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James Clerk Maxwell

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James Clerk Maxwell

Early Life:

James Clerk Maxwell was born on June 13, 1831 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was a physicist by profession and he gave out very important theories on electromagnetism. He has been very intelligent as a child. From the very beginning he solved many complex problems of geometry. It was due to both Maxwell’s heredity and surrounding that he was a genius and observed things and both these factors influenced his life very strongly.

Maxwell’s family was also well known for their extraordinary accomplishments. He spent his childhood living with his family and other relatives in a country house where the weather was warm and healthy. His mother passed away when he was young and as a result he grew more closer to his father. Maxwell was never one of the achievers. It was said that he had strange ways and it was majorly due to his bashfulness and his country ways. But along with his shyness came many other traits like he had an amazing imagination and he almost made any experiment possible that everyone thought was impossible. He also had the art of public speaking and explained extremely complex things to people in a very simple way.


James Clerk Maxwell belonged to the families of Maxwell and Clerk. A house in Edinburgh and country side land was inherited by his father. Maxwell was born before their house was built and soon after they were born his parents moved. Maxwell’s father was a lawyer by profession. Maxwell was interested in science and also in making mechanical tools and devices. Maxwell, at a very young age, was involved in everything his father did. He had a different way of learning things and no one could teach him the way he learnt. This problem was faced by him after his mother died.

After much problems, he was admitted in Edinburgh Academy by his aunt and father. His first year at school was very difficult. His fellows at school gave him a hard time and mocked him for the way he dressed up or spoke. They even gave him a nickname, “Drafty”. But later on he proved to be a very intelligent boy and his fellows cooled down a bit.

Maxwell was highly interested in geometry and at a very young age of fifteen he wrote his findings about ovals and double foci ellipses. His father presented the findings to a Professor named Forbes who taught at Edinburgh Royal Society. Although many things presented by Maxwell were already there but still the Professor was amazed that all these findings came from such a young boy who had very less experience of studies.

At the age of 16, he joined a university at Edinburgh in 1847. He wrote two more papers and gave them out Edinburgh Royal Society. After graduating from Edinburgh, his father got him admitted at Peterhouse but soon after that he got himself transferred to because he thought he could get a fellowship there. He went to Trinity from 1851 to 1854. After graduation, he was offered a fellowship. Then he went to Marischal College so that he could be close to his father who was unwell. But his father passed away soon and then he took a position in 1855 at Marischal.

He married Katherine Dewar in 1858.

Contributions and Achievements:

After leaving Marischal due to a merger, he started working in London at the King’s College. He did some remarkable work there and later he resigned in 1865. After that he spent most of his time working on his book at his country house.

To stay in touch in academics, he did some consulting and checking work for the University of Cambridge. It was his efforts that laid the foundation for the development of Cavendish Laboratory as he encouraged them to teach heat and electromagnetism courses. He was the first professor at the Cavendish Laboratory. He spent eight years over there and worked on the experiment papers of Henry Cavendish. In 1879, Maxwell started becoming ill and he could barely walk after he returned to Cambridge. Maxwell finally passed away in Cambridge on November 5, 1879 due to abdominal cancer.
Maxwell further worked on the work of James Prescott Joule and introduced his kinetic theory and electromagnetic fields’ theory. It was recognized by both the researchers that heat wasn’t a fluid like it was once thought to be and gas molecules’ velocity was measured by both of them.

Maxwell gave a new light of understanding to the theories. Joules demonstrated only the communities of science that could be measured or proven while Maxwell went ahead with models of mathematics that left no queries behind and no questions unanswered. He also took help of the statistics to explain the high possibility of how the projected laws would express the matter’s behavior. Due to this law determinism was taken away looking at the possibility of this law. This is what showed a new light to modern physics. It was only due to this law that relativity theory of Einstein was developed.

Maxwell experimented to calculate the exact velocity of molecule of gas and found out the faster the molecule move, more the heat was generated which meant that the movement and heat created were directly proportional to each other. The experiment showed heat as unquestionably as a movement of particle property and not as a liquid moving from one thing to another. It was also proved that heat could control the particles’ movement.

Maxwell explained a query of Faraday’s magnetic and electric field’s theory with some extremely complicated mathematical calculations that even Faraday’s could not explain himself. It was explained by him that there was a force field that surrounded particles that were charged. A mathematical mode 1 was created by him through he showed that the magnetic fields and electric fields worked together. This is why he introduced the term “Electromagnetic”.

This was a very essential discovery in the field of chemistry as later on it helped in the invention of an electron. The electron was discovered by Joseph John Thomson when he was carrying out an experiment on an electromagnetic field to find out its effects on gases by using the principle of Maxwell. Also, investigations on light’s effects on elements were based on the work of Maxwell. It was Maxwell’s work on the velocity of vacillation of fields of electromagnetism which said that light was to be considered as a radiation of electromagnetic form. This had quite a different impact on the theories of light.

Maxwell was a man of capabilities out of this world. His inventions in the field of heat and light can prove his capabilities. He was not a distant person and he highly appreciated others who had extraordinary capabilities and could not ignore them. Josiah Willard Gibbs was a man who was not getting attention that he deserved so Maxwell created a model based on Gibbs’ work that was three dimensional and named it after Gibbs. This work was done by him in his dying days.


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