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James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell Photo

Sir James Clerk Maxwell was a living contradiction in his own league, since not only was he a pioneer in chemistry and physics who came up with the idea of electromagnetism and the creator of Statistical Thermodynamics, but he was also a man of God and a published poet.

James C. Maxwell a Scottish physicist was born on 13th June 1831 in Edinburg, Scotland.  One could see the sparks of exceptional intelligence in him from his early childhood when a paper he wrote on geometry was presented at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. By the time he was 16, he was studying at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing his passion for optics and color research. He graduated successfully from the Cambridge University’s Trinity College in 1854.

Not only did he study at Trinity College but he also taught there for some time and then moved on to Marischal College to join the physics faculty. By this time he had already garnered a reputation of excellence for himself in modernizing and enhancing the workings of optics and gas velocity research. He had also made his mark in the world of science with his Maxwell’ Equations which articulated his revolutionary theories of electromagnetism. His groundbreaking theories and research are considered to be the backbone of modern physics. But there was more to Maxwell‘s abilities than meets the eye. His multi-dimensional personality contributed to many aspects of science and technology.

Maxwell the Astronomer

While attending Marischal College, Maxwell unveiled the truth behind Saturn’s Rings. He believed that the rings surrounding the planet were solid particles and not just gas. This theory was subsequently proved right by the 20th-century space probes. Maxwell was awarded the Adam Prize for this insight. After leaving Marischal College, Maxwell joined the Kings College in London as a professor until 1865.  Throughout his professional life, Maxwell maintained his association with Cambridge University and was one of the pioneering founders of the institution’s Cavendish Laboratory.

Maxwell the Pioneer

It wasn’t just at Kings College that Maxwell started to reveal his revolutionary ideas and theories about electromagnetism and light, the man pursued his passion for color and making groundbreaking discoveries about gas velocity thought out his life. During this time, Michael Faraday had already discovered and established the idea that electricity and magnetism were interconnected. With his extensive experimentation with vortexes, he further drew-out Faraday’s research and laid the foundations of electromagnetic movement conceptualized as waves traveling at the speed of light.

Maxwell the Researcher

In 1864, Maxwell’s paper “A Dynamical theory of the electromagnetic field” was presented at the Royal Society of London and published a year later. This paper supported Maxwell’s theorems emphasizing his ability to use mathematical equations to explain scientific occurrences.  In 1873 his book A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism was published and further deliberated on his research.

Maxwell the Inventor

Some of the other innovations of Maxwell which greatly improved the world as we know it includes the world’s first color photograph and creating structural engineering calculations for better management and maintenance of bridges. Maxwell was awarded the Rumford Medal, Keith Prize and Hopkins Prize for such achievements and was awarded honorary membership to the Royal Academy of Sciences of Amsterdam. Some of his other works are more literary, such as Theory of Heat published in1871 and Matter and Motion published in1877.

With men like Albert Einstein celebrating the greatness of Sir James C. Maxwell’s work even in the next century and modern physics still towing the lines set by his research, the world has much to thank him for. Sir James C. Maxwell passed away on 5th November 1879 in Cambridge, England, due to abdominal cancer. Since then his house was turned into a museum named after the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation.

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