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David Brewster

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David Brewster (1781-1868)

Sir David Brewster, FRS (Born::December 11, 1781Died::February 10, 1868) was a Scottish physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and writer, raised with a Christian education. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh at 19 with a Master of Arts degree (with this degree the National Church of Scotland certified him to preach). Unfortunately, the first time he went to preach in front of a congregation he got cold feet.

Scientific Experimentations

A year later Brewster started to experiment with optical medical equipment. He continued his optic experiments, even as he studied for his Doctor of Letters degree. Six years later he published his findings on optics in A Treatise Upon New Philosophical Instruments, and became the editor of Edinburgh Encyclopedia. Two years later he married Juliet McPederson.

While writing a paper on Bufon’s needle theory, David Brewster got an idea on how to improve the fresnel lens (a special kind of optical lens which was used in light houses for many sea-dependent countries of that at time). After building a few of them he figured out a way to calculate the best angle for polarization, which increased the speed of production of the lenses. As a measure of his achievement, in 1823 the institutes of France, Russia, and Denmark, bestowed on him the highest honor they could give to a foreigner.

Ironically, David Brewster is best remembered for his work with the kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope is a device, in which you look in the eye slot at different arrangements of glass, bits of cereal, or other objects. Inside you view the original fallings of the glass framed by mirrors. The mirrors cause the viewer to see multiple copies of the original image, each one rotated by the angle between the pairs of mirrors. The most typical kaleidoscope mirror arrangement is a three in a triangle arrangement. Recent expansion of optics led to kaleidoscopes with up to twelve lenses.

Related References