Scottish quote of the week: Sir James Dewar, chemist and physicist

Sir James Dewar (1842 - 1923). Picture: Getty
Sir James Dewar (1842 - 1923). Picture: Getty
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“Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.”

Sir James Dewar (1842-1923) was a chemist and physicist whose most famous accomplishment was the invention of the Dewar flask - now better known as a Thermos.

It is now a staple of any camping trip or Sunday picnic, but its ubiquity overshadows, perhaps unfairly, many other landmark innovations.

Cordite was a smokeless alternative to gunpowder which he helped develop alongside Frederick Augustus Abel; his work on liquefaction was an intensive interest for him for much of his career; his research on the behaviour of matter at extremely low temperatures earned him several nominations for the Nobel Prize.

The irony of his greatest invention, however, was that he could not prevent its mass production by Thermos because he did not own a patent for it.

Regrettably for Dewar, innovation is one commodity that doesn’t solely exist in a vacuum.