Miers, Henry Alexander

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(b. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 25 May 1858; d. London, England, 10 December 1942)


Miers was the third son of Francis Charles Miers, a civil engineer, and Susan Fry Miers. He won scholarships at Eton and Oxford, where he studied classics and science, and gained second-class honors in mathematics upon graduation in 1881. He was small in stature, and the handsome appearance and trim build that he retained for most of his life made him look younger than his years. His manner was that of a pleasant diplomat who endeavored to get things done by friendly negotiation, without controversy. Tempering this quality was an adventurous streak, which was nearly his undoing in an early balloon attempt and led him to travel extensively, to the Klondike, to South Africa, and to Russia.

Although he had no formal training directly related to crystallography, Miers prepared within a year for an opening as assistant at the British Museum by short stays with N. Story-Maskelyne at Oxford, W. J. Lewis at Cambridge, and Paul von Groth at Strasbourg. His work at the Museum, under Lazarus Fletcher, was largely concerned with descriptions of crystal forms. He first detected the merohedrism in cooperite and other minerals, thus helping to complete the recognition of the classes of naturally occurring crystal symmetry. He described a number of sulfosalt minerals in detail and the complex morphology of these crystals led to his interest in crystal growth. Miers constructed an ingenious inverted goniometer for measuring crystal faces while they were growing in solution. This led to direct observation of the ubiquitous but variable presence of slightly divergent (vicinal) faces during crystal growth. He realized the role of growth in the matching of a low reticular density on such faces with the lower density of matter in the solution, but the real underlying reason did not become apparent for another fifty years.

After his appointment as Wayneflete professor of mineralogy at Oxford in 1895, Miers refined his apparatus so that it could also measure the concentration of solution at the growing crystal surface through the index of refraction as determined by total reflection. This ingenious approach enabled him and a group of students to observe directly the conditions of various styles of crystallization, from slow, regular growth of large crystals at low supersaturations to the shower of microscopic crystals at a critical high degree of supersaturation, which were correlative with Ostwald’s metastable and labile conditions, respectively.

Miers began his teaching in 1886, when H. E. Armstrong asked him to give a course in crystallography at the recently opened City and Guilds of London Institute (later part of Imperial College). His most famous student was William J. Pope, later professor of chemistry at Manchester and then at Cambridge. William Barlow is said to have learned his crystallography from Miers, apparently without formally registering as a student. Students at Oxford who later gained prominence in the field were Thomas V. Barker and Harold Hartley. Miers completed his textbook on mineralogy in 1902; it went through a second edition in 1929 and was translated into French. It drew heavily on Dana’s Mineralogy and, for its time, contained excellent discussions of, for example, crystal optics as treated by Lazarus Fletcher.1 The description of internal structures of crystals, which was then only a theory, was relegated to an appendix, although Miers had certainly followed closely developments in the field.2

In 1908 Miers was appointed principal of the University of London, the first of a long series of administrative and committee posts that occupied most of his time and energy for the remainder of his life. Although his next appointment, as vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester (1915), also created a special chair of crystallography, he did not publish further scientific work. That his teaching there was influential is amply shown by one student, H. E. Buckley, who later became head of the crystallography department at Manchester and who included much from Miers in his book Crystal Growth.3 Published in 1951, just as F. C. Frank’s revolutionary theory of crystal growth by dislocations had appeared, it was the most important inspiration and source of information on earlier work for the new school of crystal growth in the 1950’s.4

Miers was elected to the Royal Society in 1896 and knighted in 1912. He received half a dozen honorary degrees, the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Soeiety of London, and numerous other honors.


1. J. D. Dana, System of Mineralogy, 6th ed. by E. S. Dana (New York, 1892); E. S. Dana, Textbook of Mineralogy (New York, 1877). On crystal optics see Miers, Mineralogy, pp. 118–165; and Lazarus Fletcher, The Optical Indicatrix and the Transmission of Light in Crystals (London, 1892).

2.Mineralogy, pp. 283–287; Miers, “Some Recent Advances in the Theory of Crystal Structures,” in Nature, 39 (1889) 277–283; “Homogeneity of Structure the Source of Crystal Symmetry,” ibid., 51 (1894), 79–142; “The Arrangement of Molecules in a Crystal,” in Science Progress, 1 (1894), 483–500; “The Arrangement of the Atoms in a Crystal,” ibid., 3 (1895), 129–142; William Barlow, H. A. Miers, and G. F. Smith, “Report of Committee on the Structure of Crystals. Part I. Report on the Development of the Geometrical Theories of Crystal Structure,” in Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1901), 297–337.

3. H. E. Buckley, Crystal Growth (New York, 1951).

4. F. C. Franck, Discussions of the Faraday Society, 5 (1948), 48–54.


I. Original Works. A complete bibliographs is provided by L. J. Spencer in Mineralogical Magazine, 27 (1944), 23–28, including works on descriptive mineralogy and crystallography and on the growth of crystals; Miers’s extensive reports on museums, libraries, and education; and the known MSS. In addition to his textbook, Mineralogy, an Introduction to the Scientific Study of Minerals (London, 1902; 2nd ed., revised by H. L. Bowman, 1929), the most important publications are perhaps “Contributions to the Study of Pyrargyrite and Proustite,” in Mineralogieal Magazine, 8 (1888), 27–102; “Xanthoconite and Ritteringite, With Remarks on the Red Silvers,” ibid., 10 (1893), 185–216; “An Enquiry Into the Variation of Angles Observed in Crystals; Especially of Potassium-Alum and Ammonium-Alum,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 202A (1903), 459–523; and “The Refractive Indices of Crystallising Solutions With Especial Reference to the Passage From the Metastable to the Labile Condition,” in Journal of the Chemical Society, 89 (1906), 413–454, written with F. Isaac.

II. Secondary Literature. A number of memorials were published, the most important being those of L. J. Spencer, in Mineralogical Magazine, 27 (1944), 17–23, with photograph; H. T. Tizard, in Dictionary of National Biography, 1941–1950 (London, 1959), 588–590; and Sir Thomas Holland, in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 12 (1943).

William T. Holser