Biography of James Clerk Maxwell – The Inventor of Magnetism and Electrical Law

Sunday, May 12th, 2019 - Biography

Biography of James Clerk Maxwell. This figure is known as one of the scientists whose theoretical theories made many valuable contributions in the field of science or science. The famous British physicist through his discoveries in the fields of basic electricity and magnetism.

Biography of James Clerk Maxwell James Clerk Maxwell was born in Scotland on June 13, 1831. His father was John Clerk Maxwell an advocate and his mother named Frances Cay.


At the age of 8, Maxwell could read the long sections of Milton and the entire book of psalms. Indeed, Maxwell’s knowledge of the scriptures is very detailed. His mother who took care of Maxwell died of stomach cancer in December 1839 when he was eight years old. The responsibility of Maxwell’s education was later taken over by his father and father-in-law’s sister, Jane. Both played an important role in Maxwell’s life.

Maxwell’s formal education was unsuccessful under the guidance of a private teacher. Maxwell was then sent to the prestigious Edinburgh Academy. He lives in his aunt’s house, Isabella.

Smart Since Small

When Maxwell was 10 years old, he grew up in his father’s rural land. Maxwell likes geometry at an early age. At the age of 13, he won a school mathematics medal and first prize for English and poetry.

Maxwell’s interest in exact science such as mathematics goes beyond his school syllabus. Maxwell wrote his first scientific paper at the age of 14. In it, he describes a mechanical way of drawing mathematical curves with a piece of yarn, elliptical properties, and Cartesian diagrams.

His work “Oval Curves” was sent to the Royal Society of Edinburgh by James Forbes, a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Because Maxwell was considered too young to present his own work.

The work was not entirely original, because René Descartes had examined multifocal elliptical properties in the 17th century, but Maxwell had simplified their construction.


Maxwell left the Academy in 1847 at the age of 16. He then entered the University of Edinburgh. He had the opportunity to study at the University of Cambridge, but he decided to complete his undergraduate study program in Edinburgh.

The University’s academic staff includes several highly respected names. Lecturers in Maxwell’s first year included Sir William Hamilton, who taught him about logic and metaphysics.

Then Philip Kelland about mathematics, and James Forbes about natural philosophy. He did not find his passion while studying at the University. By that, he took another education in the private sector while having vacant time at the University and especially when returning home at Glenlair.

At his home, he experimented with the chemical, electrical and magnetic equipment he developed. But Maxwell’s main concern is the properties of polarized light.

Through his experiments, Maxwell discovered photoelasticity, which is a means of determining the distribution of stresses in physical structures.

At the age of 18, Maxwell donated two papers to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. One of them, “On the Equilibrium of Elastic Solids”. His other paper is “Rolling Curves”. The paper was sent to the Royal Society by his tutor Kelland.

Study at Cambridge University

In October 1850, Maxwell had become an accomplished mathematician. He left Scotland and studied at Cambridge University.

Maxwell’s intellectual understanding of religion and science grew rapidly during his years at Cambridge. In 1854, Maxwell graduated from Cambridge with a degree in mathematics.


He scored the second highest in the final examination behind Edward Routh and got the Second Wrangler title. After obtaining his degree, Maxwell read his paper “On the Transformation of Surfaces by Bending”. Maxwell decided to remain at Trinity, Cambridge after graduating and applying for a scholarship.


Maxwell was asked to prepare a lecture on hydrostatics and optics at Trinity. Maxwell accepted a professorship at Aberdeen, leaving Cambridge in November 1856.


Become a Professor at the age of 25 years

Maxwell, who was 25 years old when he became a professor. It’s 15 years younger than other professors in Marischal, Aberdeen. Maxwell is committed to teaching 15 hours a week. He lived in Aberdeen for six months and spent his summer at Glenlair.


In 1857, Maxwell became friends with Rev. Daniel Dewar, who was then Principal Marischal. Through him, Maxwell met Dewar’s daughter, Katherine Mary Dewar.


They were engaged in February 1858 and married in Aberdeen on June 2, 1858. On a marriage note, Maxwell was registered as Professor of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen.


Lecturer at King’s College, London

In 1860, Marischal College joined King’s College. Maxwell was given the post of Chair of Natural Philosophy at King’s College, London. After recovering from a smallpox attack that almost frowned on his life in 1860, Maxwell moved to London with his wife.


At King’s College, Maxwell was the most productive in his career. He was awarded the Medford Rumford Royal Society in 1860 for his work in the field of color. Maxwell often attended lectures at the Royal Institution, where he made regular contact with Michael Faraday.


Relations between the two men could not be described as close, because Faraday was a 40-year-old Maxwell senior who showed signs of dementia. They still maintain a strong respect for each other’s talents.


Discovery in the field of electricity and magnetism

Here Maxwell made important advances in electricity and magnetism. He examined the nature of the electric and magnetic fields in his paper consisting of two parts “On physical lines of force”, published in 1861.


In his paper, he provides a conceptual model of electromagnetic induction. In the additional section, he discusses the electrostatic properties and displacement of currents.


Discovery of electromagnetic waves

Alternating motion like this pendulum is called electromagnetic waves, which once moved will spread continuously into outer space.


From these opinions, it is able to show that the speed of electromagnetic waves reaches around 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles) per second.


Maxwell knows that this is the same as the size of the speed of light. From this angle, he correctly concluded that light itself consisted of electromagnetic waves.

So, Maxwell’s opinion is not only the basic law of electricity and magnetism but also at the same time is the basic law of optics.


Indeed, all previous laws known as optical law can be linked to their opinions, as well as many facts and relationships with things that were not previously revealed.


Maxwell’s opinion shows that other electromagnetic waves, in contrast to the visible light in the eye, have wavelengths and frequencies.


This theoretical conclusion was amazingly strengthened by Heinrich Hertz, who was able to produce and meet the two waves that were visible to the eye that Maxwell predicted.


A few years later Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated that the invisible wave of the eye could be used for wireless communication so that it was what the radio called.


In the second additional section, he describes the rotation of the plane of polarization of light in a magnetic field, a phenomenon that was discovered by Faraday and is now known as the Faraday effect.


In 1865 Maxwell resigned at King’s College, London, and returned to Glenlair with Katherine. Maxwell wrote the book Theory of Heat (1871) and treatise Matter and Motion (1876). Maxwell was also the first person to use dimensional analysis explicitly, in 1871.


James Clerk Maxwell Death

In 1871, he returned to Cambridge and became the first Professor of Physics at Cavendish. Maxwell is responsible for the development of the Cavendish Laboratory. One of Maxwell’s major contributions to science was the editing of Henry Cavendish’s research on Earth density and the composition of water.


James Clerk Maxwell died at Cambridge because of stomach cancer on November 5, 1879, at the age of 48 years.

Pictures gallery of Biography of James Clerk Maxwell – The Inventor of Magnetism and Electrical Law

  • james clerk maxwell biography and contributions
Biography of James Clerk Maxwell – The Inventor of Magnetism and Electrical Law | Salma Habyek | 4.5