel experiment which helped him understand the concept of conservation of energy. He proposed that in the experiment, mechanical energy converted into heat energy and this later led to the ‘Law of Conservation of Energy’.
In 1847, he met William Thompson during one of his presentations at British Association in Oxford and collaborated with him to conduct several studies on thermal effects. They discovered the Joule-Thomson effect and absolute scale of temperature.
Major Works
He studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work. This led to the law of conservation of energy, which led to the development of the first law of thermodynamics.
He gave Joule's first law which gives the relationship between the passage of electric current through a conductor and the amount of heat released. The law states - "the heat which is evolved by the proper action of any voltaic current is proportional to the square of the intensity of that current, multiplied by the resistance to conduction which it experiences."
His work with William Thompson led to the remarkable discovery known as the Joule-Thomson effect. It describes the temperature change of a gas or liquid when it is forced through a valve kept insulated so that no heat is exchanged with the environment.
He also worked on the absolute scale of temperature with William Thomson, also known as ‘Lord Kelvin’.
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Awards & Achievements
In 1852, He received the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for his published paper ‘On the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat’.
In 1860, he was made the President of Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society.
He was the president of British Association for the Advancement of Science from 1872 to 1887.
In 1880, he received the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts for establishing the relationship between heat, electricity and mechanical work.
A memorial was built in the north choir of Westminster Abbey and a statue stands in Manchester Town Hall in his commemoration.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1847, he married Amelia Grimes, daughter of Mr. John Grimes, Comptroller of Customs, Liverpool. They had two children, Benjamin Arthur and Alice Amelia.
In 1854 his wife and son passed away. After this unfortunate incident, he lived as a widower for the rest of his life working tirelessly.
The British government granted him two hundred pound sterling as pension for his lifetime work and achievements. His unparalleled study in the field of energy and its dimensions still forms the basis for many of the researches undertaken today. The S.I. unit of energy and work, Joule, is named after him.
He died on 11 October, 1889 in Sale, England after a long illness.

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