Sir David Brewster Biography

Noted for his experimental work on polarized light and optics. He also invented the kaleidoscope.

Sir David Brewster

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 11 December 1781
Died: 10 February 1868
Nationality: Scottish
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Education: University of Edinburgh
Awards: Fellow of the Royal Society, Copley Medal, Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts, Royal Medal, Rumford Medal, Grand prix des sciences mathématiques, Keith Medal, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Sir David Brewster was a famous Scottish physicist who is known for inventing the kaleidoscope. He also discovered and developed on the polarized light theory at specific angles and improvements to the already invented stereoscope. Not only was Brewster a physicist, he was also known for his prolific writing skills. He was the editor of the ‘Edinburgh Encyclopedia’ and the ‘Edinburgh Magazine’. Ever since his teenage years, Brewster developed a passion for science and decided to specialize in optics. Legend has it, that Brewster was a licensed minister of Scotland but never pursued this career seriously. He instead, looked into the finer aspects of the science behind light and optics.

Early Life

David Brewster was born in Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, Scotland on December 11, 1781. The third of six children, David was sent to the University of Edinburgh at a very young age and graduated with an MA in 1800.
Early on, he was given the position of the minister of Church of Scotland, but never paid too much attention to his job. He was more interested in studying astronomy and physics and he did just that. His first dissertation on ‘Some Properties of Light’ was written in 1813. Following the success of his paper, his most important contribution yet, changed his life forever. He worked on the polarization of light by reflection and crystals (biaxial). During his time and age, the technologies for advanced scientific studies were not very advanced and hence, he often constructed his own tools to supplement him with his observations. In his studies of the polarized light, he discovered that light struck the surface or a plane at a slight angle and elucidated the relationship between the beam and the angle. Brewster is also credited for inventing the kaleidoscope in 1816. He published many papers and dissertations on the subject such as ‘Treatise on the Kaleidoscope’. Apart from inventing advanced tools, Brewster wrote a number of papers on optics and also added to the development of the stereoscope. He was knighted for his works in 1831.
During his free time, Sir David Brewster indulged in camerawork. He also married twice. He had five children from his first marriage with Juliet Macpherson. Brewster married for the second time in 1857, to a woman called Jane Kirk Purnell.
Sir David Brewster was elected to the Royal Society in 1815 and was also presented the Copley Medal, the Rumford Medal and the Royal Medal for his work on optics. He was also the founder of the BAAS (British Association for the Advancement of Science), before being knighted. He died on February 10, 1868 and was interred beside his first wife and second son at Melrose Abbey.

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Sir David Brewster Biography

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Last Updated

June 18, 2019

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