William John Maquorn Rankine is a name engraved in scientific annals throughout the world. Rankine is best known for his accomplishments in thermodynamics (description of the operational cycle of an ideal engine using steam or another vapor) and soil mechanics (earth pressure theory). Yet another stellar attribute of this great man was his pioneering role as an engineering educator. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on July 5, 1820.
Rankine set out to become a civil engineer without a degree. He apprenticed under Sir John Benjamin MacNeill, a notable civil engineer of his time who had been Thomas Telford’s chief assistant. He practiced the civil engineering profession until the late 1840’s, switching without hesitation to practice mathematical physics.
From 1848 to 1855, Rankine spent a great amount of his time in researches on theoretical physics, thermodynamics and applied mechanics. On December 3, 1855, at the age of 35, Rankine was appointed by the Queen’s Commission to the Chair of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Glasgow - a Regius Chair established by royal decree. His ensuing years, leading up to the time of his death, were spent as a professor and author.
Rankine imparted an immense knowledge of learned theory and practice to eager students. Authoring 111 papers and writing numerous textbooks, his respective scientific findings remain a foundation in soil mechanics and thermodynamics today.