William Gilbert studied at St John’s College, before becoming a physician in London. In 1600 his ‘De Magnete’ was published, which was the first scientific textbook based purely on practical research. It became the standard work on electrical and magnetic phenomena, and influenced Galileo. Gilbert was royal physician to Elizabeth I and James I.
Isaac Newton is famous as a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist and theologian. As well as developing a theory of gravity and three laws of motion, Newton’s observation of a prism, purchased at the Stourbridge Fair in 1665, led to him developing colour theory.
William Harvey graduated from Caius College as a BA in 1597. He then obtained a doctorate in medicine from Padua University before returning to England to practice at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. His detailed anatomical observation led to him being the first person to make a complete description of the circulation of the blood round the body, pumped by the heart. He was royal physician to James I and also Charles I, whose children Harvey protected during the English Civil War.
James Clerk Maxwell became the first Cavendish professor of physics at Cambridge in 1871. Maxwell’s equations describe electromagnetic waves. He also worked on kinetic theory and thermodynamics. He took the first permanent colour photograph, and developed colour analysis.
Ernest Rutherford was made a Nobel laureate in 1908, and became known as the father of nuclear physics. His earliest experiments were based on magnets, from which he ventured into electromagnetism and then radioactivity. He was the first person to split the atom, and the element rutherfordium is named after him. He was famous in Cambridge for singing hymns in the laboratory – the type of hymn indicating how well his research was going.