Tutton, Alfred Edwin Howard

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(b. Stockport, Cheshire, England, 22 August 1864; d. Dalington, Sussex, England, 14 July 1938)


The only child of James Tutton, a venetian blind manufacturer, Alfred Tutton left school at fourteen. He subsequently won a scholarship to the Royal College of Science in London, where in 1886 he graduated with the principal prizes for geology, physics, and chemistry. In 1889 he became lecturer in chemical analysis. In 1895 he was appointed inspector of technical schools and served successively in the Oxford, London, and Plymouth districts. Tutton retired to Cambridge in 1924 and occasionally lectured for the university. From 1895 until 1931, when he moved to Dallington, Sussex, he maintained a crystallographic laboratory in his various houses. On his final retirement in 1931 his instruments were purchases by Manchester University, which had awarded him an honorary D.Sc. in 1926.

Tutton married Margaret Loat of Cumnor Place, Oxford, on 18 June 1902. They had two sons and four daughters. Throughout his life he enjoyed excellent health, although he suffered a serious climbing accident in the Alps in 1926, and in his last years was afflicted with failing eyesight.

In 1899 Tutton was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and served as president of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain from 1912 to 1915. His principal interests besides crystallography were climbing and glaciology; all three were united in his book The Natural History of Ice and Snow (1927).

Tutton’s earliest researches with Thomas E. Thorpe (1890-1891) were purely chemical and concerned the lower oxides of phosphorus. During this period also he assisted Thorpe and Arthur W. Rücker with the magnetic survey of Scotland and England.

Early in his career Tutton began the program of research that was to occupy him for the next forty years: the precise goniometric and optical study of isomorphous salts. He began with the series R2XO4 where R = K, Rb, Cs, NH4, and T1; and X=S, Se. Next came the series R2M(XO4)2. 6H2O, with R and X the same and M = Mg, Zn, Fe, Ni, Co, Mn, Cu, Cd. For each series he demonstrated, using goniometric and optical techniques at the highest level of refinement, that physical properties vary regularly with the atomic properties of the substituent elements. The same general conclusion was verified later for the alkali perchlorates and for the double chromates of the alkalis. Tutton’s results were published in about fifty papers between 1890 and 1929. The essentials were republished and his apparatus described in detail in Crystalline Structure and Chemical Constitution (1910), Crystallography and Practical Crystal Measurement (1911; 2nd ed., 2 vols., 1922), and Crystalline Form and Chemical Constitution (1926). He also wrote a general survey of crystallography in Crystals (1911).

Out of the highly precise crystallographic measurements in which Tutton was so expert came the interferential comparator that he applied to a comparison of the substandards of the yard with the Imperial standard yard and, following Michelson, the evaluation of the standard yard in terms of the wavelength of cadmium red.

Tutton’s reputation rests on the outstanding precision of his goniometric and optical work, notable in that it was achieved while he was busily occupied with official duties. The rapid development of X-ray crystallography diverted his type of work from the mainstream of crystallographic research, but nevertheless his data, although not fundamental, added substantially to the understanding of isomorphism; and his ingeniously designed apparatus formed the basis of later instruments useful in a wide range of fields.


I. Original Works. Important works by Tutton are Crystalline Structure and Chemical Constitution (London, 1910); Crystals (London, 1911);Crystallography and Practical Crystal Measurement (London, 1911); 2nd ed., London, 1922); The Natural History of Crystals (London, 1924); Crystalline Form and Chemical Consitution (London, 1926); and The Natural History of Ice and Snow, Illustrated From the Alps (London, 1927). There are also many papers in Proceedings of the Royal Society, Journal of the Chemical Society, and other journals.

II. Secondary Literature. For discussions of Tutton and his work, See J. R. Partington, Nature, 142 (1938), 321-322; and L. J. Spencer, Mineralogical Magazine and Journal of the Mineralogical Society, 25 (1939), 301-303. See also Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 2 (1939), 621-626.

Duncan McKie