Exploring the lasting impact of one of Glasgow’s most influential minds

On day three of our commemoration of Lord Kelvin, we take a closer look at how mathematics and energy engineering are primary areas where his enduring genius can still influence the way we innovate as scientists and as a society.

Thanks to the pioneering work of Lord Kelvin, scientific innovations in communications and energy engineering continue to expand our understanding of the world.

It also creates opportunities for deeper human connections, creating better networks that help societies develop and strengthen our sense of global community.

The University of Glasgow is at the forefront of this important work, with a broad base in both communications and energy-related research.

As the University celebrates the bicentenary of one of its most celebrated alumni, on the third day of our special commemoration we show how the roots of this work can be traced directly and indirectly back to Lord Kelvin.

Professor of Thermofluids at the University of Glasgow, Dr Manosh Paul, is keen to pay tribute to Lord Kelvin’s interdisciplinary oeuvre as instrumental in his own research. “Lord Kelvin’s groundbreaking work and innovations have left a number of legacies. Their impact can be seen across a range of disciplines – electromagnetism and telecommunications, with his work in thermodynamics being a particular contribution,” he says.

“However, his lasting legacy is largely based on his ability to combine his deep theoretical understanding with practical applications that led to real innovations. These continue to shape the world we know today.”

Professor Paul, member of the Energy and Sustainability Research Group within the Systems, Power & Energy Research Division of the James Watt School of Engineering, added: “I have been working at the University of Glasgow for 20 years. My research involves the fundamental understanding of various complex problems and interactions related to thermodynamic, thermochemical and also fluid processes in general in thermal energy applications.

“This means that research is interdisciplinary in my group. So we work in bioenergy technologies, hydrogen energy and thermal energy storage, using innovative fleets called biochar-based composite and other bulk applications where you have heat transfer, such as thermal management in electric battery cooling.

“These are all very much connected to the net zero vision that we have. Some of the work, like bioenergy, could also provide a pathway to net negative emissions beyond just emissions.”
Professor Paul explains that at the core of his research he uses mathematical and computational models inspired by Kelvin.

“We use some of his innovations and theoretical aspects to understand the problems we face. Today we can see how important his linking of theories to real applications is. His multidisciplinary understanding of science and engineering, using different mathematical modeling physics, makes it easy to be inspired by his visionary thinking.”

Kelvin has also made significant contributions to the development of communications technologies. He improved the transmission of electrical signals over long cables and the design of the mirror galvanometer, a more sensitive device for receiving signals over long distances. Such achievements can be seen as a precursor to the work of Professor Muhammad Imran, who heads the Communications, Sensing and Imaging (CSI) department at the university’s James Watt School of Engineering.

Some of the breakthroughs in development at the CSI Hub include advanced antennas that could support the ultra-fast 6G communications networks of the future, as well as advanced AI-powered sensing technologies that can read lips even through masks. Pop-up wireless networks, meanwhile, use drones to deliver wireless signals that could help maintain mobile signals after natural disasters. “My own research takes a lot of inspiration from Lord Kelvin,” says Professor Imran, “particularly in areas like the future telecoms arena: 5G and 6G technologies.

(Image: University of Glasgow)

“Lord Kelvin is more widely recognized for his role in physics and thermodynamics. However, his title was attributed to his contributions to something related to my area of ​​interest and research: communications, namely the building of the telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean, which connected Europe to North America for the transmission of telegraph signals. Why it was so challenging at the time is because the distance was so great and even over a wide cable the signals would spread out and interfere with each other.

“People didn’t realize that a long cable is not only a conductor, but also has other properties.
Because of his ability to understand physics so deeply, he identified ways to overcome these challenges and make it practical to communicate electrical signals over long distances over wires.
The second contribution that we don’t talk about so much is his fundamental understanding and sharing with the rest of the world the electromagnetic nature of light. His contributions to the mathematical analysis of electricity and magnetism play a major role in understanding electromagnetism, a fundamental area for wireless communications.

