James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish scientist in the field of mathematical physics. His most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism have been called the „second great unification in physics” after the first one realised by Isaac Newton. With the publication of A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field in 1865, Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. Maxwell proposed that light is an undulation in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena. (This article accompanied an 8 December 1864 presentation by Maxwell to the Royal Society. His statement that „light and magnetism are affections of the same substance” is at page 499.) The unification of light and electrical phenomena led to the prediction of the existence of radio waves. Maxwell helped develop the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution, a statistical means of describing aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. He is also known for presenting the first durable colour photograph in 1861 and for his foundational work on analysing the rigidity of rod-and-joint frameworks (trusses) like those in many bridges. His discoveries helped usher in the era of modern physics, laying the foundation for such fields as special relativity and quantum mechanics. Many physicists regard Maxwell as the 19th-century scientist having the greatest influence on 20th-century physics. His contributions to the science are considered by many to be of the same magnitude as those of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. In the millennium poll—a survey of the 100 most prominent physicists—Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time, behind only Newton and Einstein. On the centenary of Maxwell’s birthday, Einstein described Maxwell’s work as the „most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton”.

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