William Grylls Adams

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William Grylls Adams FRS (18 February 1836 Laneast, Cornwall – 10 April 1915) was professor of Natural Philosophy at King's College, London.[1]

William Grylls Adams was a younger brother of John Couch Adams (1819–1892). He graduated from St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1855.[2][3]

In 1839, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel (1820–1891) had discovered that illumination of one of two metal plates in a dilute acid changed the electromotive force (EMF).[4] In 1876, Adams and Richard Evans Day discovered that illuminating a junction between selenium and platinum has a photovoltaic effect.[5][6] This first demonstrated that electricity could be produced from light without moving parts and led to the modern solar cell.

From 1878 to 1880 he was President of the Physical Society of London. In June 1872 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1875 delivered their Bakerian Lecture.[7] He was president of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and of the mathematical and physical section of the British Association.[8]


  • Solar Heat: A Substitute Fuel for Tropical Countries, Bombay, 1878; Chadwyck-Healey Ltd., 2001
  • The action of light on selenium, 1875
  • On the action of light on tellurium and selenium, 1876
  • Simultaneous magnetic disturbances
  • Alternate current machines
  • Testing of dynamo machines


William Grylls Adams in libraries (WorldCat catalog)