The Lucasian Chair

"An important professorship of mathematick, the Lucasian Chair, was deeded in December 1663 at Cambridge University, England. Henry Lucas, a Member of Parliament for the university from 1639 to 1640, left instructions in his will for the purchase of land with a value that would provide an annual income of 100 pounds to support the professorship. King Charles II signed the letter of acceptance of the deed on January 18, 1664 and Isaac Barrow, the first professor to occupy the Chair, took office in February, 1664. He gave the first lecture on March 14, 1664." [Christianson 1984]

Lucas, in his will, bequeathed his library of 4,000 volumes to the University and left instruction for the purchase of land whose yielding would provide 100 a year for the founding of a professorship. One of the requirements in Lucas' will was that the holder of the professorship should not be active in the church. Isaac Newton would later appeal to King Charles II that this requirement excused him from taking holy orders, which was compulsory for all Fellows of the University at that time, but which would have been incompatible with his Arian beliefs. The King supported Newton and excused all holders of the professorship, in perpetuity, from the requirement to take holy orders.

"All undergraduates were required to attend the Lucasian lectures starting in their third year. The Lucasian Chair celebrated the 330th anniversary of its founding December 1993."

Professor Life Dates Chair Dates Specialty
Isaac Barrow 1630-1677 1664-1669 Classics and Mathematics
Sir Isaac Newton 1642-1727 1669-1702 Mathematics and Physics
William Whiston 1667-1752 1702-1710 Mathematics
Nicolas Saunderson 1682-1739 1711-1739 Mathematics
John Colson 1680-1760 1739-1760 Mathematics
Edward Waring 1736-1798 1760-1798 Mathematics
Isaac Milner 1750-1820 1798-1820 Mathematics and Chemistry
Robert Woodhouse 1773-1827 1820-1822 Mathematics
Thomas Turton 1780-1864 1822-1826 Mathematics
Sir George Airy 1801-1892 1826-1828 Astronomy
Charles Babbage 1792-1871 1828-1839 Mathematics and Computing
Joshua King 1798-1857 1839-1849 Mathematics
Sir George Stokes 1819-1903 1849-1903 Physics and Fluid Mechanics
Sir Joseph Larmor 1857-1942 1903-1932 Physics
Paul Dirac 1902-1984 1932-1969 Physics
Sir M. James Lighthill 1924-1998 1969-1980 Fluid Mechanics
Stephen Hawking 1942- 1980-2009Theoretical Physics
Michael Green-2009- String Theory

"The Royal Society of London and the Lucasian Chair have had a strong connection from their earliest days. Founded only a few years before the Lucasian Chair, the Society has contributed a substantial amount to the advancement of science since its founding in 1660. One of the great contributions has been its journal Philosophical Transactions. All holders of the Chair have been members of the Royal Society except three: William Whiston, Thomas Turton and Joshua King. William Whiston was kept out by Newton because of the heresy problem. Turton put his efforts into religion and not mathematics, placing himself outside of the Society's interest. King never did any work that would have qualified him for membership. Isaac Newton, George Airy, and George Stokes were presidents of the Royal Society. Airy, Stokes, Joseph Larmor, and M. James Lighthill were vice-presidents; and Stokes, Larmor, and Lighthill were secretaries. The Royal Society recognizes individuals by awarding medals. Its Copley Medal is its highest honor and has been given to Edward Waring, Airy, Stokes, Larmor, and Paul Dirac. The Royal Medal has been given to Airy, Larmor, and Dirac, the Rumford Medal to Stokes and the Hughes Medal to Stephen Hawking."

"Besides the Royal Society, there have been many awards, prizes, honors and other recognitions. Paul Dirac won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933. Newton, Stokes and Larmor represented Cambridge University in parliament. Besides Newton, Airy, Stokes, Larmor and Lighthill were all knighted."

"This century started out with William Whiston, a very vocal mathematician, taking the Chair in 1703. He published his religious works in English, thereby increasing his audience and his visibility beyond the confines of the ivory tower. This visibility coupled with his beliefs resulted in his being labeled as a heretic and eventually he was ejected from the Lucasian Chair. Religion was still a very touchy subject and conformity was important. In the scientific area, Whiston published his own edition of Euclid, works on astronomy, earth science, longitude and was an expert on Newton. He established the tradition of teaching Newton's work at Cambridge. His religious work covered prophecy, Primitive Christianity, biblical history and explanations of biblical events, such as the great flood, using science especially astronomy. He published close to one hundred books and papers."[Farrell 1980]

"Whiston was followed by Nicolas Saunderson in 1711, who spent his time teaching algebra. It was said that he was preferred for the Lucasian Chair because he had no religion, following Whiston, who had too much."

"The current holder of the post is the theoretical physicist Michael Green. He was appointed in October 2009[2], succeeding Stephen Hawking who retired in September 2009, in the year of his 67th birthday, as required by the University.[3][4] Hawking now holds the position of Emeritus Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. The holder of the professorship has traditionally been a theoretical physicist rather than a pure mathematician."

"In 1850 the first Royal Commission to reform the universities was established and in 1871, the religious tests for university entrance were finally eliminated."