John Leighton Synge was born in Dublin in 1897. He principal research interests were in the areas of mathematics and experimental physics. During his lifetime he made significant contributions to many fields including classical mechanics, gas dynamics and differential geometry.
First educated in St Andrew’s College, he then entered Trinity College Dublin, where he won a Foundation Scholarship in his first year, a remarkable achievement given that it is normally reserved for students in third year. Synge was awarded an M.A. in Mathematics and Experimental Physics from Trinity in 1919. Between 1920 and 1948, he held various professional posts in Ireland, the US and Canada. Returning to Ireland in 1948, he accepted the position of Senior Professor in the School of Theoretical Physics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, a post previously held by Erwin Schrödinger (Nobel Laureate 1933).
Synge’s best known work centred on general relativity, especially the application of geometric methods in general relativity. He was one of the first physicists to study seriously the interior of a black hole and has been credited with anticipating the discovery of the structure of the Schwarzschild vacuum (a black hole).
He wrote two books on the theory of relativity, the Special Theory and the General Theory. These works have had a significant impact on relativity research and are world-renowned. Other works by Professor Synge which have made an important impact in the world of theoretical physics are his books 'The Relativistic Gas' (1937) and 'The Hypercircle in Mathematical Physics' (1957) which laid the foundations for a systematic treatment of relativistic thought.
During his lifetime he was the recipient of many honours including a Doctorate in Literature from St Andrew’s and a Doctorate of Science from the Queen’s University, Belfast and the National University of Ireland. He was awarded the Tory Medal of the Royal Society of Canada, and in 1943 had the rare distinction for an Irish Scientist of being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. The John L. Synge Award was established by the Royal Society of Canada, in 1986, to honour his achievements in the research of mathematics. He died in 1995.
John Leighton Synge was the 1972 Boyle Medal Laureate.