Evening Lecture (Tuesday 3 September 1830-2000)


James Watt and Precision Engineering

Prof John Marsh, School of Engineering, University of Glasgow

James Watt is one of the most illustrious engineers to be associated with the University of Glasgow. His most significant invention – the separate condenser – came to him while walking close to Glasgow Green in 1765, at a time when he was Mathematical Instrument Maker to the University. Later elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1784) and the Royal Society of London (1785), he was awarded an honorary degree by the University in 1806.

Although he did not invent the steam engine, his inventions improved their efficiency by a factor of more than 4 – so mechanical engines could do the work previously done by people and animals. As a result, by 1900 steam engines did more work than the entire world population could have done if employed solely in manual labour. The ‘age of steam’ is an expression used to describe the period between the start of the industrial revolution and the early part of the 20th century, but even today around 80% of the world’s electricity is generated using steam.

James Watt’s successful development of powerful and efficient steam engines took years of hard work, requiring a combination of his inventive mind, his interests in precision measurement, and the best engineering technology of the time.

The tradition of bringing inspirational ideas together with precision engineering continues to the present in the School of Engineering and in the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre. The presentation will reflect on Watt’s life, his inventions and the challenges he faced and relate his experience to that of carrying out world-leading engineering research today.


Prof John MarshProf John Marsh

Professor of Optoelectronic Systems and Dean of University of Glasgow-UESTC

John Marsh is known for contributions in semiconductor laser technology and integrated optics, ranging from epitaxial growth through to the design and development of integrated laser modules. His research has encompassed fundamental electrical and optical properties of semiconductors, development of novel optoelectronic devices, processes for fabricating photonic integrated circuits, integrated mode-locked lasers for ultra-short pulse generation, and development and manufacturing of high-power laser array modules. As an entrepreneur he has cofounded three companies, including Intense Ltd in 2000 to exploit his research in high power lasers; the company was sold in 2011 and continues to operate from a base in New Jersey. A Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society of Edinburgh, IEEE, OSA, IET, Institute of Physics and Royal Society of Arts, he was President of the IEEE Photonics Society in 2008-9. He was awarded the 2006 IEEE/LEOS Engineering Achievement Award and the 2006 LEOS Distinguished Service Award. He received the Chengdu Jinsha Friendship Award from the City of Chengdu in Sichuan Province, China, in 2017.

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