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JCMF

2021: Celebrate JCM's 190th Anniversary!

Facts about James Clerk Maxwell

On the 13th June 1831 James Clerk Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, at 14 India Street, a house built for his father in that part of Edinburgh's elegant Georgian New Town which was developed after the Napoleonic Wars. Although the family moved to their estate at Glenlair, near Dumfries, shortly afterwards, J ames returned to Edinburgh to attend school at The Edinburgh Academy. He continued his education at the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge. In 1856, at the early age of 25, he became Professor of Physics at Marischal College, Aberdeen. From there he moved first to King's College, London, and then, in 1871, to become the first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge where he directed the newly created Cavendish Laboratory. It was at the Cavendish, over the next fifty years, that so much of the physics of today continued to develop from Maxwell's inspiration.

Modern technology, in large part, stems from his grasp of the basic principles of the universe. Wide ranging developments in the field of electricity and electronics, including radio, television, radar and communications, derive from Maxwell's discovery of the laws of the electromagnetic field - which was not a synthesis of what was known before, but rather a fundamental change in concept that departed from Newton's view and was to influence greatly the modern scientific and industrial revolution.


1831 Born 13 June, 14 India Street
1833 Moved to Glenlair
1841 Enrolled, Edinburgh Academy
1846 Maxwell’s first paper “ On the description of oval curves and those having a plurality of foci” Proc Roy Soc Edinburgh, Vol. II
1847–50 Studied, University of Edinburgh
1850 Entered Peterhouse College, Cambridge - after one term migrated to Trinity College
1854 Mathematical Tripos – 2nd Wrangler and First (Equal) Smith’s Prizeman
1856–60 Appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen
1856 Elected Fellow Royal Society Edinburgh (FRSE) aged 24
1857 Essay on “The Stability of Saturn’s Rings” won the Adams Prize, University of Cambridge
1858 Marriage to Katherine Mary Dewar on 2 June, Old Machar, Aberdeen
1860 Paper “Illustrations of the Dynamical Theory of Gasses” where the Maxwell-Bolzman distribution for velocities in a gas are derived
1860–65 Appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at Kings College, London
1860 Awarded Rumford Medal, Royal Society
1861 Royal Institution, first demonstration on colour reproduction
1861 Elected Fellow Royal Society (FRS) shortly before 30th birthday
1861/2 “On physical lines of force”, Phil. Mag. Vols. 21 & 23. Calculates that electric and magnetic effects travel at speed of light and states “..we can scarcely avoid the inference that light consists in the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.”
1864 Famous oral presentation: “Dynamical theory of the electromagnetic field” presented to Royal Society containing ‘Maxwell’s Equations’ states “.. that it seems we have strong reason to conclude that light itself (including radiant heat and other radiations if any) is an electromagnetic disturbance in the form of waves propagated ……according to the electromagnetic laws”
1865 Above paper, “Dynamical theory of the electromagnetic field”, formally published in Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., Vol. CLV, London
1866 Bakerian Lecture of the Royal Society: “On the viscosity or internal friction of air and other gases”, Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. (Vol. CLVI) London. Includes measurements made in his London attic
1868 “On a method of making a direct comparison of electrostatic with electromagnetic force; with a note on the electromagnetic theory of light”, Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. (Vol. CLVIII) London, Includes consequence of definitions of electromagnetic and electrostatic units of electric charge which makes their ratio equal to the speed of light
1868 “On governors”, Proc. Roy. Soc. (Vol. XVI) London. First mathematical treatment of feedback leading to control theory and cybernetics
1869 Awarded Keith Prize, Royal Society of Edinburgh
1870 “On reciprocal figures, frames and diagrams of forces”, Trans. Roy. Soc. Edinburgh Vol. 26. This follow-up to a paper by G B Airy on elasticity led to award (see above) of RSE Keith Medal
1870 “On hills and dales”, Phil. Mag. Vol. 40. An early contribution to the mathematics of topology
1870 Awarded Doctor of Law (LLD), University of Edinburgh
1870 Awarded Hopkins Prize, University of Cambridge
1870 Published his textbook “Theory of Heat”
1871 Directed and established Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, as First Professor of Experimental Physics
1871 Second lecture on colour at Royal Institution: “On colour vision”
1873 Publication of his “Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism“, Oxford University Press
1874 Elected Foreign Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston
1875 Elected Member of American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia
1875 Elected Corresponding Member, Royal Society of Sciences of Göttingen
1876 Awarded Doctor of Civil Law (DCL), University of Oxford
1876 Elected Honorary Member, New York Academy of Sciences
1877 Published book ‘Matter and Motion’
1877 Elected Member, Royal Academy of Sciences of Amsterdam
1877 Elected Foreign Corresponding Member, Mathematico-Natural-Science Class of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Vienna
1878 Delivers Rede Lecture at Cambridge: “The Telephone”
1878 Volta Medal, Doctor of Sciences honoris causa, University of Pavia
1879 Dies of stomach cancer on 5 November, Cambridge. Buried in Parton, Castle Douglas, Galloway.
2008 Edinburgh statue unveiled on 25 November

The JCM Foundation is a charity formed in Scotland in 1977. (Registered Charity SC015003)
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