On the anniversary of his death, Salford Lecturer Dr. Heather Yates speaks about a brewer’s son from Salford, who changed the world as we know it…

James Prescott Joule was born in Salford in 1818 and was the son of a local brewer. With all the access to the beer- making equipment, his love for science began at an early age, as he often did ‘experiments’ at his father’s work.

He followed his father’s work (being a manager of the brewery) and in his spare time, he continued to find a more efficient energy source for the brewery.

He was trying to replace the traditionally used ‘steam power’ and was testing using an electric battery. 4 years later he discovered what is now known as Joule’s First Law. He was the first to prove heat is a form of energy.

Photo of James Prescott Joule

Dr Heather Yates who teaches physics at the University of Salford said:
“The first thing that is important to Salford is that his former homes is on the crescent and its now apart of the University called ‘Joule’s house’

“We teach thermal physics in university, learning about him is standard curriculum for students.”


Where James Joule worked and lived, Action Square, Salford

Although his work was revolutionary, scientists were strongly against him as his work debunked everything that was discovered at the time.

The Royal Society even refused to publish his work.

They also couldn’t understand how he could complete his experiments with the level of accuracy that he claimed he had.

Dr Yates also went on to say: “He is important to this day as the standard unit of energy is named after him, called ‘joule’.

“And his theory with the conversion of energy is important when people like mechanics need to put something together, he paved the way for this.

Electric motor presented by James Joule

“Being somewhere in a city that was rapidly expanding and becoming industrialised made a huge difference, as more people were getting an education.

“He was taught by someone called John Balton who lived in Manchester and formulated the idea for the atom”.

Despite being taught by the greatest, Joule had his own skill and could measure temperatures so precisely. This is something that was unthinkable with the equipment available at the time.

However, he had a secret weapon, his experience in the brewery. He was able to measure much more precisely, as he finely tuned the measurement of temperatures whilst brewing alcohol. He also had a lot of friends from the business that could make custom equipment for him.

“When gas expands its temperature falls and this was used for refrigeration, which also affects us all. There’s a whole module we teach on thermal physics, and the university uses his work to this day.”

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