Edwin Plimpton Adams

Born: 23 January 1878 in Prague, Bohemia, Austro-Hungary (now Czech Republic)
Died: 31 December 1956 in Princeton, USA

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Edwin P Adams studied at Beloit College, giving his Valedictory Address there entitled 'Ether' on 21 June 1899. He studied in Harvard, Berlin, Göttingen and Cambridge, England, obtaining his doctorate in 1904 from Harvard. He became Professor of Physics at Princeton University in 1909.

In 1917 Adams took leave from Princeton and joined the Royal Engineers in the British Army for active service in France. He wrote several letters describing his day-to-day experiences during the war. These brief glimpses provide an understanding of the daily life of those serving in the War. Here is one example of a quotation from his letters:-

It is rather hard to write a detailed account of myself during the last few days; but we were driven back several times and have been on the move for the last three days. All of our men got away safely in perfect good order and we saved most of our equipment. How we all escaped I do not know nor understand as we were under rather heavy fire for some time...
His greatest fame came in 1921 when Einstein first visited Princeton to deliver five Stafford Little lectures on the theory of relativity and to accept an honorary degree. Each lecture, which Einstein delivered in German, was followed with a résumé in English by Princeton physicist Edwin P Adams, who was, the Daily Princetonian noted, among the leading American expositors of the relativity theory, along with his Princeton colleagues mathematician Luther P Eisenhart and astrophysicist Henry Norris Russell. After being submitted to Einstein for revision and final approval, a transcript of the lectures was translated into English by Professor Adams for publication by Princeton University Press, which gained the distinction of being the first United States publisher to bring out a book by the world's most acclaimed living scientist. The Meaning of Relativity has been republished in five editions and is still in print. Adams's translations appeared in the New York Evening Post (the first four lectures) and the New York Times (the fifth lecture) a day after the respective lectures.

Adams was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1915. In November of the same year he became a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, remaining in the Society through his career. In 1945 he retired from Princeton and was made Professor Emeritus.

For further biographical information on Edwin Adams, see THIS LINK

Finally we give two examples of Adams' mathematical papers. In 1920 he published The potential of ring-shaped discs. In 1940 he published Note on a problem in electrostatics. L M Milne-Thomson writes in a review of this latter paper:-

The solution of two-dimensional electrical and hydrodynamical problems connected with a grating of rounded bars was obtained by H W Richmond beginning with a grating of bars of rectangular section. The present paper extends this method to the case where the bars are mid-way between parallel planes. The consequent numerical calculations are performed with the aid of the reviewer's tables of elliptic functions.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

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JOC/EFR November 2007
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