Lord Kelvin: Revolutionary Scientist

Scientific instruments in the Lord Kelvin displayThis permanent display is based around the life and work of William Thomson, or Lord Kelvin, Glasgow's greatest scientist. ‘Lord Kelvin: Revolutionary Scientist’ uses The Hunterian's world-famous collection of historical items and original scientific instruments to bring alive the story of a unique and humble man.

Along with such luminaries as Darwin and Lister, Lord Kelvin was a giant in the world of science, and his achievements make him one of Glasgow’s most famous citizens. Although born in Belfast, he came to Glasgow at a very young age and made the city his life-long home.

‘Lord Kelvin’ was the title William Thomson took when he was made the first ‘science lord’. He taught at the University of Glasgow for fifty-three years and became its Chancellor. In Glasgow his contribution to safety at sea was probably most profoundly appreciated because of the shipbuilding and international trading connections.

Lord Kelvin still affects the way science is taught today because of demonstration methods and laboratory projects. He almost invented the modern research degree. A great theorist he was also a very practical man; the death of his nephew at sea led to a lifelong fascination with safety at sea; his compass was adopted by most of the world’s navies; his tide gauge was so good it remained unsurpassed for many years. He solved the problems involved in laying the first transatlantic telegraph cables and conveying messages, thus paving the way for the global communications highway. Every mobile phone and computer user owes him a debt. We even name a system of temperature and make of refrigerator after him.


The exhibition is located on the balcony level of the Hunterian Museum main hall.

‘Lord Kelvin: Revolutionary Scientist’ has been supported by The Wolfson Foundation (ReDiscover Fund), which is dedicated to the public understanding of science.