A nineteenth-century British physicist who discovered that electromagnetic radiation could be described by a wave equation. Scientists assumed then that space must be filled with an ethereal medium in which radiation was propogating. Physicists later discovered that it could propogate in a vacuum only after the Michaelson-Morley experiment in 1887.

The mother of all telescopes, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), is named after him.
He was born on 13 June 1831 in Edinburgh, and educated at Edinburgh and Cambridge. As a 15-year-old schoolboy he invented a new way of drawing certain oval curves, and this was published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was second wrangler at Cambridge.

He was professor at Aberdeen in 1856, King's College London in 1860, and Cambridge 1871. There he organized the Cavendish Laboratory. He died on 5 November 1879.

Other fields he contributed to were colour vision, the kinetic theory of gases, and the stability of Saturn's rings, for which last he was awarded the Adams prize.

James Clerk Maxwell, a Scotish physicist and mathematician, probably made more fundamental contributions to theoretical phyhsics than any other man except Newton. A British mathematician of the early twentieth century wrote this of Maxwell:

"Nowadays by universal consent his ideas, as the mathematical interpreter and continuator of Faraday, rank as the greatest advance in our undersatnding of the laws of physical universe that has appeared since the time of Newton. As with Faraday, his profound investigations into nature were concomitant with deep religious reverence for nature's cause"

Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and grew up on his father's estate amid the lakes and hills of the Scottish countryside, for which he developed a lifelong love. Father and son became very close after the boy's mother died when he was eight, and the elder Maxwell encouraged his son in scientific and mathematical interests. At the age of sixteen, Maxwell entered the University of Edinburgh, later transferring to Cambridge University and graduating from Trinity College with high honors in mathematics. Maxwell's academic career consisted of posts at three institutions: Marischal College in Aberdeen, Scotland, the King's College in London, and Cambridge University. At Cambridge he was first professor experimental physicsas well as director and founder of the Cavendish Laboratory of Experimental Physics.

Maxwell's fame rests primarily upon his formulation of electromagnetic theory in terms of four precise mathematical laws known as "Maxwell's equations." Building upon the laws of Ampére and Coulomb and especially on Faraday, Maxwell theorized that light is a wavelike disturbance caused by the concurrent propogation of electric and magnetic fields through space. Moreover, he believed that light waves and heat waves are but two members of a broad electromagnetic spectrum that includes all forms of radiation. From Maxwell's electromagnetic theory came the prediction that new forms of radation would be discovered in the future. This prediction was confirmed by Heinrich Hertz's discovery of radio waves in 1885, Wilhelm Roentgen's discovery of X-rays in 1895, and Henri Becquerel's discovery of natural radioactivity in uranium ore in 1896.

A Timeline of Maxwell's Life

1831 born in Edinburgh, Scotland
1847 enters Univeristy of Edinburgh
1850 publishes first scientific papers; transfers to Peterhouse College, Cambridge University
1854 graduates from Trinity College, Cambridge University
1856 appointed professor of natural philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen, Scotland
1860 appointed professor of natural philosophy in King's College, London; publishes a paper on the kinetic theory of gases
1862 publishes a paper on electromagnetic theory of light
1864 publishes "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field
1865 leaves King's College and retires to a country estate at Glenfair, Scotland
1871 accepts position at the first professor of experimental physics and the first director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University
1873 publishes a definitive exposition of electromagnetic theory, the two-volume, Treastie on Electricity and Magnetism
1879 dies at Cambridge

In 1861, James Clerk Maxwell was the first to create a color photograph through an additive process. After Thomas Young found evidence of the three different color receptors in the eye, Maxwell's method demonstrated how the colors red, green and blue could combine to create a complete photographic image.

The subject of this demonstration was a striped ribbon. Maxwell made three separate black-and-white images, each taken through a different colored filter: one red, one green, and one blue. From the black-and-white negatives, he made black-and-white positive transparencies. When the transparencies were projected onto each other, each through the same filter it was taken through, the complete color image was re-created.

Modern color photography is based on subtractive rather than additive processes, but early subtractive color methods used the same principles of separating colors through red, green and blue filters.


Extra notes:

Maxwell's color filters were glass containers of various chemical solutions.

Early photographic emulsions were not actually sensitive to red light. The red stripes in the ribbon still managed to show up, though, from the fact that the red dye also reflected ultraviolet light, which the emulsion was sensitive to. This was not intentional - it was discovered a hundred years later through a re-creation of the experiment by Ralph M. Evans.

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