MSU historian heads international project on 19th century scientist

BOZEMAN -- John Tyndall, one of the most influential scientists of the 19th century, would've been better known if his wife hadn't accidentally poisoned him and demanded control of his letters and journals, says Michael Reidy, a Montana State University historian.

The National Science Foundation is ready to pull Tyndall out of the shadows, however, and Reidy is overseeing the effort.

The NSF recently awarded Reidy $580,000 for a three-year project to finish transcribing 8,000 Tyndall letters, publish them and hold an international conference. The project will involve graduate students and scholars from 12 universities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Among those institutions are Harvard University and Cambridge University. Co-principal investigator is Bernard Lightman, professor of humanities at York University in Toronto. He has been studying Tyndall since the mid-1970s and invited Reidy to propose the project to the NSF...

... Tyndall, one of the original agnostics, defended Darwin against his harshest critics and published numerous essays and books on the role of science in the Victorian culture, Reidy continued. Tyndall published significant works in electro-magnetism, thermodynamics, sound, glaciers, global warming and spontaneous generation. He invented the Tyndallization process for sterilizing food. He was the first person to describe why the sky is blue and the first person to describe the natural greenhouse effect. One of the first and greatest mountaineers, he set up research stations in the mountains and studied the movement of glaciers...

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