James Dewar

Some like it hot, some like it cold; James Dewar liked both! Born in Kincardine, September 20th 1842. His parents owned The Unicorn Pub, which must have been handy, but Dewar's parents died when he was still in his teens and his brother looked after him until he went to school in Dollar.

Studying chemistry at Edinburgh University, he moved on to lecture at the Royal Vet College, where he began his cold work - investigating solid hydrogen. In 1872 he invented the vacuum flask, still known to some as the Dewar flask. He never patented it for some reason, and it is generally called the thermos flask, due to its insulating properties. He married Helen Rose Banks in 1871.

He predicted the phenomenon known as superconductivity, where all electrical resistance in a conductor would vanish at 0'K. In 1888, Dewar was appointed to the Government Committee on Explosives, which must have had more exciting meetings than most. With Sir Frederick Abel he invented cordite in 1889, a more efficient and safer explosive (safer to handle that is!). It was used as a propellant for shells and was made from nitro-glycerine, gun cotton and mineral jelly. His final researches involved measuring solar radiation, and he had a sliding panel made on the roof of the Royal Institution.

Dewar died at the Royal Institution on Albemarle Street, London, on 27 March 1923. His friend and colleague, Prof. Armstrong, wrote that the last time he saw Dewar, that same month, he was sitting in silent vigil at his instruments under the heavens. Armstrong recalled his friend as 'the silent watcher of the skies and a life long seeker after truth'.