May 1930 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Maxwell's inception of the theory of electromagnetic radiation
is compared here to if Christopher Columbus had conceptualized
the existence of America and mapped its features based solely
on observations of how the known oceans and land masses interacted.
I have always been amazed at the ability of people who formulate
entirely new theories of science, finance, medicine, etc., and
manage to detail and support their ideas with hard data and
mathematics. Einstein did so with relativity, Dalton did so
with atomic structure, Darwin did so with evolution, Pasteur
did so with germ theory; the list is long. There are lots of
geniuses out there, but a relative few change the world.
See other "Men Who Made Radio" :
Reginald A. Fessenden,
Count Georg von Arco,
F. W. Alexanderson,
James Clerk Maxwell
Men Who Have Made Radio: James Clerk Maxwell
The Eighth of a Series
"If you seek his monument, look about you," is written on
the tomb of the architect of St. Paul's. The whole of earthly
space, vibrant with the countless messages that are incessantly
hurrying to and fro with the speed of light, has become a memorial
to the scientist who first directed the attention of mankind
to the unknown and unsuspected possibility of radio.
If Columbus, before he set sail from Palos harbor for the
New World, had drawn a map of America - islands, coasts, rivers
and mountains - which his voyage proved true in every detail,
such a feat would have resembled that of Clerk Maxwell. The
latter conceived, and laboriously computed, the existence and
the laws governing an infinite range of electromagnetic "waves"
imperceptible to our senses, except for the narrow spectrum
of light. He thus declared the certainty that there must be
what we today call "radio waves." Eight years were to pass after
Maxwell's death before the genius of Hertz actually demonstrated
the truth of Maxwell's calculations, and the world found awaiting
it a new activity.
Today, fifty-seven years after their promulgation, the laws
of Maxwell are still the fundamental basis of the science of
radio. It is not easy to describe his work in popular language.
"The object of these experiments," said the modest Hertz, announcing
their striking results, "was to test the fundamental hypotheses
of the Faraday-Maxwell theory, and the result of the experiments
is to confirm them. I know no shorter or more definite answer
to the question, 'What is Maxwell's theory?' than the following:
'Maxwell's theory is Maxwell's system of equations.' "
James Clerk Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, November
13, 1831. Though his eccentricities of expression as a boy were
to win the nickname of "Dafty" from his schoolmates, he was
yet a lad when his mathematical abilities attracted the attention
of his elders. At fifteen, he devised a method of drawing certain
"curves which was deemed worthy of publication by the Royal
Society of Edinburgh. At sixteen, he was introduced to Nicol
(the inventor of the Nicol prism) and led to make a study of
light, and particularly its polarization, which was to shape
his future scientific course. In 1850 he entered the University
of Cambridge, noted for the long line of great mathematicians
it has produced. Here he graduated; and here his post-graduate
work was to be most important. In 1855 appeared his paper on
"Faraday's Lines of Force," containing an analysis of the actions
which take place in electrical and magnetic fields.
Maxwell became professor of natural philosophy - or, as we
now say, physics - at Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1856; and after
four years accepted a similar chair at King's College, London.
During this time he issued a classic paper which proved that
the rings of Saturn must be composed of separate solid particles.
He published in 1860 a treatise on the "Kinetic Theory of Gases";
and in 1864 the "Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field,"
advancing the proposition that light is but a manifestation
In 1865 ill health caused Maxwell to retire to the family
estate at Glenlair, in southwestern Scotland, where he remained
until called in 1871 to Cambridge to organize the Cavendish
laboratory, as the first professor of experimental physics.
Here, among his other labors, he edited the notebooks of Cavendish,
the eccentric chemist and physicist of the eighteenth century,
who had anticipated many of the later discoveries of science,
but indifferently neglected to publish them to the world. Here,
too, Maxwell published "The Theory of Heat," a book for the
beginner, and his great work on "Electricity and Magnetism."
In this he not only united the scientific theories of light
and electricity, but showed the necessity of the existence of
waves both longer and shorter than those of light, in unending
ranges; and thus laid upon the world of science the task of
Maxwell's own time was short. His work was interrupted by illness;
and, at the early age of forty-eight, he died at his Scotch
home, on November 5, 1879. Yet, brief as was his life, it had
revolutionized the outlook of science upon the world; and, though
his own labors were in the field of mathematics and pure science,
they have led directly to the development of radio and many
other applications of electricity. He is the creator of modern
mathematical physics; in the words of Sir Joseph Larmor, "Maxwell
unified physical science, by connecting light and radiation
with electricity so as to form one interlocked, systematic whole."
The comparison which has been made most often, perhaps, is
that of Maxwell and Newton. Newton advanced mankind's conception
of the unity of the universe by bringing the whole of it under
the scope of one physical law; Maxwell brought all the fundamental
phenomena into a single law - except that the task of fitting
gravitation into the electromagnetic scheme was not to be accomplished
by him. Whatever modifications the science of the future may
find necessary in the system of Maxwell, and whatever additions
it may make to his calculations, he has, like Newton, the glory
of bringing about a new era in human thought; and by those who
live in the Day of Radio, he must be remembered as its Morning
Posted August 31, 2015