James Clerk Maxwell


James Clerk Maxwell : biography

13 June 1831 – 05 November 1879

Two years later Maxwell’s two-volume edition “Treatise about magnetism and electricity” was published. It contained Maxwell’s equations, consequence of which was Hertz’s discovery of electromagnetic waves in 1887. The treatise also contained the proof of electromagnetic nature of light and prediction about effect of light’s pressure. On the base of this theory Maxwell also explained magnetic field’s influence on light’s spreading. But this fundamental work was coolly taken by science leading figures – Stokes, Thompson, Airy, Tait. A conception of much talked-about bias current, which existed even in ester according to Maxwell, which meant without substance. Besides, Maxwell’s style, sometimes very muddled in description, impeded perception.

In June of 1874 a laboratory, which was named in honour of Henry Cavendish, was established in Cambridge, and the Devonshire duke solemnly passed James Maxwell Cavendish’s manuscripts. During five years Maxwell studied this scientist’s heritage, repeated his experiments in the laboratory and in 1879 he published a collection of Cavendish’s works, which consisted of two volumes.

Nearly ten last years of life Maxwell was working on science’s popularization. He wrote books with this purpose and stated his ideas and views more freely, shared his apprehension with readers and talked about problems, which couldn’t be solved at those times. He continued to develop absolutely specific questions of molecular physics in the Cavendish laboratory. His last works were published in 1879 – about the theory of sparse inhomogeneous gases and spreading of gas under the influence of centrifugal force. He also fulfilled many duties in the university – he was a member of the university senate, the commission of maths examinations’ reforming, he was also a president of philosophic society. In 70-s he got several pupils, among them were future great scientist George Chrystal, Arthur Schuster, Richard Gleisburg, John Poynting, Ambrose Fleming. Maxwell’s colleagues marked his concentration, simplicity in communication, perspicacity, refined sarcasm and absolute absence of ambition.

In winter of 1877 Maxwell found the first symptoms of the disease, which soon ruined him, and two years later doctors detected a cancer. The great scientist died in Cambridge on the 5th of November in 1879, at the age of forty eight years. Maxwell’s body was transported to Glenlair and buried near the estate, on the modest cemetery of a small village Parton.

James Maxwell’s contemporaries couldn’t appreciate his contribution in science, but the importance of his works was obvious for the next century. An American physicist Richard Feynman said that discovery of electrodynamics’ laws was the greatest event of the nineteenth century, against the background of which the civil war in USA, which was happening at that times, faded.