Richardson, Lewis Fry (1881-1953) (World of Earth Science)
English physicist and meteorologist
Lewis Fry Richardson was an English physicist with a penchant for trying to solve a wide range of scientific problems using mathematics. During his career as a scientist and educator, Richardson explored mathematical solutions to predict weather, to explain the flow of water through peat, and to identify the origins of war.
Richardson was the youngest of seven children born to David Richardson, a tanner, and his wife, Catherine Fry, who came from a family of corn merchants. Richardson was born on October 11, 1881, in Newcastle upon Tyne. After completing his high school education in 1898, Richardson studied science at Durham College in Newcastle for two years before entering King's College at Cambridge, where he ultimately earned a doctorate in physics and then later returned to study and receive a degree in psychology. After graduating from King's College, Richardson held a number of positions in the years leading up to World War I. These included working as a scientist for a tungsten lamp factory, the National Peat Industries, Ltd., and serving four years as superintendent of the Eskdalemuir Observatory operated by the National Meteorological Office.
Richardson, who was born into a Quaker family, served with the French army as a member of the Friends'Ambulance Unit during the war from 1916 to 1919. Following the end of hostilities, Richardson returned to England, where he combined his scientific inquiry with teaching. In 1920, he accepted a position as director of the physics department at Westminster Training College. This was followed by an appointment as principal of Paisley Technical College in 1929, a post that he held until his retirement in 1940. Retirement allowed Richardson to continue his primary love, research.
Richardson began his research looking at practical problems, such as examining the flow of water through peat while he worked for the National Peat Industries, Ltd. Using differential equations, Richardson came up with ways to determine water flow that were far more accurate than other methods. His work eventually led to attempts at developing a system of weather prediction based on newly understood knowledge of the upper atmosphere and the roles played by radiation and eddies, or atmospheric currents which move contrary to main air flow. Richardson's work led to the publication of his book, Weather Prediction by Numerical Process, in 1922.
Richardson's experiences in France during the First World War also inspired him to probe the causes of human conflict using mathematics, and he published a paper in 1919 on the mathematical psychology of war. Eventually, he enlarged upon this early work in the book Arms and Insecurity and went on to complete a mathematical study of the world's wars. This work, which resulted in Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, examined the causes and magnitude of these conflicts. In his research, Richardson tried to define the relations between countries in terms of mathematical equations.
Richardson's pioneering use of mathematics resulted in him being elected a fellow in the Royal Society in 1926. Richardson died on September 30, 1953.
See also Atmospheric composition and structure; Weather forecasting methods; Weather forecasting