Saturday, 24 March 2012 03:48

James Clerk Maxwell: Men of Ideas

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James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) was a Scottish mathematician and theoretical physicist. His greatest contribution to physics was putting into mathematical equations (now called The Four Equations of Maxwell) discoveries made by several researchers on the nature of electricity, magnetism and inductance. These equations unified electricity and magnetism, as Faraday and others had experimentally demonstrated.

Maxwell mathematically showed that light and magnetism are linked, called electromagnetism. This achievement helped found modern physics; it especially contributed to the development of special relativity and quantum mechanics.

Maxwell created the first color photographs in 1861.

Maxwell showed that electric and magnetic fields travel through space in the form of waves, and do so at a constant speed of light; his estimate of the speed of light was wrong, Albert Einstein gave the right speed, 186, 000 miles per second.

Maxwell demonstrated that light was undulations in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.

Maxwell contributed to optics and discovered that mixing several color filters, such as red, green, and blue led to color photographs.

Maxwell was an academic and wrote well received textbooks on science, such as The Theory of Heat (1871) and A Treatise on Matter and Motion (1876).

Maxwell’s greatest contribution to physics is his four equations on electricity and magnetism. Faraday, Andre-Marie Ampere and others had done the work on electricity and magnetism; Maxwell translated what seemed scattered information into neat mathematical equations. The equations describe the behavior and relation between electric and magnetic fields as well as their interaction with matter.

Maxwell mathematically demonstrated the connection between light and electromagnetism, an achievement that physicists consider as important as special relativity and quantum mechanics.

In his book, A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field (1864), Maxwell wrote:

“The agreement of the results seems to show that light and magnetism are affectations of the same substance, and that light is an electromagnetic disturbance propagated through the field according to electromagnetic laws.”

Maxwell’s theoretical conjectures were later demonstrated as facts by experimental physicists. However, he was proven wrong in his hypothesis that light was propagated through a medium that pervaded space, what he called luminiferous aether.

It was in an attempt to show that light did not need Maxwell’s luminiferous aether to travel through space that Einstein formulated his theory of special relativity.


James Clerk Maxwell. A Dynamical Theory of Electromagnetic Field. (1865)

James Clerk Maxwell. Theory of Heat. (1871)

James Clerk Maxwell. Matter and Motion. (1876)

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176