BornEdinburgh, Scotland, 13 March 1818
DiedHelensburgh, (Strathclyde), Scotland, 1 March 1894
William Swan is perhaps best known for his pioneering identification of features due to carbon compounds in the spectra of comets now called Swan bands and seen in stars and other sources. From 1850 to 1852 he was mathematical master in the Free Church of Scotland Normal School, and in 1853 was appointed teacher of mathematics, natural philosophy, and navigation in the Scottish Naval and Military Academy. He pursued scientific studies and published papers in The Philosophical Magazine, among others. Swan served as professor of natural philosophy at the United College of Saint Andrews University, Scotland, from 1859 to 1880, retiring due to ill health.
Swan was said to have been inquisitive, witty, and intelligent, with a fierce intolerance of fraud; he once described a wooden clock as “ferociously coarse and useless.” Like many of his Victorian contemporaries, Swan had multiple interests,...
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