Who Was James Clerk Maxwell and Why Was Maxwell’s Work In Electromagnetism a Major Advancement In Physics?

The substance was different from all other matter. It couldn’t be seen or felt or even measured, but it was present everywhere.

It existed throughout space and even in vacuums. It was stationary and all bodies in space traveled through it. Its basic property was that it was luminiferous, it could carry light.

It was called ether, and scientists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used it to explain how light traveled.

The scientists knew that light travels in waves through vacuums and the void of space. What they thought they needed was a medium, or substance, for it to travel through just as sound waves need air to travel.

The idea of ether filled their need. One of the most brilliant scientists who ever lived would disprove the ether theory even though he still believed in it.

James Clerk Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1831.

Maxwell’s mother died when he was very young, so his eccentric father took over his upbringing, even schooling him until he was 10.

Maxwell showed an early interest in geometry and mechanical models and submitted his first scientific paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh when he was only 14.

Maxwell entered Edinburgh University at 16, and his odd habits earned him the nickname “Dafty.”

He eventually received his degree in mathematics from Cambridge University in 1854 and started a career in research that would include important findings in optics, astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics.

His most important work, however, would come in electromagnetism.

When Maxwell applied his mathematics to Michael Faraday’s field theory, the world of physics was transformed.

Maxwell’s equations demonstrated that electricity, magnetism and even light are all manifestations of the same phenomenon: the electromagnetic field.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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