Commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of John Napier (1550-1617)

Merchiston Tower

Merchiston Tower

Whenever I deliver an invited presentation to an international audience I like to give a little bit of background about myself, the city of Edinburgh, the city’s four universities, and my home institution: see for example slides 7-23 in the presentation that I recently gave in Brazil. For the latter I refer to the work of John Napier (1550-1617), after whom Edinburgh Napier University is named, and whose former home – Merchiston Tower – is situated on the campus where I work.

The name John Napier is often known by some of the members of the audiences to whom I speak. These individuals are usually academics and research students with interests in maths and engineering. However, as soon as I ask whether anyone else in the lecture hall has ever used logarithms – or, failing that, the decimal point – flickers of recognition soon spread across the faces before me.

This year we are marking the 400th anniversary of Napier’s death with a series of events, the first of which takes place today. 4th April is important because this is the date recorded for Napier’s death.

Today’s event is a public memorial service. It takes place at 1.30pm at St Cuthbert’s Parish Church at 5 Lothian Road, Edinburgh, and is then followed by a reception. The service has been organised by the University in collaboration with the Clan Napier Society. At the service The University Principal, Professor Andrea Nolan, will read out a poem that has been newly-composed by honorary Edinburgh Napier graduate Alexander McCall Smith to pay tribute to the achievements of John Napier. The present Lord Napier and Ettrick will also give a address. (For further information about the service, please see the news item on the Edinburgh Napier University web site.)

I am also looking forward to other events that are planned to commemorate the work of John Napier later in 2017. These include a public lecture by Professor Jim Al-Khalili in September, and an exhibition at Edinburgh Central Library in October.

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