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Henry Clifton Sorby

Henry Clifton Sorby
Henry Clifton Sorby. Portrait in Mappin Hall, University of Sheffield
Born (1826-05-10)10 May 1826
Woodbourne near Sheffield in Yorkshire
Died 9 March 1908(1908-03-09) (aged 81)
Awards Wollaston Medal (1869)
Royal Medal (1874)

Henry Clifton Sorby (10 May 1826 - 9 March 1908), was an English microscopist and geologist. His major contribution was the development of techniques for studying iron and steel with microscopes. This paved the way for the mass-production of steel.


  • Biography 1
  • Honours and Awards 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Sorby was born at Woodbourne near Sheffield in Yorkshire and attended Sheffield Collegiate School. He early developed an interest in natural science, and one of his first papers related to the excavation of valleys in Yorkshire. In 1847 when he was 21 his father died leaving him a comfortable private income. He immediately established a scientific laboratory and workshop at his home. He subsequently dealt with the physical geography of former geological periods, with the wave-structure in certain stratified rocks, and the origin of slaty cleavage.[1]

He took up the study of rocks and minerals under the microscope, and published an important memoir "On the Microscopical Structure of Crystals" in 1858 (Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc.). In England he was one of the pioneers in petrography; he was awarded the Wollaston medal by the Geological Society of London in 1869, and became its President. In his presidential addresses Sorby gave the results of original researches on the structure and origin of limestones, and of the non-calcareous stratified rocks (1879–1880).[1]

In 1863 he used etching with acid to study the microscopical structure of iron and steel. Using this technique, he was the first in England to understand that a small but precise quantity of carbon gave steel its strength.[2] This paved the way for Henry Bessemer and Robert Forester Mushet to develop the method for mass-producing steel. Due to this accomplishment, Sorby is known to modern metallurgists as the "father of metallography" with an award bearing his name being offered by the International Metallographic Society for lifetime achievement.

His interests were wide. He published essays on the construction and use of the micro-spectroscope in the study of animal and vegetable colouring matter and on the temperature of the water in estuaries.[1] He also applied his skill in making preparations of invertebrate animals for lantern-slides.

He was president of the Royal Microscopical Society. In 1882, he was elected president of Firth College, Sheffield after the death of founder Mark Firth. [1] Sorby also worked hard for the establishment of the University of Sheffield which was eventually founded in 1905. A university hall of residence, Sorby Hall, which was built in the 1960s and demolished in August 2006 was named after him.

He died in Sheffield and was buried in Ecclesall churchyard.

Honours and Awards

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1857 as one who was Author of various papers on Slaty Cleavage; on the peculiarities of stratification due to the action of currents & their application to the investigation of the Physical Geography of ancient periods; on the microscopical structure of limestones and other peculiarities of the physical & chemical constitution of rocks. Distinguished for his acquaintance with the science of Geology..[3] He delivered their Bakerian Lecture in 1863 for his work on the Direct Correlation of mechanical and Chemical Forces and was awarded their Royal Medal in 1874.

Both the International Association of Sedimentologists and the Yorkshire Geological Society have Sorby Medals named in honour of Sorby's achievements in geology. The "Henry Clifton Sorby Award" is offered by the International Metallographic Society in recognition of lifetime achievement in metallurgy.

Dorsa Sorby on the Moon is named after him. There is also a wing at the Northern General Hospital named after him.


  1. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ "Biography of Henry Clifton Sorby". Retrieved 22 May 2012. 
  3. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 

  • Biographical material, Sorby Natural History Society, Sheffield
  • Sorby Medal, International Association of Sedimentologists
  • Sorby Medal, Yorkshire Geological Society
  • H.Clifton Sorby Award, International Metallographic Society

External links


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