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James Clerk Maxwell (18311879)

James Clerk Maxwell wrote his first scientific paper at age 14 when he proved how to draw an oval with pins and string.

A few years later, Maxwell went to University. His first research there was on colour vision. Maxwell discovered how all colours could be expressed as a combination of three primary colours. This led him to produce the world's first colour photo in 1861.

Maxwell remained interested in light, and eventually wrote the equations that described the behaviour of light. Maxwell was a correspondent of Michael Faraday, the best experimentalist of the 19th century. Maxwell worked on a way of visualising the electric and magnetic fields that were known from Faraday's work. This led Maxwell to a fluid model of electromagnetism. In 1864 Maxwell formalised this model with a set of four equations.

Maxwell's equations predicted the existence of waves of electromagnetic energy, and Maxwell realised that these waves were indeed light waves. Moreover, Maxwell realised that visible light was only a small part of the spectrum.

Maxwell made contributions in many other scientific fields. These included showing that Saturn's rings were not solid, but were made from many small particles, and laying foundations for the kinetic theory of gases. For all of these contributions, Maxwell is considered to be the greatest physical theorist of his century.

For more information, see Maxwell Year 2006: http://www.maxwellyear2006.org/


James Clerk Maxwell
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Maxwell's equations
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