Professor John Thomas Nicolson (1860 – 1913)

Professor John Thomas Nicolson

He was born on the 3rd June, 1860, but unfortunately there is little recorded of his early life. He served his apprenticeship at the works of Messrs. R. and W. Hawthorn, Newcastle-on-Tyne. Following that he went to Edinburgh University, where he received the degree of Doctor of Science. Having gained a Whitworth Scholarship and other distinctions, he studied under Professor Martens in Berlin. When he returned to England he became a Demonstrator in Applied Mechanics at Cambridge University. In 1891 he was appointed as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at McGill University, Montreal.

During the first decade of the century, he was largely occupied with the primary arrangements in connection with the equipment of the proposed laboratory for the study of internal combustion engineering at the School of Technology. He paid a visit to the continent in search of ideas. In the report which he made on his return, he advocated that Manchester should be made the centre of research work in connection with internal combustion engines.

The Abstract of a further report by Professor Nicolson, published in Nature, 26 November 1903, Vol. 69, p.79, entitled "Engineering Equipment of the Manchester School of Technology", responds to criticisms that his ambitious programme of installing the latest equipment to the Department's laboratories was "unnecessarily complicated and beyond the capacity of the students"; and that it was wrong to put in so much plant at once, rather than waiting "until the growth of students showed a necessity for it". Nicolson's robust reply was that "it was in the hope of attracting that very class of student the critic is so sure we are unlikely to secure that so extensive and elaborate a plant was installed". It was a matter of regret among his colleagues that he did not live to see the fruits of his labour in this connection.

Outstanding contribution to science

Flow of marble

In Monreal Nicolson published a paper with a Geologist, F. D. Dawson, Proc. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A. 1901, Vol. 195 pp.368-401 (Communicated by H.L.Callendar FRS) on "An Experimental investigation into the Flow of Marble".

Turbine blades and jet engines

He received the Watt Medal of IMechE and a Telford premium of the ICE, for his joint paper with Professor H.L.Callendar "On The Law Of Condensation Of Steam: Deduced From Measurements Of Temperature-Cycles Of The Walls And Steam In The Cylinder Of A Steam-Engine", Proc. I.C.E. 1898, Vol. 131, pp. 147-206.

Internal-combustion engines

Latterly he took a special interest in internal-combustion engines. In 1908 an engine fitted with valve gear of an anti-clogging, dust free design was tested by Professor Nicolson, and its impressive performance was reported by Mr James Atkinson, of Manchester, in Proc. I.Mech.E April 1908, Vol. 74, pp. 383-415 in a paper entitled "The Governing and Regularity of Gas Engines".


Nicolson at Manchester

In 1899 Dr Nicolson went to Manchester, where he lived at Nant-y-Glyn, in Marple. He was given control of the Engineering Department of the Municipal Technical School (now University of Manchester). In 1905 he was appointed as the first Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the Faculty of Technology at the Manchester University. He worked at the Manchester University for 14 years until his death in 1913.

Watt Medal

In 1898 John Thomas Nicolson received the the Watt Medal from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) awarded to outstanding mechanical engineers.

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