A plaque to honour a Scots astronomer was unveiled in Glasgow

7 April 2017

An IOP Scotland blue plaque to Alexander Wilson has been unveiled at the University of Glasgow’s Acre Road Observatory.

Alexander Wilson FRSE (1714-1786) was the first Scottish Astronomy Chair of Glasgow from 1760 to1784. He was a type-founding entrepreneur and glass instrument maker. In astronomy, Wilson’s pioneering work included the study of sunspots and of the need for stellar motion to avoid gravitational collapse. He was also highly skilled in the technical fields of typesetting, telescope, hydrometer, and thermometer design He conducted kite borne measurements of atmospheric structure and was a founder member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The Regius Chair of Astronomy (founded 1760) is the second oldest in Glasgow University and its 250th anniversary was celebrated at the UK National Astronomy Meeting held in Glasgow 2010. Its first incumbent, Alexander Wilson MD was appointed in charge of the Old College Observatory founded in 1757 based on the instrument collection gifted by Alexander MacFarlane of Jamaica.

Guests were welcomed to the plaque unveiling event on 28 March 2017 by the University of Glasgow’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli and by Professor John C Brown OBE, FRSE, 10th Astronomer Royal for Scotland. This was followed by a talk on Wilson by Dr David Clarke, FInstP, former Reader and Director of Glasgow University Observatories and author of Reflections on the Astronomy of Glasgow. There were also contributions from Dr Nicky Reeves, University of Glasgow’s Museum and Art Gallery Curator, Dr Sam Alberti, Keeper of Science and Technology, National Museums of Scotland, and James Babington Smith, a descendant of Wilson. Wilson-related materials from the Glasgow University Hunterian Museum archives were on display.

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