Thomas Thomson (chemist)

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Thomas Thomson Thomas Thomson.jpg
Thomas Thomson

Thomas Thomson FRS FLS FRSE (12 April 1773 – 2 August 1852) was a Scottish chemist and mineralogist whose writings contributed to the early spread of Dalton's atomic theory. His scientific accomplishments include the invention of the saccharometer [1] and he gave silicon its current name. He served as president of the Philosophical Society of Glasgow.

Fellow of the Royal Society Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, including Honorary, Foreign and Royal Fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science'.

John Dalton English chemist and physicist

John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, physicist, and meteorologist. He is best known for introducing the atomic theory into chemistry, and for his research into colour blindness, sometimes referred to as Daltonism in his honour.

Silicon Chemical element with atomic number 14

Silicon is a chemical element with the symbol Si and atomic number 14. It is a hard and brittle crystalline solid with a blue-grey metallic lustre; and it is a tetravalent metalloid and semiconductor. It is a member of group 14 in the periodic table: carbon is above it; and germanium, tin, and lead are below it. It is relatively unreactive. Because of its high chemical affinity for oxygen, it was not until 1823 that Jöns Jakob Berzelius was first able to prepare it and characterize it in pure form. Its melting and boiling points of 1414 °C and 3265 °C respectively are the second-highest among all the metalloids and nonmetals, being only surpassed by boron. Silicon is the eighth most common element in the universe by mass, but very rarely occurs as the pure element in the Earth's crust. It is most widely distributed in dusts, sands, planetoids, and planets as various forms of silicon dioxide (silica) or silicates. More than 90% of the Earth's crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth's crust after oxygen.


Thomson was the father of the botanist Thomas Thomson, and the uncle and father-in-law of the Medical Officer of Health Robert Thomson.

Thomas Thomson was a British surgeon with the British East India Company before becoming a botanist. He was a friend of Joseph Dalton Hooker and helped write the first volume of Flora Indica.

Dr Robert Dundas Thomson FRSE FRS FRCP FCS was a British physician and chemist and a pioneer of public sanitation. He worked as an academic, medical officer of health and author.

Life and work

Thomas Thomson was born in Crieff in Perthshire, on 12 April 1773 the son of John Thomson and his wife, Elizabeth Ewan.

Crieff town in Scotland

Crieff is a Scottish market town in Perth and Kinross. It lies on the A85 road between Perth and Crianlarich, and the A822 between Greenloaning and Aberfeldy. The A822 joins the A823, which leads to Dunfermline. Crieff has become a hub for tourism, famous for its whisky and history of cattle droving. Attractions include the Caithness Glass Visitor Centre and Glenturret Distillery. The nearby Innerpeffray Library, is Scotland's oldest lending library. St Mary's Chapel, adjacent to the library, dates from 1508. Both are open to the public: the library is run by a charitable trust, while the chapel is in the care of Historic Scotland.

Perthshire registration county in central Scotland

Perthshire, officially the County of Perth, is a historic county and registration county in central Scotland. Geographically it extends from Strathmore in the east, to the Pass of Drumochter in the north, Rannoch Moor and Ben Lui in the west, and Aberfoyle in the south; its borders the counties of Inverness-shire and Aberdeenshire to the north, Angus to the east, Fife, Kinross-shire, Clackmannanshire, Stirlingshire and Dunbartonshire to the south and Argyllshire to the west. It was a local government county from 1890 to 1930.

He was educated at Crieff Parish School and Stirling Burgh School. He then studied for a general degree at the University of St. Andrews to study in classics, mathematics, and natural philosophy from 1787 to 1790. He had a five year break then entered University of Edinburgh to study Medicine in 1795, graduating in 1799. During this latter period he was inspired by his tutor, Professor Joseph Black, to take up the study of chemistry.

Stirling city in Scotland

Stirling is a city in central Scotland, 26 miles (42 km) north-east of Glasgow and 37 miles (60 km) north-west of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. The market town, surrounded by rich farmland, grew up connecting the royal citadel, the medieval old town with its merchants and tradesmen, the bridge and the port. Located on the River Forth, Stirling is the administrative centre for the Stirling council area, and is traditionally the county town of Stirlingshire. Proverbially it is the strategically important "Gateway to the Highlands".

Classics Study of the culture of (mainly) Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome

Classics or classical studies is the study of classical antiquity. It encompasses the study of the Greco-Roman world, particularly of its languages and literature but also of Greco-Roman philosophy, history, and archaeology. Traditionally in the West, the study of the Greek and Roman classics is considered one of the cornerstones of the humanities and a fundamental element of a rounded education. The study of classics has therefore traditionally been a cornerstone of a typical elite education.

Natural philosophy ancient philosophical study of nature and physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science

Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science.

An excerpt from Elements of Chemistry displaying how volumes of gasses react. Thomson Elements of Chemistry 1810 p483.png
An excerpt from Elements of Chemistry displaying how volumes of gasses react.

