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Speaking of Numbers: Measurement, Quantification and the Kelvin Dictum

26 June @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm


2024 marks the bicentenary of the birth of William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, who was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow for more than 50 years and was one of the most important scientists of the 19th century.

Kelvin was committed to measurement as a pathway to scientific knowledge and technological progress, embodied in his famous dictum: “…when you cannot express [what you are speaking about] in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind…”. Kelvin uttered these words during a lecture before the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1883, a crucial time in the emergence of both the discipline of physics and the profession of electrical engineering.

Join Dr Daniel Mitchell as he digs deeper into the meaning of the Kelvin dictum in these historical contexts. For Kelvin and those he inspired, measurement was one aspect of a broad-ranging programme of quantification that cut across concept formation, physical theory, mathematics, and metrology. Framed this way, quantification emerges as a principal theme uniting many of Kelvin’s major achievements in science and engineering―and a major achievement in its own right.

Reception in the Hunterian Museum

The lecture is followed by a reception in the Hunterian Museum. A map showing the directions from the lecture venue to the Hunterian Museum can be accessed here.


The reception is supported by Drygate Brewing Company.



Sir Charles Wilson Building University of Glasgow
3 Kelvin Way
Glasgow, Scotland G12 8NN United Kingdom
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