James Prescott Joule caricature mahmood tabriziJames Prescott Joule (24 December 1818 – ۱۱ October 1889) was an English physicist and brewer, born in Salford, Lancashire. Joule studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work (see energy). This led to the law of conservation of energy, which led to the development of the first law of thermodynamics. The SI derived unit of energy, the joule, is named after James Joule. He worked with Lord Kelvin to develop the absolute scale of temperature the kelvin. Joule also made observations of magnetostriction, and he found the relationship between the current through a resistor and the heat dissipated, which is now called Joule’s first law.
The son of a wealthy brewer, Joule was tutored as a young man by the famous scientist John Dalton and was strongly influenced by chemist William Henry and Manchester engineers Peter Ewart and Eaton Hodgkinson. He was fascinated by electricity, and he and his brother experimented by giving electric shocks to each other and to the family’s servants.
As an adult, Joule managed the brewery. Science was merely a serious hobby. Sometime around 1840, he started to investigate the feasibility of replacing the brewery’s steam engines with the newly invented electric motor. His first scientific papers on the subject were contributed to William Sturgeon‘s Annals of Electricity.
Motivated in part by a businessman’s desire to quantify the economics of the choice, and in part by his scientific inquisitiveness, he set out to determine which prime mover was more efficient. He discovered Joule’s first law in 1841, that the heat which is evolved by the proper action of any voltaic current is proportional to the square of the intensity of that current, multiplied by the resistance to conduction which it experiences. He went on to realize that burning a pound of coal in a steam engine was more economical than a costly pound of zinc consumed in an electric battery. Joule captured the output of the alternative methods in terms of a common standard, the ability to raise one pound, a height of one foot, the foot-pound.
However, Joule’s interest diverted from the narrow financial question to that of how much work could be extracted from a given source, leading him to speculate about the convertibility of energy. In 1843 he published results of experiments showing that the heating effect he had quantified in 1841 was due to generation of heat in the conductor and not its transfer from another part of the equipment. This was a direct challenge to the caloric theory which held that heat could neither be created or destroyed. Caloric theory had dominated thinking in the science of heat since introduced by Antoine Lavoisier in 1783. Lavoisier’s prestige and the practical success of Sadi Carnot‘s caloric theory of the heat engine since 1824 ensured that the young Joule, working outside either academia or the engineering profession, had a difficult road ahead. Supporters of the caloric theory readily pointed to the symmetry of the Peltier-Seebeck effect to claim that heat and current were convertible in an, at least approximately, reversible process.