Glasgow Uni plans year of events to mark anniversary of James Watt’s death

Professor Colin McInnes comes face to face with a life-size marble portrait of James Watt. Picture: John Devlin
Professor Colin McInnes comes face to face with a life-size marble portrait of James Watt. Picture: John Devlin
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Glasgow University is marking the anniversary of the death of pioneering engineer James Watt today by unveiling plans for a year’s worth of ­celebrations to commemorate his achievements.

Watt, born in Greenock in 1736, is famed for developing an improved steam engine which played a vital role in the industrial revolution.

He undertook his pioneering work while employed as an instrument maker at the university from 1756-64.

This year marks both the 250th anniversary of Watt’s patent for the condenser and the 200th anniversary of his death in 1819.

Celebrations include public education events at the 2019 Glasgow Science Festival, an international symposium for engineering researchers, a public exhibition about Watt’s time at the university, hosting the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Edinburgh Annual Joint Lecture, and a gala dinner.

Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh is launching the “Watt an Inspiration” exhibition. It already marks Watt’s birthday each year with Global Watt Day, when 123,000 members of The Watt Club raise a glass to him.

Watt’s breakthrough came while repairing Glasgow University’s model Newcomen steam engine in 1763. He realised he could improve efficiency by adding a separate steam condenser to avoid loss of heat and save fuel. This was widely taken up by mining and manufacturing industries and incorporated into new types of ships and trains.

Professor Asen Asenov who holds Glasgow University’s current James Watt Chair in electrical engineering, said Watt inspired future generations of students, engineers scientists at the university.

He said: “We’re pleased and proud to be celebrating the University of Glasgow’s links with James Watt in a year which marks important anniversaries in his life story.

“The university has always taken seriously its association with Watt and worked hard to keep his spirit alive on campus, particularly through the role of the James Watt Chairs.

“Previous holders of that role include Professor John Lamb, who pioneered semiconductor research which helped underpin modern electrical and electronics engineering, and Professor Chris Wilkinson, who pioneered nanotechnology fabrication at the University.”

Professor Colin McInnes, the university’s James Watt Chair in engineering science, said: “Watt was a restless inventor … Today, our School of Engineering is similarly adventurous, with research underway on projects from down at the quantum level all the way to space exploration.”