Henry Clifton Sorby was born in Attercliffe, into a wealthy middle class family. He became one of the last great Victorian gentleman amateur scientists. Sorby's interests spanned the whole range of the sciences and his collection, much of which he donated to Sheffield Public Museum, reflects that. It contains rocks, fossils, botanical illustrations, eggs, shells, lantern slides, microscope slides, marine invertebrates and water colour paintings, many of which were painted from his yacht, The Glympse. Sorby is significant in a very wide range of fields, but is perhaps most notable for his pioneering work on microscopical techniques. He was the first person to realise the importance of looking at rocks and minerals under microscopes. Even though he was often ridiculed in the early part of his career for "looking at mountains under microscopes," he never let anyone sway him from his course. He was a pioneer in the new field of spectroscopy - using reflected light to determine chemical composition. This enormously important area of science led to Sorby being honoured in the field of astronomy, which uses spectroscopy to determine the chemical makeup of stars. Perhaps his most significant achievement within Sheffield was his work with metallurgy. He identified the crystalline structure of iron. This discovery took all of the guess work out of steel manufature, which had, up until that time, been as much an art as it was a science. Sorby is without doubt one of, if not the most significant scientists from Sheffield. He died in 1908, shortly after donating a significant sum of money to Sheffield University, which he had fought to be established. Fifteen years after this, several existing scientific societies in Sheffield amalgamated to form the Sorby Scientific Society in his honour. This ultimately became the Sorby Natural History Society, which is still extremely active to this day.
For more information on Henry Clifton Sorby, go to www.sorby.org.uk.