Thomas Preston (scientist)

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Thomas Preston (1860 in Kilmore, County Armagh – 1900[1] was an Irish scientist whose research was concerned with heat, magnetism, and spectroscopy. He established empirical rules for the analysis of spectral lines, which remain associated with his name. In 1897[2] he discovered the Anomalous Zeeman Effect, a phenomenon noted when the spectral lines of elements were studied in the presence or absence of a magnetic field.[3][4]

He was educated at The Royal School, Armagh, the Royal University of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin. From 1891 to 1900 he was Professor of Natural Philosophy at University College Dublin. He was a Fellow of the Royal University of Ireland and of the Royal Society, London and was a distinguished spectroscopist.[1] His two major textbooks remained in continuous use for over 50 years.[3]

He enrolled in Trinity College, Dublin, in 1881, and worked under the physicist George FitzGerald, known for his work in electromagnetics.[3] While at University College Dublin, he wrote a book, The Theory of Light.[5] In 1899 he won the second Boyle Medal presented by the Royal Dublin Society.[6] He died in 1900 of a perforated ulcer just as he was reaching the height of his academic powers.[3]


  • A Treatise on Spherical Trigonometry with Application to Spherical Geometry and Numerous Examples (with William J. McClelland) in two volumes, (Macmillan, 1885)
  • The Theory of Light (Macmillan, 1890)
  • The Theory of Heat (Macmillan, 1894)


  1. ^ a b Thomas Preston Dictionary of Ulster Biography
  2. ^ "Irish Scientists and Inventors". Irish Patents Office. Retrieved 30 June 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Thomas Preston". The Free Dictionary by Farlex. Retrieved 30 June 2009. 
  4. ^ "Thomas Preston". Birr Castle Demesne, Voyage of Discovery, Irish scientists and engineers. Archived from the original on June 8, 2009. Retrieved 30 June 2009. 
  5. ^ Preston, Thomas (1901). The Theory of Light (3rd ed.). Macmillan. 
  6. ^ "The Boyle Medal". Irish Universities Promoting Science. Archived from the original on November 19, 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2009.