Physics -

Classical Physics

James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell was born in Edinburgh in 1831, and died rather young in 1879.  He attended the Edinburgh Academy from 1841, and published his first scientific paper on aspects of the ellipse when he was only 15.  He attended the University of Edinburgh from 1847, and in 1850 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge from which he received a degree in mathematics in 1854.  During his time in Cambridge, he proposed that Saturn's rings were neither solid nor fluid, bet were made from tiny particles.  After graduation, he remained at Cambridge until 1856 studying optics and hydrostatics.  After four years back in Scotland, he became Professor of Physics and Astronomy at King's College in London in 1860, where, among other accomplishments, he measured and standardized electrical units on behalf of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  He was elected to the Royal Society in 1861.  In 1865, he left academia, and moved to his estate in Scotland to concentrate on his research into electricity and magnetism.  He returned to academia in 1871 becoming Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge.  While there, he founded the Cavendish Laboratory, and became the first Cavendish Professor of Physics, and was followed by Lord Rayleigh, J. J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford.  He was always a fervent Christian, and opposed evolution.  He also believed in the Genesis story of creation, and argued against the theory that the Solar System condensed from a primæval cloud of gas. 

It was Maxwell who formalized Michael Faraday's theories of electricity and magnetism, and wrote the formulae that described the behavior and interactions of electrical and magnetic fields.  These  discoveries in electromagnetism have been described as one of the greatest advances in physics and the "second great unification in physics", the first being Isaac Newton's work.  Maxwell's Equations, a set of four partial differential equations, demonstrated that electricity, magnetism and light are all manifestations of the same electromagnetic field phenomenon. 

In 1862, he showed that electrical and magnetic fields travel through space in the form of waves at the speed of light, and in 1864 he proposed that light waves are the same physical phenomenon as electrical and magnetic waves.  It is in the 1873 publication of Electricity and Magnetism that Maxwell's four equations first appear in their full form .  While his contribution to optics is well known, he also did research in vision and received the Rumford Medal by the Royal Society of London for his research into color blindness.  He also conducted research on the kinetic theory of gases, resulting in the Maxwell Distribution.  In many ways, his work provided the basis for Einstein's Special Relativity and for early Quantum Mechanics.  Interestingly, Einstein kept photographs of Newton, Faraday and Maxwell on his study wall. 
Biography of Maxwell