A Gallery of Electromagnetic Personalities 6...


James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) came from a middle class Edinburgh family. He is ranked with Newton and Einstein for the fundamental nature of his many contributions to physics. Most importantly, he originated the concept of electromagnetic radiation and his field equations (1873) led to Einstein's special theory of relativity, It is ironic that when in 1860 the University of Aberdeen was formed by a merger between King's College and Marischal College where he held a post, Maxwell was "redundant". He applied at the University of Edinburgh, but was turned down in favor of another. He found it necessary to move to London's King's College. In 1871, Maxwell was appointed the first Cavendish professor of experimental physics at Cambridge. Maxwell died at forty-nine after a short illness. He was buried in Scotland in the family plot; there were no public honors at his passing.

Rayleigh, Poynting

John William Strutt (Lord Rayleigh) (1842-1919), who was in ill health for much of his youth and childhood, worked in a private laboratory he had constructed on his estate. He is most famous for his discovery of Argon and his work in acoustics, but he also contributed to electromagnetic theory. He worked on the precision determination of electrical standards and his work on the scattering of light explained the blue color of the sky.

John Henry Poynting (1852-1914), one of Maxwell's students, was a professor of physics at Mason Science College, now the University of Birmingham, England. In 1884-1885 he published papers which showed that energy flow can be expressed in a simple formula using the electric and magnetic fields.

Bell, Edison

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) was a Scottish-born American audiologist whose family had been recognized for generations as leading authorities in elocution and speech therapy. He is famous for his 1876 invention of the telephone. He became wealthy and quite portly, moved to Novia Scotia, and declared himself to be sick of the telephone. Photo: An early Bell telephone.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) is the archetype of Yankee ingenuity. He played a critical role in the beginning of the age of electricity. His laboratories produced the phonograph, the incandescent lamp, a revolutionary electric generator, the first commercial electric light and power system, key elements of motion-picture apparatus, etc. He was owner or co-owner of a record 1,093 patents. Photo: Edison's first commercial electric light bulb.