List of eight Scottish geniuses

Lord Kelvin(1824-1907)

• Top row from left: James Watt, John Napier, Alex Fleming and Lord Kelvin

Bottom row from left: James Watson-Watt, James Clerk Maxwell, William Hunter and John Hunter

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William Thomson became the first scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords and his title reflects the river Kelvin, which flowed past his laboratory at the Glasgow University, where he remained as Professor of Natural Philosophy for over half a century.

He made his reputation in thermodynamics, including proposing the Kelvin scale. He also pioneered work in electric telegraphy and supervised the laying of a cable between Ireland and Newfoundland.

James Watt


A son of Greenock, James Watt was a pioneer of the steam engine. Although legend has him discovering the power of steam while watching his mother's kettle, he, in fact, had the idea of improving on the existing steam engine by introducing a separate condenser while enjoying a Sunday stroll through Glasgow Green.

Prohibited by his beliefs from working on the Sabbath, he had to wait until the following day to put his ideas down on paper.

John Hunter


The father of comparative anatomy, John Hunter had more than 13,000 anatomical specimens in his collection, including that of an Irish giant, Charles Byrne who was 7ft 7ins tall. Although Byrne wished to be buried at sea, Hunter is reported to be have bribed the funeral party and taken the body. The skeleton is on view today at the Hunterian museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. As part of his lectures, he encouraged students towards both human and animal anatomy. Among his publications was the first scientific account of gunshot wounds and a revolutionary publication on human teeth.

James Watson Watt


While studying at Dundee University, Robert Watson-Watt, who was born in Brechin, showed a particular interest in radio waves.

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After working for the government during the First World War, he began to investigate how an aircraft could be tracked by the distortion of radio signals which led to his recommendation in 1935 that a system of radar defences should be set up. His discovery played a major part in winning the Battle of Britain.

James Clark Maxwell


Maxwell is described as a "physicist's physicist", whose work was considered impenetrable by the general public, but the tide is turning and, recently, a statue was erected to his memory in Edinburgh where he was born. His contribution to mankind's knowledge of the physical work is immense.

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Two of his principal areas of research were in electro-magnetism and the kinetic theory of gases. Maxwell was recently voted third greatest physicist of all time, behind Newton and Einstein, who himself described Maxwell's work as the "most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton".

Alex Fleming


Service in a military hospital during the First World War alerted Fleming to the uselessness of the antiseptics used to clean wounds and so he dedicated himself to the discovery of a natural agent that would do the job. In 1928, at St Mary's Hospital in London, he saw that a glass plate, which had been left unwashed in the lab sink, and bore septicaemia germs, appeared to have been colonised and cleared by a mould which he later tracked down as penicillium.

As a natural substance penicillin could not be patented under UK legislation, so Fleming did not benefit financially from his discovery.

John Napier


It is not known if John Napier was born in Edinburgh or Balfron, but what is known is that he attended St Andrews University at the age of 13, dedicating himself to agricultural activity, religious controversy and military science. Among his inventions was an armoured chariot. He had a strong interest in maths and he devised a scheme of natural logarithms. He also invented what is thought to be the world's first computing device, a series of numbered rods called Napier's Bones.

William Hunter


The elder brother of John, William Hunter began his career with an eye on the church pulpit, but after five years of studying divinity he switched to medicine and a pioneering career in anatomy, founding his own school in London. He published the first textbook properly illustrating the human uterus and so greatly advanced the science of gynaecology. The darker side to his discoveries was the question of how he and his brother were able to procure corpses for dissection. It has been alleged that Hunter either commissioned their murder or was entirely uninterested in where the corpses, particularly those of pregnant women, came from.