John Scott Russell

Infobox Engineer

image_size =
caption = John Scott Russell
name = John Scott Russell
nationality = Scottish
birth_date = 1808-05-09
birth_place = Parkhead, Glasgow
death_date = 1882-06-08
death_place = Ventnor, Isle of Wight
education = Edinburgh University, St. Andrews University, Glasgow University
spouse = Harriette Russell (née Osborne)
parents = David Russell and Agnes Clark Scott
children = Osborne Russell, Norman Scott Russell, Louisa Scott Russell, Mary Rachel Scott Russell, Alice M. Scott Russell
discipline =
institutions = Royal Society of Edinburgh, Royal Society, Institution of Naval Architects
practice_name =
significant_projects =
significant_design =
significant_advance =
awards =

John Scott Russell (9 May 1808, Parkhead, Glasgow8 June 1882, Ventor, Isle of Wight) was a Scottish naval engineer who built the "Great Eastern" in collaboration with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and made the discovery that gave birth to the modern study of solitons.

Early life

John Scott Russell was born John Russell on 1808-05-09 in Parkhead, Glasgow, the son of David Russell and Agnes Clark Scott. He spent one year at St. Andrews University before transferring to Glasgow University. It was while at Glasgow University that he added his mother's maiden name, Scott, to his own, to become John Scott Russell. He graduated from Glasgow University in 1825 at the age of 17 and moved to Edinburgh University where he taught mathematics.

On the death of Sir John Leslie, Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University in 1832, Russell, though only 24 years old, was elected to temporarily fill the vacancy pending the election of a permanent professor, due to his proficiency in the natural sciences.

The wave of translation

In 1834, while conducting experiments to determine the most efficient design for canal boats, he discovered a phenomenon that he described as the wave of translation. In fluid dynamics the wave is now called a Russell solitary wave or soliton. The discovery is described here in his own words:

"I was observing the motion of a boat which was rapidly drawn along a narrow channel by a pair of horses, when the boat suddenly stopped - not so the mass of water in the channel which it had put in motion; it accumulated round the prow of the vessel in a state of violent agitation, then suddenly leaving it behind, rolled forward with great velocity, assuming the form of a large solitary elevation, a rounded, smooth and well-defined heap of water, which continued its course along the channel apparently without change of form or diminution of speed. I followed it on horseback, and overtook it still rolling on at a rate of some eight or nine miles (14 km) an hour, preserving its original figure some thirty feet long and a foot to a foot and a half in height. Its height gradually diminished, and after a chase of one or two miles (3 km) I lost it in the windings of the channel. Such, in the month of August 1834, was my first chance interview with that singular and beautiful phenomenon which I have called the Wave of Translation".

(Note: This passage has been repeated in many papers and books on soliton theory.)

(Note: "Translation" here means that there is real mass transport such that water can be transported from one end of the canal to the other end by this "Wave of Translation". Usually there is no real mass transport from one side to another side for ordinary waves.)

: "J. Scott Russell. Report on waves, Fourteenth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1844."

Russell spent some time making practical and theoretical investigations of these waves, he built wave tanks at his home and noticed some key properties:
* The waves are stable, and can travel over very large distances (normal waves would tend to either flatten out, or steepen and topple over)
* The speed depends on the size of the wave, and its width on the depth of water.
* Unlike normal waves they will never merge — so a small wave is overtaken by a large one, rather than the two combining.
* If a wave is too big for the depth of water, it splits into two, one big and one small.

Russell's experimental work seemed at contrast with the Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli's theories of hydrodynamics. George Biddell Airy and George Gabriel Stokes had difficulty to accept Russell's experimental observations because Russell's observations could not be explained by linear water wave theory. His contemporaries spent some time attempting to extend the theory but it would take until 1895 before Diederik Korteweg and Gustav de Vries provided the theoretical explanation "(D.J. Korteweg and G. de Vries; On the Change of Form of Long Waves advancing in a Rectangular Canal and on a New Type of Long Stationary Waves; Philosophical Magazine, 5th series, 39, 1895, pp. 422--443)".

