Bickerton, Alexander William

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Bickerton, Alexander William

(b. Alton, England, 1842; d. London, England, 22 January 1929)

cosmology, natural philosophy.

An orphan at an early age, Bickerton was given an engineering education by his uncle in Bridgwater; however, he found the time an engineer had to spend outdoors was too much for his health, and turned his attention to science. In 1864 he established a small factory in the Cotswolds to develop his woodworking inventions; three years later he organized technical classes at Birmingham while studying at the Royal School of Mines in London. In 1870 Bickerton accepted a post on the staff of the Hartley Institution in Southampton, and was later appointed lecturer in science at Winchester College. In the meantime his publications on the relation between electricity and heat attracted some attention, and as a result he was invited to accept the professorship of physics and chemistry at Canterbury College in Christchurch, New Zealand, a post he held until 1903.

Most of the scientific work for which Bickerton is remembered was carried out during his New Zealand years, and is characterized by originality and boldness of approach. His theory of the build-up of celestial bodies by collisions, published in a number of papers from 1880 on, attracted considerable attention and some hostility in astronomical quarters. Among his scientific papers are “On a New Relation of Heat and Electricity”; “On Temporary and Variable Stars” containing an outline of a view that novae originate by collisions of two stars in space; “On the Problem of Stellar Collisions"; “On the Origin of Double Stars, of Nebulae and of the Solar System”; and “On Agencies Tending to Alter the Eccentricities of Planetary Orbits.”


Bickerton’s books include Materials for Lessons in Elementary Science (1883), A New Story of the Stars (1894), Some Recent Evidence in Favour of Impacts (1894), The Romance of the Earth (1900), The Romance of the Heavens (1901), and The Birth of Worlds and Systems (1911).

ZdenĚk Kopal