In 1796, Thomson succeeded his brother, James, as assistant editor of the Supplement to the Third Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica , contributing the articles Chemistry, Mineralogy , and Vegetable, animal and dyeing substances. In 1802, Thomson used these articles as the basis of his book System of Chemistry. His book Elements of Chemistry, published in 1810, displayed how volumes of different gasses react in a way in a way that supported the atomic theory.

<i>Encyclopædia Britannica</i> General knowledge English-language encyclopaedia

The Encyclopædia Britannica, formerly published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., is a general knowledge English-language encyclopaedia. It was written by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 contributors. The 2010 version of the 15th edition, which spans 32 volumes and 32,640 pages, was the last printed edition.

Mineralogy Scientific study of minerals and mineralised artifacts

Mineralogy is a subject of geology specializing in the scientific study of the chemistry, crystal structure, and physical properties of minerals and mineralized artifacts. Specific studies within mineralogy include the processes of mineral origin and formation, classification of minerals, their geographical distribution, as well as their utilization.

Dyeing process of adding color to textile products like fibers, yarns, and fabrics

Dyeing is the application of dyes or pigments on textile materials such as fibers, yarns, and fabrics with the goal of achieving color with desired color fastness. Dyeing is normally done in a special solution containing dyes and particular chemical material. Dye molecules are fixed to the fibre by absorption, diffusion, or bonding with temperature and time being key controlling factors. The bond between dye molecule and fibre may be strong or weak, depending on the dye used. Dyeing and printing are different applications; in printing color is applied to a localized area with desired patterns and in dyeing it is applied to the entire textile.

In 1802 he began teaching Chemistry in Edinburgh. In 1805 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were Robert Jameson, William Wright, and Thomas Charles Hope. [2]

Edinburgh Capital city in Scotland

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore.

Royal Society of Edinburgh academy of sciences

The Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland's national academy of science and letters. It is a registered charity, operating on a wholly independent and non-party-political basis and providing public benefit throughout Scotland. It was established in 1783. As of 2017, it has more than 1,660 Fellows.

Robert Jameson British scientist

Professor Robert Jameson FRS FRSE was a Scottish naturalist and mineralogist.

Thomson dabbled in publishing, acted as a consultant to the Scottish excise board, invented the instrument known as Allan's saccharometer, and opposed the geological theories of James Hutton, founding the Wernerian Natural History Society of Edinburgh as a platform in 1808. In March 1811 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society [3] and in 1815 was elected a corresponding member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1813 he founded Annals of Philosophy a leader in its field of commercial scientific periodicals. [4]

In 1817 he gave silicon its present name, rejecting the suggested "silicium" because he felt the element had no metallic characteristics, and that it chemically bore a close resemblance to boron and carbon. [5]

In 1817, Thomson became Lecturer in and subsequently Regius Professor of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, retiring in 1841. In 1820 he identified a new zeolite mineral, named thomsonite in his honour.

He lived his final years at 8 Brandon Place in Glasgow [6] but died at Kilmun in Argyllshire in 1852, aged 79, and was buried at Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh but also has a memorial at the Glasgow Necropolis. [7]


In 1816 he married Agnes Colquhoun.

He was uncle (and father-in-law) to Robert Dundas Thomson FRSE.


Selected writings

From 1813 to 1822 he was Editor of the Annals of Philosophy .

In culture

The Architects 1624. St. Petersburg. Alexander Park.jpg
The Architects

In June 2011, Russian artist Alexander Taratynov installed a life-size statue of French architect Thomas de Thomon (1760–1813) in Saint Petersburg. The statue is part of The Architects, a bronze sculptural group depicting the great architects of Russian Empire as commissioned by Gazprom and installed in Alexander Park. In 2018 associate of Shchusev Museum of Architecture Kirill Posternak discovered a mistake. Taratynov admitted he used a picture he found on Wikipedia to base the statue on, and that it was actually an image of the Scottish chemist Thomas Thomson - he blamed Wikipedia for the error but also himself for not checking with a historian to verify it was accurate. [8] [9]


  1. Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN   0 902 198 84 X.
  2. Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN   0 902 198 84 X.
  3. "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 25 October 2010.[ permanent dead link ]
  4. Morrell, Jack. "Thomson, Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27325.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. Thomas Thomson, A System of Chemistry in Four Volumes, 5th ed. (London, England: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1817), vol. 1. From page 252: "The base of silica has been usually considered as a metal, and called silicium. But as there is not the smallest evidence for its metallic nature, and as it bears a close resemblance to boron and carbon, it is better to class it along with these bodies, and to give it the name of silicon."
  6. Glasgow Post Office Directory 1852
  7. Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN   0 902 198 84 X.
  8. Jack Aitchison (20 August 2018). "Wikipedia gaffe sees statue to Glasgow professor erected in RUSSIA". Daily Record . Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  9. Ilya Kazakov (16 August 2018). "Как Алексей Миллер подарил Петербургу вместо русского зодчего шотландского химика из Википедии" [As Alexey Miller presented to St. Petersburg instead of Russian architect Scottish chemist from Wikipedia]. Fontanka (in Russian). Archived from the original on 20 August 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2018. The architect acknowledged the error and dumped the blame on Wikipedia, from which he downloaded the photo.

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Further reading