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date: 21 November 2019

Rayleigh, John William Strutt, 3rd Baronlocked

  • R.W.B. Stephens
  • , revised by Murray Campbell


(b Langford Grove, nr Maldon, Essex, Nov 12, 1842; d Witham, Essex, June 30, 1919). English scientist. He was educated at Cambridge University, where he was Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics (1879–84); later (1887–1905) he held the professorship of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution, London, and in 1905 he became president of the Royal Society. He received jointly with Sir William Ramsay a Nobel Prize for the discovery of argon.

Rayleigh was perhaps the most versatile of British physical scientists from about 1850 to 1930 and, like Helmholtz, he covered almost all branches of physics and ventured into other disciplines. His monumental Theory of Sound (1877–8/R), written over five years, is often termed the ‘bible of acoustics’ and remains a standard treatise. Among Rayleigh’s contributions to acoustics was his extension of Helmholtz’s resonator theory. He also made more precise the corrections for open and closed resonating tubes, and gave a theoretical explanation of heat-maintained vibrations in pipes (the ‘Rijke sounding-tube’ effect). Additionally he carried out investigations on singing and acoustic sensitive flames and gave a more detailed explanation of ‘whispering galleries’, attributing the effect of the St Paul’s Cathedral gallery to the slight inward slant of the circular containing walls. He also investigated the binaural effect in sound and developed the phonic motor, of considerable value for frequency measurement. Rayleigh’s collected papers, which number over 400, were published in ...

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