Men and women of fame

In the histories of the arts and the sciences, the names of Glasgow scholars occur frequently and prominently.

  • William Thomson, Lord Kelvin
    William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, began his studies at the University of Glasgow in 1834 at the age of 10. He returned at the age of 22 and took up the chair of Natural Philosophy (Physics), a post he held for 53 years. Arguably the pre-eminent scientist of the nineteenth century, he enjoyed an international reputation for theoretical and practical research across virtually the entire range of the physical sciences. Such is his standing in the scientific community, he was buried next to Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey.
  • Adam Smith
    Economist, philosopher and author of Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith was only 14 when he started as a student at Glasgow. In 1751 he returned as Professor of Logic, transferring to the Chair of Moral Philosophy shortly afterwards.

Nobel Laureates

The University has been associated with seven Nobel laureates:

  • Graduate Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916) received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904 for his discovery of inert gases which established a new group in the periodic table.
  • Frederick Soddy (1857-1956) lectured at the University from 1904 to 1914 He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921 for his Glasgow work on the origin and nature of isotopes.
  • Graduate John Boyd Orr (1880-1971) campaigned for an adequate diet for the people, starting during the First World War; his food plan produced a better nourished population than ever before. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949 for his work with the United Nations.
  • Graduate Sir Alexander Robertus Todd (1907-1997) received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1957. His research led directly to the understanding of nucleic acids.
  • Sir Derek Barton (1918-1998) Regius Professor of Chemistry in the 1950s, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1969 for his work on conformational analysis.
  • Sir James Black (1924-2010) who worked at the University's Veterinary School during the 1950s, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1988 for discoveries of important principles for drug treatments.
  • Professor Robert Edwards (b 1925), researcher in the Department of Biochemistry at the University in the early 1960s, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2010. A pioneer in the field of fertilisation, he co-established the world’s first IVF clinic in 1980.


Many University of Glasgow graduates and staff have advanced scientific thinking:

  • Joseph Black (1728-1799) taught both chemistry and medicine in the eighteenth century and introduced a modern understanding of gases.
  • John Logie Baird (1888-1946) one of television's pioneers, was attending the University when the First World War intervened.
  • James Watt (1736-1819) conducted some of his early experiments with steam power while working at the University.
  • William Macquorn Rankine (1820-1872) pioneer of modern thermodynamics, wrote the first authoritative textbooks on engineering.
  • Ronald David Laing (1927-1989) noted for his work on mental illness and psychosis, studied and worked at the University.
  • John Campbell Brown (1947 - 2019) was Regius Professor of Astronomy and 10th Astronomer Royal for Scotland. In 2016 he was awarded OBE for his promotion of astronomy and science education. 
  • Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell (b 1943) astrophysicist who helped discover radio pulsars, studied at the University.


A strong political strain has run through Glasgow's graduate ranks:


Our graduates have made an extensive contribution to the world of literature:

  • John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps.
  • James Boswell, eighteenth century biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson.
  • William Boyd, Whitbread Prize winner whose novels include A Good Man in Africa, Armadillo and Any Human Heart.
  • Christopher Brookmyre, whose novels include Quite Ugly One Morning and Be My Enemy.
  • Catherine Carswell, biographer of Robert Burns.
  • A J Cronin, author of The Citadel and the series of short stories which were later adapted for television as Dr Finlay's Casebook.
  • Janice Galloway, whose novels include Clara and Foreign Parts.
  • John Grierson, described as the 'father' of the documentary, and remembered for films such as Drifters and Night Mail.
  • James Herriot (Alf Wight), author of the series of novels which were adapted for television as All Creatures Great and Small.
  • Francis Hutcheson, the early eighteenth century philosopher, foreshadowed the utilitarianism of J S Mill.
  • Cosmo Gordon Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury during the turmoil of the 1930s' abdication crisis.
  • Dramatist Osborne Henry Mavor (James Bridie) and co-founder of the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow.
  • William McIlvanney, Whitbread Prize winner whose novels include Docherty and the trilogy featuring Glasgow detective Jack Laidlaw.
  • Helen MacInnes, known as 'the queen of spy writers'.
  • Alistair MacLean, suspense writer, whose novels include Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone and Ice Station Zebra.
  • Social historian Florence Marian McNeill, author of The Silver Bough.
  • Edwin Morgan was Poet Laureate for Glasgow, 1999 to 2005, and National Poet for Scotland from 2004 until his death in 2010.
  • Tobias Smollett, eighteenth century writer whose novels include Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker.

The Law

  • James Dalrymple, Viscount Stair, who provided seventeenth century Scotland with the first authoritative treatise on its law.
  • John Millar (1761-1801) appointed Regius Professor of Roman law in 1761 aged 26, and claimed by some to be the father of modern Sociology.
  • Semyon Efimovich Desnitsky, Professor of Roman Law and Russian Jurisprudence, University of Moscow, Glasgow LLD, 1767. Author of A Legal Discourse on the Beginning and Origin of Matrimony among the Earliest Peoples and on the Perfection to which it would appear to have been brought by Subsequent Enlightened Peoples (1775).
  • Sir John Anstruther, Chief Justice of Bengal, 1773.
  • John Sinclair of Ulster (b 10 May 1754), admitted advocate, 1775; cashier of Excise for Scotland; compiler of the Statistical Account of Scotland. Glasgow LLB, 1788. Died 21 December 1835.
  • John Wheatley, Lord Advocate and Lord Justice Clerk.
  • Hazel Aronson, Lady Cosgrove, the first woman judge in the Court of Session and High Court.
  • David Hume, second son of John Home of Ninewells, admitted advocate, 1779. Professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University (1786-1822). Sheriff of Berwick, 1783. Sheriff of Linlithgow (1793-1811). Baron of Exchequer (Scotland) (1822-34). Glasgow LLB, 1804. Pupil of John Millar at Glasgow.
  • Thomas Muir of Huntershill (b 24 August 1765), admitted advocate, 1787. Glasgow MA, 1782. Expelled from the Faculty of Advocates, 1793. Convicted of sedition, 1793. Died, Chantilly, 27 September 1798.
  • David Boyle, Lord President of the Court of Session, 1789. Admitted advocate 14 December 1793. Elevated as Lord of Session, 28 February 1811. Solicitor General, 1807.
  • James Kerr, Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench at Quebec.