James Clerk Maxwell

Maxwell, born in a well-known Scottish family, early showed signs of mathematical talent. At the age of 15 he contributed a piece of original work on the drawing of oval curves to the royal society of Edinburgh. The work was so well done that many refused to believe that such a young boy could be the author. At Cambridge, which he entered in 1856, he graduated the second in his class in mathematics. Maxwell was appointed to his first professorship at Aberdeen in 1859.

In 1871 Maxwell was appointed a professor of experimental physics at Cambridge. While at Cambridge he organized the Cavendish Laboratory, named in honour of the eccentric English scientist of the previous century Henry Cavendish. Several decades later the Cavendish Laboratory was to do great work, which was connected with radioactivity. The most important work of Maxwell’s life was carried on between 1864 and 1873. He placed into mathematical form the speculations of Faraday concerning magnetic lines of force.

Maxwell’s theory showed that electricity and magnetism could not exist in isolation. Where there was one, there was the other, so that his work is usually referred to as the electromagnetic theory. Maxwell died before the age of fifty in 1879.

When Einstein’s theories upset almost all of “classical physics”, Maxwell’s equations remained untouched and as valid as ever.

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James Clerk Maxwell