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Published on 30.03.12

Hutchinson Synge - A Nanoscience Visionary

Edward Hutchinston Synge

A public symposium to celebrate the extraordinary vision and inventive genius of Irishman Edward Hutchinson Synge (1890-1957), familiarly known as Hutchie, is being held in Trinity College Dublin on Thursday 19th April. He is accredited with the invention of the near-field optical microscope to look at what we now term nanoscience and a new type of telescope to bring a deeper understanding to astronomy. What is really interesting about Edward Hutchinson Synge is that he carried out most of his work in his home in Dundrum alone, which makes his achievements all the more remarkable. He even was in correspondence with Albert Einstein about his work. Hutchie’s highly original conceptions in physics were fifty years ahead of his time.

Synge was the nephew of John Millington Synge, the great playwright whose plays include “The Playboy of the Western World”. His brother was John Lighton Synge, who made distinguished contributions to the fields of mechanics and general relativity. Hutchie's achievements were comparable but hardly recognized at the time and have only recently been accorded their proper place in Physics. While his brother did not appreciate Hutchie’s achievements at the time, in old age he wrote of him: “In the course of a varied academic career, I never had a colleague as interesting intellectually as Hutchie, for his mind ranged widely over art, literature, history, philosophy and science”.

Hutchie studied Mathematics and old Irish in Trinity College, but did not graduate. He spent many years without producing any output, but then in a remarkable period from 1928-1932 produced all of his key works, which were published in Philosophical Magazine. His work showed a keen understanding of the limits of experimental apparatus at that time, although he did not carry out any experiments himself. From then until his death in 1957, there were no further papers and he was committed to a mental institution.

During the symposium, there will be presentations from experts in microscopy and astronomy who will place the work of Synge in a modern context. The symposium will take place in Trinity College Dublin during the annual Trinity Week celebrations. Speakers include Lukas Novotny from Rochester University and Alastair Glasse from Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. Talks will give both historical and technical perspectives. As part of the event the publishers Taylor and Francis will republish his papers together with a short biographical memoir, which will cover the remarkable scientific achievements as well as the more tragic aspects of his remarkable life.

To register for the event please visit:

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