Thomas Young Biography

Thomas Young was an English physicist contributed to the fields of light, language, music, vision, mechanics and Egyptology. Read this Biography to learn more about his profile, childhood, life and timeline.

Thomas Young

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 13 June 1773
Died: 10 May 1820
Nationality: British
Sun Sign: Gemini
Education: University of Edinburgh, Emmanuel College, University of Göttingen
Awards: Fellow of the Royal Society, Croonian Lecture, Bakerian Lecture, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Thomas Young was an English physicist who is known to have established the principle of the interference of light, thus modifying the archaic wave theory which was about a century old. Apart from being a reputed scientist, Young was also an Egyptologist who helped in the decipherment of Hieroglyphs in ancient scriptures and papyri. He was admired by many of his contemporaries and successors, such a Herschel, Einstein and Maxwell.

Early Life & Career

Thomas Young was born on June 13, 1773 in Milverton, Somerset, England. He belonged to the Quaker family and was the eldest of ten children. A multi-linguist, Young was well read and was well-versed in many languages such as Arabic, German, Hebrew, Turkish and Italian. He initially studied medicine in 1792 and later focused on physics, where he obtained a doctorate in the subject. He was financially independent from a very young age, and one of his few early jobs, apart from being a physician, was as a professor in Philosophy at the Royal Institution.
At this university, he presented the concept of energy in a dissertation and became well-known for his theories. In 1802, Young demonstrated a proof of the wave theory of light which refuted a century old theory that his predecessors believed in. He related color to wavelength and calculated the different wavelengths in correspondence to the seven colours recognized by Newton. In 1807, he developed another theory of color vision known as the Young-Helmholtz Theory, along with the aid of another budding scientist. In 1817, Thomas Young professed that the light waves were perpendicular to the direction of travel, which explained the theory of polarization. With this discovery however, he was at loggerheads with one of the oldest and the most eminent scientists of all time—Sir Isaac Newton. Newton’s theory, however, was proved partially correct following the confirmation by Quantum Theory.
During the peak of Young’s career and following the conflict with Newton’s theory, many English scientists scoffed and scorned Young for having the nerve to go against such a famed scientist in the first place. Disowned by his own community, Young received admiration for his theory and works in France. He was deemed champion by Augustin Jean Fresnel and Dominique Jean Arago, and finally established himself as a scientist around Europe.
Apart from being a physicist and a scientist, Young also led parallel careers as Egyptologist and physician and also developed the ‘young temperament’, a method of tweaking various musical instruments. Thomas Young died on May 10, 1829, aged 55 in London, England.

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Thomas Young Biography

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Last Updated

June 18, 2019

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