Sir Andrew Noble - Encyclopedia

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SIR ANDREW NOBLE (1832-), British physicist and artillerist, was born at Greenock on the 15th of September 1832, and was educated at Edinburgh Academy and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. In 1849 he entered the Royal Artillery, attaining the rank of captain in. 1855, and in 1857 he became secretary to the Royal Artillery Institution. About this time the question of the supersession of the old smooth-bores by rifled guns was coming to the fore, and on the appointment of the Select Committee on Rifled Cannon in 1858 to report on the matter, he was chosen its secretary, a capacity in which he devised an ingenious method for comparing the probable accuracy of the shooting attainable with each type of gun. In 1859 he was appointed Assistant-Inspector of Artillery, and in the following year he became a member of the Ordnance Select Committee and of the Committee on Explosives, serving on the latter for twenty years, until its dissolution. About the same time he was prevailed upon by Sir William, afterwards Lord, Armstrong to leave the public service and take up a post at Elswick. Here, in the first instance, he was put in charge of the ordnance department, but it was not long before his organizing and administrative ability and scientific attainments enlarged the sphere of his influence, until finally he became chairman of the company. Immediately on his appointment he began a systematic investigation of the phenomena which occur when a gun is fired, some of his first experiments being designed to discover with accuracy the pressures attained in the largest guns of that time. About 1862 he invented his chronoscope for the measurement of exceedingly small intervals of time, and began to apply it in ballistic experiments for ascertaining the velocity with which the shot moves along the barrel of a gun with different powders and different charges. Then he joined Sir Frederick Abel in a classical research on "Fired Gunpowder," the experimental work being largely carried on at Elswick, and the conclusions they arrived at had a great effect on the progress of gunnery, for they showed how increased muzzle velocities were to be attained without increased pressures in the gun. These inquiries, in fact, enabled Elswick in 1877 to turn out the 6-in. and 8-in. guns, with velocities of over 2000 ft. per second, that obliged the British government finally to give up the antiquated muzzle-loaders to which it had so obstinately adhered. Later, when the era of nitro or "smokeless" powders had begun, Captain Noble was an early advocate of their advantages, and when at length the British government awoke to the necessity of selecting a powder of that character for the naval and military services of Great Britain, Elswick extended its hospitality to the committee. that invented cordite, and gave the members facilities, which were not offered by the government, for the necessary experimental work. Even after the powder was invented and the committee dissolved, inquiries - which it was nobody's official business to make, and which therefore were not made officially - were continued at Elswick to ascertain how by suitable modifications in form, composition, &c., cordite might the better perform the varied duties required of it. Noble became a member of the committee appointed in 1900 by Lord Lansdowne to consider, among other things, the excessive erosion alleged by some of the powder's critics to be produced by it in the barrels of the guns in which it is used. He was made C.B. in 1881, promoted to be K.C.B. in 1893, and was created a baronet among the Coronation honours in 1902; he was also the recipient of many foreign decorations and scientific honours, including a Royal medal from the Royal Society in 1880, and the Albert medal of the Society of Arts in 1909. He published a number of his scientific papers in a collected form as Artillery and Explosives in 1906.

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