Thomson was born in Belfast but moved to Glasgow when he was nine. As a student at the universities of Glasgow, Cambridge and Paris, he made his mark in mathematical physics. At twenty-two he was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow where he set up the first university physics laboratory in Britain. Throughout his life he worked on thermodynamics – the science of energy and its conservation. His work establishing the value of absolute zero led to the scientific temperature scale being named the ‘Kelvin scale’ in his honour. Ever keen to apply his research to practical uses, Thomson supervised the laying of the Atlantic telegraph cable on the sea bed from 1857-66. For a number of decades he was recognised as the pre-eminent figure in the science world.