Thomas Young

Biographical Information

Name: Thomas Young
Born on 13 June 1773 in , Somerset, Bristol County, Massachusetts, USA, North America
Deceased on 10 May 1829 in , England, United Kingdom, Europe

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Short biography of Thomas Young

Thomas Young studied medicine at universities in London, Edinburgh and Göttingen. Following completion of his studies (1796), he continued his research at the University of Cambridge. Young discovered the interference of light in 1801 and helped the wave theory of light (which can be traced back to Huygens) to achieve a breakthrough. He was elected to the Royal Society in that same year and appointed professor of natural philosophy (natural sciences) at the Royal Institution in London in 1802. Young was not a good teacher and resignedly gave up his position after just one year in order to publish his lectures [Young, 1807]. This work with its comprehensive bibliography became a guideline for the technical literature of that period – strength of materials in particular. In the book, Young introduces the concept of the modulus of elasticity and realises that the design of loadbearing elements should be based on the yield point of a material in addition to its tensile strength. His masonry arch theory published in the Bridge article in the supplement to the fourth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1817 was several decades ahead of its time; unfortunately, Young’s arch theory was not adopted . From 1811 onwards he worked as a doctor at St. George’s Hospital in London. He was also the Secretary for External Relations of the Royal Society, Secretary of the Royal Commission on Weights & Measures and a scientific adviser to the Admiralty. His excellent command of languages was certainly one of the reasons why he was asked to help decipher the cuneiform writing on the Rosetta Stone. Young’s findings in the field of strength of materials formed an important foundation for the structural theory of the discipline-formation period.

Main contributions to structural analysis:

  • A course of lectures in Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts [1807];
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica (Supplement) (Carpentry & Bridge articles) [1817]

Source: Kurrer, Karl-Eugen The History of the Theory of Structures, Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn Verlag für Architektur und technische Wissenschaften GmbH, Berlin (Deutschland), ISBN 3-433-01838-3, 2008; p. 775


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