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James Clerk Maxwell


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James Clerk Maxwell produced a unified theory of the electromagnetic field and used it to show that light is a type of electromagnetic wave. This prediction dates from the early 1860s when Maxwell was at King's College, London. Shortly afterwards Maxwell decided to retire to his family estate in Galloway in order to concentrate on research, unhindered by other duties. He was lured out of retirement in 1871, when he became the first professor of experimental physics in the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. Given Maxwell's present status as one of the greatest of all physicists, it is astonishing to learn that he was the third choice for this job. Incidentally, Clerk Maxwell (without a hyphen) is a surname; Maxwell's father, John Clerk, simply appended ‘Maxwell’ to his own name in order to smooth a legal transaction.

This unit is from our archive and it is an adapted extract from Topics in the history of mathematics (STM359) which is no longer in presentation. If you wish to study formally at The Open University, you may wish to explore the courses we offer in this curriculum area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .