David Brewster

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David Brewster
In the book Great Britain and Her Queen
Around 1841

Sir David Brewster (born December 11, 1781 near Jedburgh , Scotland , † February 10, 1868 in Allerly near Melrose ) was a Scottish physicist , rediscoverer of the kaleidoscope and inventor of the dioptric stereoscope .

Live and act

Brewster's father, James Brewster, was the principal of Jedburgh Grammar School . Brewster took an early interest in science and built a telescope when he was 10. He first studied theology in Edinburgh (where he also graduated and had a license to pastor the Church of Scotland , which he never used) and then science and law. He was then a lawyer and later professor of physics at St. Andrews University . In 1859 he became principal of the University of Edinburgh .

His first investigations concerned the polarization of light ( Brewster angle , 1814 when studying polarized light in crystals with two optical axes) and the double refraction of rays. Results appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh , of which he became a member in 1808. Later he was also appointed vice president of this society.

In 1816 he succeeded in inventing the kaleidoscope . He received an English patent for this innovation on July 10, 1817 and wrote a book about it in 1819. This scientific instrument quickly became a popular toy and was widely used.

Another of his inventions, the stereoscope, also became a popular toy around 1850. It arose from its association with experiments in early photography.

He is also known for his great biography of Isaac Newton . In it he took a critical look at the methodology of Francis Bacon :

"The process of Lord Bacon was, we believe, never tried by any philosopher but himself. ... This example, in short, of the application of his system, will remain to future ages as a memorable instance of the absurdity of attempting to fetter discovery by any artificial rules. "

Such reservations were later developed more comprehensively by Paul Feyerabend .

Brewster wrote numerous popular science articles and books. He was known to many prominent Scottish figures such as Walter Scott and many painters such as Alexander Nasmyth and William Turner .

In 1808 Brewster also took over the editing of the Edinburgh Encyclopedia , which came out in 30 volumes by 1830. Together with Robert Jameson , Brewster founded the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal in 1819 , which he published from 1824 to 1832 alone. He also wrote many articles for the 7th and 8th editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica . David Brewster died on 10 February 1868 in Allerly in Melrose at a pneumonia .

Brewster is considered to be the first to describe the mineral gmelinite (today gmelinite-Na ).


In 1815 he was elected as a member (" Fellow ") in the Royal Society , which in the same year awarded him the Copley Medal , 1818 the Rumford Medal and 1830 the Royal Medal . In 1822 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , 1825 to the Académie des Sciences , 1826 to the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and 1827 to the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences . Since 1850 he was a foreign member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences , since 1864 of the National Academy of Sciences . In 1831 he was knighted as a Knight of the Guelph Order and in 1832 as a Knight Bachelor .

The lunar crater Brewster , the asteroid (5845) Davidbrewster and the minerals Brewsterit-Ba and Brewsterit-Sr were named after him. He is also namesake for Mount Brewster , a mountain in East Antarctic Victoria Land , and Brewster Island off the west coast of West Antarctic Graham Land .

The unit of voltage optical sensitivity , the Brewster, also bears his name.


  • Treatise on the caleidoscope . Edinburgh (1819)
  • with William Elford Leach: Entomology , William Blackwood [and others], 1830
  • Letters on natural magic . London (1831)
  • Treatise on Optics . London (1832)
  • Life of Sir Isaac Newton . Edinburgh (1832) (German Leipzig 1833)
  • Memoirs of the life, writings, and discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton . 2 vols. London (1855)
  • Martyrs of Science . Edinburgh (1841) (depicting the fates of Galileo Galilei , Tycho Brahe and Johannes Keplers )
  • Double reflection and polarization of light , London 1860
  • Description of a double camera , Ostwald's classic, Vol. 168, Leipzig 1908

Web links

Commons : David Brewster  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ TU Munich, Physics ( Memento from February 18, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  2. See Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer : David Brewster - a "precursor" by Paul Feyerabend , in: Mitteilungen der Österreichische Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftsgeschichte 27 (2010) 167f.
  3. ^ David Brewster: Description of gmelinite, a new mineral species. In: The Edinburgh Journal of Science. Volume 2 (1825), pp. 262–267 ( PDF 429 kB )
  4. Holger Krahnke: The members of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 1751-2001 (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Vol. 246 = Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Mathematical-Physical Class. Episode 3, vol. 50). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-82516-1 , p. 49.
  5. ^ Members of the previous academies. Sir David Brewster. Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences , accessed on March 2, 2015 .
  6. ^ Entry of Sir David Brewster's membership at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences , accessed on December 23, 2016.
  7. ^ William Arthur Shaw: The Knights of England. Volume 1, Sherratt and Hughes, London 1906, p. 446.
  8. ^ William Arthur Shaw: The Knights of England. Volume 2, Sherratt and Hughes, London 1906, p. 332.
  9. ^ Mindat - Brewsterite-Ba and Brewsterite-Sr