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Arthur Eddington: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Michael Blosser

Michael has a Masters in Physics and a Masters in International Development. He has over 5 years of teaching experience, teaching Physics, Math, and English classes.

This lesson will introduce the reader to the physicist Arthur Eddington, exploring his personal life, his career, and his work on astrophysics and general relativity and other topics that contributed so much to the field of physics.

Arthur Eddington

You cannot disturb the tiniest petal of a flower without the troubling of a distant star.

-Arthur Eddington-

Arthur Eddington

Arthur Eddington is a famous astronomer, physicist, and mathematician who is known mostly for his revolutionary work on astrophysics. What we know now about stars can be largely attributed to the foundational research on stars put forth by Arthur Eddington. This lesson will explore the personal life and career of Arthur Eddington, introducing as well his scientific contributions that have made him a household name.

Childhood and Early Life

We are bits of stellar matter that got cold by accident, bits of a star gone wrong.

-Arthur Eddington-

Arthur Eddington was born on the 28th of December, 1882 in Kendal, England to his parents Arthur Henry Eddington and Sarah Ann Shout. Eddington's father died when Arthur was two years old from a typhoid epidemic. Eddington's mother raised Arthur and his sister and he was initially home-schooled. The family soon moved to an English sea-town called Weston-super-Mare. There Eddington attended a prestigious preparatory school where he displayed enormous skill in the subjects of English and Mathematics. In 1898 Eddington received a scholarship to go to the University of Manchester. Eddington graduated with a Bachelors of Science in physics from the University of Manchester and enrolled in the prestigious University of Cambridge in 1902 with the help of another scholarship. Eddington graduated three years later with a Masters degree in 1905 and soon thereafter was appointed the Chief Assistant at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. In 1913, Arthur Eddington was appointed as a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, where he would work for the next 31 years.

Career & Books

We have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature. We have found a strange foot-print on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprint. And Lo! it is our own.

-Arthur Eddington-

Arthur Eddington made numerous contributions to the field of astronomy and physics. In 1914, Eddington published his first book, on the subject of stars and astrophysics, called, Stellar Movements and the structure of the Universe. That same year Eddington was appointed to the post of the Director of Cambridge Observatory. During his time as the director of the observatory at Cambridge, Eddington published numerous foundational theories on stars and other astrophysics topics.

Additionally, Eddington was the first scientist to write a description of Einstein's theory of general relativity in the English language, writing a book called Report on the Relativity Theory of Gravitation in 1918. As well, Eddington led an expedition to West Africa in an attempt to experimentally prove Einstein's theory of relativity in 1919. In this expedition, Eddington and his team observed that during the solar eclipse, the position of the stars beyond the eclipse were slightly displaced from its center, which the theory of general relativity predicted, thus confirming Einstein's theory experimentally and making Einstein a household name. This and Eddington's publication of The Mathematical Theory of Relativity in 1923 made Eddington one of the leading scholars of general relativity at that time.

Additionally, Eddington throughout his life was very interested in philosophy and the philosophy of science. He declared himself a pacifist during World War I (being of the Quaker faith) and saw no conflict between his religious beliefs and scientific research. Eddington was very concerned with the role of science in modern day society and wrote numerous books concerning the philosophy of science including:

  • The Nature of the Physical World (1928)
  • Why I Believe in God: Science and Religion, as a Scientist Sees It (1930)
  • New Pathways of Science (1935)
  • The Philosophy of Physical Science (1939)

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