Optical connnections: The work of Sir William Crookes

David Baker uncovers the extraordinary life of Sir William Crookes, inventor of the eponymous glass tints and occult enthusiast

Sir William Crookes was one of the scientific giants of the Victorian and Edwardian ages. His chemical investigations ranged across many fields, and one of the last immortalised his name in optics. His personal life, however, was somewhat complicated; not least because of his researches into spiritualism and his questionable relationship with a young medium.

Crookes (1832–1919) was in the fortunate position of inheriting a great deal of money from his father, allowing him to set up his own private laboratory in Notting Hill, London. He had studied at the Royal College of Chemistry and, after short spells as superintendent of the meteorological department of Oxford’s Radcliffe Observatory and working at the College of Science in Chester, he continued to pursue his various investigations at his London base. He was a rarity for such a prominent scientist in that, other than these two brief sojourns, he never held an academic position; this, and his argumentative nature, may account for the fact that he only once published a scientific paper jointly with another named person.

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