Emeritus Professor Peter Grant: How Maxwell Created the Modern World


Online Seminar via Teams


Thursday, May 5, 2022 - 13:00 to 14:00

This presentation introduces James Clerk Maxwell, born in 1831, the most important scientist in the era between Newton and Einstein.

First we explore Maxwell’s family background and his inquisitive childhood before introducing several of his many scientific advances starting with his work on oval curves when he was only 14 years old and his prediction of the form and nature of Saturn’s rings, as recognised by the award of the Adams Prize in 1857.

The presentation then concentrates on his two major advances: colour reproduction for which he received the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society in 1860 and his 1864/5 set of 20 equations on the “Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic (EM) Field” providing the first theory governing electromagnetic wave generation.

EM waves were only first demonstrated by Heinrich Hertz in 1888, nine years after Maxwell’s death and, they were subsequently used by Marconi for radio communication from 1897 onwards.

Finally, Maxwell and Kelvin’s contributions to standardising the ohm as the unit of electrical resistance are described before introducing the small museum in Maxwell’s birthplace, 14 India Street, Edinburgh.

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