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George Green: Nottingham's Magnificent Mathematician
Dates: Friday 12 September 2014 to Sunday 4 January 2015
Over 170 years after his death, mathematical techniques invented by George Green (1793-1841) are still widely used in physics and engineering. Green is also famous for his windmill in Sneinton, which has been restored and is now a museum.
George Green's first essay, self-published in 1828, has been described as “ one of the most important works ever written on Electricity”, and “the beginning of mathematical physics in England”. Yet Green died in obscurity. His essay was unknown until it was read with astonishment in 1845 by William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, and reprinted by him a few years later.
Even more remarkable is the fact that George Green was a working man – a miller in his father’s windmill in Sneinton. He attended school for just one year. Who could have introduced him to the complex mathematics that he used? Unfortunately, many details about Green’s life and work are unclear, since all of his papers were destroyed after his death. Members of The University of Nottingham have been at the forefront of studies into George Green since the early 20th century. The University was also a key player in the project to restore Green’s Mill in the 1970s and 1980s, and hosted prestigious events to celebrate Green’s bicentenary in 1993.
This exhibition draws on the George Green Collection of papers gathered by his biographers and members of the George Green Memorial Fund, and has been curated by Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham. A rare copy of his 1828 essay will be on display alongside items relating to his family, his education in Nottingham and Cambridge, and his mill and its restoration. We explore Green’s lasting importance, and remember tributes by Kelvin, Einstein, and the Nobel prizewinner Julian Schwinger. It is time for George Green to be celebrated again in his hometown.
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A series of talks will be held to accompany the exhibition. Places are limited so please book in advance with the Box Office on 0115 846 7777
Green's Mill in Sneinton dates back to 1807. After a prominent fundraising campaign in the 1970s and 1980s it was restored and re-opened as a science centre in 1985. The following year flour was ground there again for the first time since the 1860s. In this talk Tom Huggon, Chairman of the Friends of Green's Mill, discusses George Green's work as a miller, the mill's history, and its future.
George Green introduced two mathematical concepts: the idea of a potential energy in physical problems, and a way of calculating it for complex systems using what is now called a Green's function. Both of these ideas, suitably extended, proved central to the Nottingham design of actively screened coils for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Emeritus Professor Roger Bowley of the School of Physics explains how the team used Green's techniques in their work.
George Green was an "almost entirely self-taught mathematical genius" (NM Ferrers, 1871) whose work was a major influence on the mathematical physics of the 19th and 20th centuries and shows no signs of stopping in the 21st. But from where or from whom did Green learn his mathematics? Peter Rowlett from Nottingham Trent University surveys Green's education in Nottingham and Cambridge and those who influenced him.
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