Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Kaleidoscope - Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)

David Brewster was a child prodigy who went to Edinburgh University at the age of 12. He completed a theology course and was licensed to preach but he also taught himself to be philosopher, astronomer and mathematician. Brewster became involved in the study of the diffraction of light and wrote a number of scientific papers on the subject. He had a lifelong interest in optics and re-invented the kaleidoscope (which had originally been created by the Greeks and then forgotten). Although he conceived it as a scientific instrument, the kaleidoscope rapidly became a popular toy - and made Brewster a well known figure during his lifetime.

Although Augustin-Jean Fresnel gave his name to the lenses used in the optics for lighthouses, Brewster was in the field earlier and pushed for its adoption with the lighthouse authorities. Brewster contributed many articles to scientific journals and was a contributor to the 7th and 8th editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Following a suggestion from Brewster, the British Association for the Advancement of Science was created. In 1831 he was knighted for his services to science.

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