Robert Angus Smith

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Robert Angus Smith (15 February 1817–12 May 1884) was a Scottish chemist, who investigated numerous environmental issues. He is famous for his research on air pollution in 1852, in the course of which he discovered what came to be known as acid rain. He is sometimes referred to as the 'Father of Acid Rain'.

Born Pollokshaws, Glasgow, Smith was educated at the University of Glasgow in preparation for ministry in the Church of Scotland but left before graduating. He worked as a personal tutor and, accompanying a family to Gießen in 1839, he stayed on in Germany to study chemistry under Justus von Liebig, earning a Ph.D. in 1841.[1]

On returning to England the same year, he again considered Holy Orders but instead was attracted to Manchester to join the chemical laboratory of Lyon Playfair at the Royal Manchester Institution. Here he became involved in some of the environmental issues of the world's first industrial city (see History of Manchester). Playfair left for greener pastures in 1845 and Smith worked at making a living as an independent analytical chemist. After some initial alarming experiences, Smith refused to take on expert witness work which was a staple of consulting scientists of the day and which he saw as corrupt. Consequently, when the Alkali Inspectorate was established by the Alkali Act 1863, Smith's integrity made him the natural candidate. He held the post until his death.[1] He is buried in the graveyard of St Paul's Church on Kersal Moor, Salford[2]

In 1872 Smith published the book Air and Rain: The Beginnings of a Chemical Climatology, which presents his studies of the chemistry of atmospheric precipitation.[1] He was conferred with Honorary Membership of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland in 1884.[1] After his death his collection of about 4,000 books was acquired by the library of Owens College, Manchester. They are now in the John Rylands University Library, the successor of the college library.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Hamlin (2004)
  2. ^ Retrieved on 2008-06-10
  3. ^ "Smith Memorial collection and Schunck Library". University of Manchester (The). Retrieved 2012-03-07. 


  • Obituary:

  • Eyler, J. (1980). "The Conversion of Angus Smith: The Changing Role of Chemistry and Biology in Sanitary Science, 1850–1880". Bulletin of the History of Medicine 54 (2): 216–34. PMID 6994850. 
  • Gibson, A. & Farrar, W. V. (1973–4). "Robert Angus Smith, FRS, and Sanitary Science". Notes and Records of the Royal Society 28 (2): 241–62. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1974.0017.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Gorham, E. (1982). "Robert Angus Smith, F.R.S., and 'Chemical Climatology.'". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 36 (2): 267–72. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1982.0016. PMID 11615878. 
  • Hamlin, C. (2004) "Smith, (Robert) Angus (1817–1884)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 10 Aug 2007 (subscription required)
  • Kargon, R. H. (1977). Science in Victorian Manchester: Enterprise and Expertise. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-1969-5. 
  • MacLeod, R. M. (1965). "The Alkali Acts Administration, 1863–84: The Emergence of the Civil Scientist". Victorian Studies 9: 85–112. 

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