James Clerk Maxwell
, a Scotish physicist
, 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