Thursday, August 16, 2007

James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk MaxwellJames Clerk Maxwell (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish mathematician and theoretical physicist. His most significant achievement was formulating a set of equations — eponymically named Maxwell's equations — that for the first time expressed the basic laws of electricity and magnetism in a unified fashion. He also developed the Maxwell distribution, a statistical means to describe aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. These two discoveries helped usher in the era of modern physics, laying the foundation for future work in such fields as special relativity and quantum mechanics. He is also known for creating the first true colour photograph in 1861.

“(The work of Maxwell) ... the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.” —Albert Einstein, The Sunday Post

The majority of Maxwell's illustrious career took place at the University of Cambridge, where his investigations often made use of his mathematical aptitude, drawing on elements of geometry and algebra. With these skills, Maxwell was able to demonstrate that electric and magnetic fields travel through space, in the form of waves, and at the constant speed of light. Finally, in 1861 Maxwell wrote a four-part publication in the Philosophical Magazine called On Physical Lines of Force where he first proposed that light was in fact undulations in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.


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