“He was very curious because he was doing a lot of blue sky research where a lot of people might not immediately see an end goal. So what if light behaves like an electromagnetic wave? A lot of people won’t see the immediate commercial benefit of this kind of thing, but what amazes me is his ability to look beyond the immediate project.

“This is what we are trying to do in our research at the CSI hub and we are fortunate to have a large team to be able to do this. We can balance our portfolio of active research and development across a broad spectrum of technology readiness levels.

“We have different technologies at different readiness levels and at the final level you have created a technology that is affordable, feasible, works in most environments and can benefit a broader group of society.”

Professor Paul notes that Kelvin knew that it was important not just to make inventions, but to make them viable so that society would adopt them. “That’s where the real impact happens. Then we’ve achieved our end goal. We can say that we’ve transformed something in this society and that’s where Lord Kelvin leaves his long-term legacy.

“If he were alive today, I’m sure he would be looking to the future in wireless infrastructure because he pioneered broader communications. He would look at how to create wireless communications worldwide, overcoming the barriers of roaming – in the same way he enabled communications between two continents – and in a way that benefits everyone.”

Academics reveal what Kelvin’s bicentenary means to them


What I like is that we’ve been able to make sure that the commemoration is not just inward-looking, focused on STEM: scientists talking to scientists, engineers talking to engineers. There are aspects that are more outward-looking, because that’s what Kelvin would have wanted. He was respected and loved within the science and engineering community, but he didn’t just hang out with academics. He was aware of his social responsibilities to the university, the city and beyond. That’s also what the celebration should be about.


Building on Lord Kelvin’s legacy is a great opportunity to transform the way we support innovation. This is an opportunity to focus innovation not just on the science, but on the impact it has on improving people’s lives. Every academic and staff member I speak to is engaged and driven by the values ​​around societal impact, transformational change and societal contribution. It speaks so well to the university’s ethos and our values.


This is the perfect opportunity to emphasise that visitors to the University can fully participate in Kelvin’s legacy… and much more. Our collections in the Hunterian are incredibly accessible. With a simple email notification, visitors can also arrange to not only look at items in the collections, but also touch them. Anyone can come and use the collections and reinterpret them. Interpretation is ongoing – it’s always changing – so nothing is static.


Commemorating Lord Kelvin gives people another way to engage with science and the work of the university. It gives them a perspective on what science is and can do for society, how it can be transformational and how Kelvin was transformational. The work that we do has all these potential applications and spin-offs. I really hope that this is an opportunity for the broadest group of people, particularly young people, to come, hear about this, get involved and learn about the benefits that science can bring.


This is a great opportunity to celebrate not only his legacy, but how he continues to inspire generations through his remarkable work and discoveries. Through the various lectures from the world’s most renowned scientists, I believe that by celebrating and understanding the impact of his work and legacy, we can benefit our students and researchers not only in the fields of engineering, science, technology, mathematics and, from a personal perspective, thermofluids will continue to inspire.


One thing I want to take away from these celebrations is that we learn to appreciate Lord Kelvin as an example of success. We should try to replicate this success in this era too. What kept him here, associated with Glasgow, that has created such a great legacy? The strategy was to ensure that individuals become successful, because individual success leads to institutional, urban and global success.


For me the greatest value is bringing back William Thompson, the boy, the man, to inspire a new generation of young scientists in Glasgow, Scotland and worldwide. When his name is mentioned around the world, we know him as Lord Kelvin. It’s important to bring the person back… because it’s the person who is the inspiration. I would like William Thomson to become an important emblem and icon for the future.


In addition to being a great scientist, Kelvin was also a remarkable engineer, helping to create the first successful transatlantic communications cable and the first compass for metal ships. Inspired by his use of deep scientific knowledge to drive practical solutions, my colleagues and I are now transforming complex quantum science into technologies for healthcare, green energy and navigation.
We hope that our efforts, like those of Lord Kelvin, will lead to future innovations that improve people’s lives and address global challenges.

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