Sir David Brewster

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Sir David Brewster

Birthdate: (86)
Birthplace: Canongate, Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Death: February 10, 1868 (86)
Allerly, Melrose, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Immediate Family:

Son of James Brewster and Margaret Brewster
Husband of Juliet Macpherson
Father of Margaret Maria Brewster and Constance Marion Hope

Managed by: Alisdair James Smyth
Last Updated:

About Sir David Brewster

Sir David Brewster KH PRSE FRS FSA(Scot) FSSA MICE was a Scottish physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, writer, historian of science and university principal.

Most noted for his contributions to the field of optics, he studied the double refraction by compression and discovered the photoelastic effect, which gave birth to the field of optical mineralogy. For his work, William Whewell dubbed him the "Father of modern experimental optics" and "the Johannes Kepler of Optics."

He is well-recognized for being the inventor of the kaleidoscope and an improved version of the stereoscope applied to photography. He called it the "lenticular stereoscope", which was the first portable, 3D viewing device. He also invented the binocular camera, two types of polarimeters, the polyzonal lens and the lighthouse illuminator. A prominent figure in the popularization of science, he is considered one of the founders of the British Association, of which he would be elected President in 1849. In addition, he became the public face of higher education in Scotland, acting as Principal of the University of St Andrews and then Edinburgh between 1837 and 1868. Brewster also edited the 18-volume Edinburgh Encyclopædia.

Biographical Summary

BREWSTER, SIR DAVID. 11/12/1781-10/02/1868. Ref: 195. Male.

  • Titles and British Honours: KH(1832).
  • Place of Birth: Canongate, Jedburgh, Roxburghshire.
  • Place of Death: Allerly, Melrose, Roxburghshire.
  • Profession: Physicist.
  • Appointments Held: Principal 1837-59, St Andrews University; 1859-68, Edinburgh University.
  • Undergraduate Studies: MA(Edinburgh 1800).
  • Postgraduate Studies: LL D(Aberdeen 1807), MA(Cantab1807).
  • Mother: Margaret Key.
  • Father: James Brewster, Rector of Jedburgh Grammar School.
  • References: DNB 6, 1886, 299-303; Royal Scottish Museum Studies, 1984; Proc Roy Soc Edinb, 6, 1866-9, 282-4; Proc Roy Soc, 17, 1869, lxix-lxxiv signed JHG; Shapin 58; A Livingstone, Minerals of Scotland Past And Present, Edinburgh, 2002, 47-9; Gillispie 2, 451-4.
  • Memberships: FRS (1815),FSA(Scot), MRIA, MICE, FSSA(Founding Director).
  • Date of Election: 25/06/1808.
  • Proposers: Alexander Dirom, John Playfair, James Russell (Minute 04/01/1808 NLS Acc10,000/4). See notes.
  • Service to the RSE: Councillor (Physical) 1813-19, Councillor 1828-31, Vice-President 1831-64, President 1864-8.
  • RSE Prizes and Medals: Keith Prize 1827-9, 1829-31.
  • Notes: Previously proposed by Alexander Dirom, John Playfair, John Leslie (Minute 02/02/1807 NLS Acc10,000/4 & Acc10,000/12) "Father of Modern Optics".
  • Fellow Type: OF.

SOURCE: Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Biographical index of former fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1783-2002: Biographical Index. I. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN 978-0-902198-84-5. page 111

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Sir David Brewster's Timeline

December 11, 1781
Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Age 45
February 10, 1868
Age 86
Melrose, Roxburghshire, Scotland