Senior Communication Arts
15 March 2011
James Prescott Joule
What is an innovator? You can it is someone who changes something, or does something
in a new way. I would have to say that an innovator is someone who is a creator of new ideas. In
this case, James Prescott Joule accomplished this status and then some. James Prescott Joule was
born at Salford, near Manchester, England, on December 24, 1818. James therefore did not have
the opportunity to attend university. However, his great desire was to continue to study science,
so he set up a laboratory in his home and began experimenting before and after work each day.
James saw this desire to study science as a natural consequence of his Christian faith. As he had
later wrote, ‘it is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an
acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.’ (Lamont) He has had his last name be
used as a unit of energy. James has this privilege to honor him for his hard work with heat and
energy. “Some people say that he even gave rise to the science of thermodynamics” (Kirkland
James showed that a given amount of work always produces a certain amount of heat,
and his experiments were important to formulating the first law of thermodynamics (Kirkland
77). All of his research quickly led to furthering our knowledge of energy and how it is used. For
example, in 1840, he sent a paper named ‘On the Production of Heat by Voltaic Electricity’ to
the Royal Society in London, which was probably the most prestigious association of British
scientists. In this paper, he showed that the amount of heat produced per second in a wire
carrying an electric current equals the current (I) squared multiplied by the resistance (R) of the
wire. The heat that was made was considered the power (P). This equation was (P=I2R) and was
dubbed Joule’s Law (Lamont).
All of James Prescott Joule’s work was in short a new discovery with every experiment.
He paved the way for modern physics. In 1843, Joule calculated the amount of mechanical work
needed to produce an equivalent amount of heat. This quantity was called ‘the mechanical
equivalent of heat’. Just like everything else in James Joule’s life, people were hesitant about his
work. But, James Joule was persistent. Joule’s findings challenged the caloric theory of heat
which most physicists believed in at that time. In the caloric theory, heat was believed to be a
fluid substance. Another stumbling block to the acceptance of Joule’s findings was a disbelief of
the incredible accuracy of his measurements. But Joule was patient and ingenious in his
experiments. These attributes greatly assisted him in avoiding errors and in obtaining results far
more accurate than those of previous experimenters.
There are many different examples of James Prescott Joule being an innovator. Just as he
did research with heat and thermodynamics, he also made many great discoveries with gas
molecules. In 1848, Joule became the first scientist to estimate the velocity or the speed of gas
molecules. Joule was one of the first scientists to recognize the need for standard units of
electricity, and he strongly advocated their establishment. This standardization was later done by
the British Association for the Advancement of Science under the direction of Maxwell. With the
research he did in this area of physics he had the unit of energy or work named after him.
James Joule later partnered up with another great scientist named Thomson. The two
scientists complemented each other perfectly—Joule, the accurate and resourceful experimenter
with only limited training in mathematics, and Thomson, the mathematically talented physicist
concerned with extending the theory underlying physics. For eight years, Joule worked with
Thomson on a number of important experiments to confirm some of the predictions being made
in the new discipline of thermodynamics. The most famous of these experiments involved the
decrease in temperature associated with the expansion of a gas without the performance of
external work. This cooling of gases as they expand is known as the ‘Joule-Thomson effect’.
This principle provided the start for the development of the refrigeration industry. This shows
how diverse James Joule’s experiments went into changing and innovation in the world as we
know it today. His innovations spanned from the amount of heat produced per second in a wire
carrying an electric current to the innovation of the refrigeration industry. James Prescott Joule
was truly a great innovator in America and his work will forever be present for as long as we
Lamont, Ann. "James Joule." Answers in Genesis - Creation, Evolution, Christian Apologetics.
March 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2011. <http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v15/i2/joul
Kirkland, Kyle. Time and Thermodynamics. New York: Facts on File, 2007. Print.
Repas, Robert. "Power to the People, but in What Units?" Wilson Web. Machine Design, 12 Aug.
2010. Web. 14 Feb. 2011. <http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/results/results_single_f