Dr. (Alexander) Crichton Mitchell

1864 - 1952

Geophysicist and inventor. Born in Leith, Mitchell read physics at the University of Edinburgh, where one of his mentors was Professor Peter Tait (1831 - 1901). He completed a doctorate on the thermal conductivity of metals but went on to make valuable contributions in the study of the earth's natural magnetism. He took up an appointment at the Maharaja's College in Thiruvananthapuram (India) in 1890 and served as its Principal (1892-09). He also became Director of the Observatory there and remained in India until 1912. Thereafter, he devoted time to research at the University of Edinburgh and under the auspices of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE). He had been elected a Fellow of the RSE in 1889 and served as their Vice-President (1926-29). He was also elected a Fellow of the Scottish Meteorological Society in 1891.

In the early years of the First World War, Mitchell developed a magnetic loop for the purpose of detecting the presence of German submarines which had become a significant threat to British trade and its navy. He tested his invention in Leith Harbour and improved it to effectively detect passing ships. With the help of the Admiralty he undertook further tests around the island of Inchkeith and then installed a system across the entire width of the Firth of Forth. However electrical interference from the Leith Corporation Tramway masked the results and the experiment was abandoned. His invention was later taken up by others and developed into an operational system by the end of the War.

Mitchell began a third career as Superintendent of the Eskdalemuir Observatory (1916-24) and the first Superintendent of the newly-established government Meteorological Department in Edinburgh. He published a number of papers on geomagnetism and meteorology. He was awarded honorary doctorates from both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Geneva, and won the RSE's Keith Medal in 1933 for his work on geomagnetism. Mitchell died in Edinburgh.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry arrow

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better