William Whewell

William Whewell FRS FGS FRSE (/ˈhjuːəl/ HEW-əl; 24 May 1794  6 March 1866) was an English polymath, scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science. He was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. In his time as a student there, he achieved distinction in both poetry and mathematics.


William Whewell

Master of Trinity College
In office
1841–1866
Preceded byChristopher Wordsworth
Succeeded byWilliam Hepworth Thompson
Personal details
Born(1794-05-24)24 May 1794
Lancaster, Lancashire, England
Died6 March 1866(1866-03-06) (aged 71)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Known forCoining the words scientist and physicist
Consilience
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
AwardsSmith's Prize (1816)
Royal Medal (1837)
Scientific career
FieldsPolymath, philosopher, theologian
InstitutionsTrinity College, Cambridge
InfluencesJohn Gough
John Hudson
InfluencedAugustus De Morgan
Isaac Todhunter

What is most often remarked about Whewell is the breadth of his endeavors. In a time of increasing specialization, Whewell appears a throwback to an earlier era when natural philosophers dabbled in a bit of everything. He published work in the disciplines of mechanics, physics, geology, astronomy, and economics, while also finding the time to compose poetry, author a Bridgewater Treatise, translate the works of Goethe, and write sermons and theological tracts. In mathematics, Whewell introduced what is now called the Whewell equation, an equation defining the shape of a curve without reference to an arbitrarily chosen coordinate system. He also organized thousands of volunteers internationally to study ocean tides, in what is now considered one of the first citizen science projects. He received the Royal Medal for this work in 1837.[1]

One of Whewell's greatest gifts to science was his wordsmithing. He often corresponded with many in his field and helped them come up with new terms for their discoveries. Whewell coined the terms scientist,[2] physicist, linguistics, consilience, catastrophism, uniformitarianism, and astigmatism[3] amongst others; Whewell suggested the terms electrode, ion, dielectric, anode, and cathode to Michael Faraday.[4][5]

Whewell died in Cambridge in 1866 as a result of a fall from his horse.