(Note: Lord Rayleigh published a paper in Philosophical Magazine in 1876 to support John Scott Russell's experimental observation with his mathematical theory. In his 1876 paper, Lord Rayleigh mentioned Russell's name and also admitted that the first theoretical treatment was by Joseph Valentin Boussinesq in 1871. Joseph Boussinesq mentioned Russell's name in his 1871 paper. Thus Russell's observations on solitons were accepted as true by some prominent scientists within his own life time of 1808-1882. Korteweg and de Vries did not mention John Scott Russell's name at all in their 1895 paper but they did quote Boussinesq's paper in 1871 and Lord Rayleigh's paper in 1876. The paper by Korteweg and de Vries in 1895 was not the first theoretical treatment of this subject but it was a very important milestone in the history of the development of soliton theory.)

It was not until the 1960s and the advent of modern computers that the significance of Russell's discovery in physics, electronics, biology and especially fibre optics started to become understood, leading to the modern general theory of solitons.

Ship building

Russell moved to London in 1844, and organised the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. He worked on the design of yachts, boats, barges and ships, and he became a director of a shipbuilding company.

He was held in high regard by Isambard Kingdom Brunel who made him a partner in his project to build the "Great Eastern". At its time, this was to be the largest moveable object man had ever created. The project was plagued with a number of problems — Russell was in financial difficulties and the two men disagreed on a number of aspects of the design and construction of the ship. The "Great Eastern" was eventually launched in 1858.

The American engineer Alexander Lyman Holley befriended Russell and his family on his various visits to London at the time of the construction of "Great Eastern". Holley also visited Russell's house in Sydenham. As a result of this, Holley, and his colleague Zerah Colburn, travelled on the maiden voyage of "Great Eastern" from Southampton to New York in June 1860. Russell's son, Norman, stayed with Holley at his house in Brooklyn — Norman also travelled on the maiden voyage, one voyage that John Scott Russell did not make.

Russell was a better scientist than a businessman and his reputation never fully recovered from his financial irregularities and disputes.


Russell made one of the first experimental observations [cite journal
last=Scott Russell | first=John
title=On certain effects produced on sound by the rapid motion of the observer
journal=Report of the Eighteen Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
year=1848 | volume=18 | issue=7 | pages=37-38
publisher=John Murray, London in 1849
] of the Doppler effect. Christian Doppler published his theory in 1842.

His 1844 paper has become a classical paper and is quite frequently cited in soliton-related papers or books even after more than one hundred and fifty years. "Report on Waves": (Report of the fourteenth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, York, September 1844 (London 1845), pp. 311-390, Plates XLVII-LVII).

He had written two books before his death:

1. J Russell, "The Modern System of Naval Architecture" (London, 1865). 2. J Russell, "The Wave of Translation in the Oceans of Water, Air and Ether" (London, 1885).

His second book was probably published after his death in 1882.

His obituary was published in the "Proceedings of Royal Society" (London), vol. 34 (1882-1883), pp. xv-xvii. It is interesting to note that in his obituary it was mentioned that John Scott Russell was a very gifted person but did not contribute papers to the Royal Society of London but to other organizations like the Royal Society of Edinburgh, British Association, etc. His great discovery regarding his solitary wave of translation was not mentioned in his obituary published in the "Proceedings of the Royal Society" (London).

His wife was Harriette. They had a daughter, Louise, and a son, Norman. (Emmerson 1977)

A book was written by George Sinclair Emmerson on Russell with the title "John Scott Russell: a great Victorian engineer and naval architect", which was published in 1977. However, this book has very little discussion on the discovery of solitons by John Scott Russell. In 2005, Olivier Darrigol published a book "Worlds of Flow", which covers the history of hydrodynamics from the years before John Scott Russell and to many years after his death. Inside this book, Darrigol provided a comprehensive list of classical papers written by John Scott Russell and other scientists on hydrodynamics. The book by Darrigol has a much better discussion on the discovery of solitons.

In 1995, the aqueduct which carries the Union Canal – the same canal where he observed his Wave of Translation – over the Edinburgh Bypass (A720) was named the Scott Russell Aqueduct in his memory. Also in 1995, the hydrodynamic soliton effect was reproduced near the place where John Scott Russell observed hydrodynamic solitons in 1834.




Further reading

*cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Obituary of John Scott Russell | work = | publisher = The Times | date = | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2008-01-24

External links

* [ John Scott Russell and the solitary wave]

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