When I was an undergraduate physics major here at NY’s quintessential institution for science in downstate NY, Stony Brook, many of us walked around campus wearing science-themed T-shirts sporting such slogans as “And God said:” Maxwell’s Equations – in all their mathematical glory (integral form above) embossed on the shirts “and there was light”. With all the possible ugliness and darkness of the human heart laid bare for all to see as of late, and so pervasive, I have decided to refocus my time and energy on the exquisite beauty of nature in all her majesty and splendor. I start that endeavor with the reblogging of this post of 11 years ago that describes the elegant beauty of Maxwell’s equations, four heretofore and seemingly independent principles of classic electromagnetic theory that, when mathematically combined, integrated and linked together describe light as the propagation of an electromagnetic wave whose speed is the speed of light without the need of a medium. The genius of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell brought these four principles together, a watershed scientific achievement of the late 19th century, an achievement on par with Einstein’s GTR or his paper on the Photoelectric effect, the publication that earned Einstein the Nobel Prize in physics. Maxwell’s achievement and its far-reaching implications are often overlooked due to the mathematical rigor necessary to understand and appreciate it.
Today is the 175th anniversary of the birthday of James Clerk Maxwell, without doubt one of the top echelon of physicists, and certainly the greatest physicist of his era. Working across a number of areas, he is now probably chiefly remembered for his complete set of field equations describing electromagnetic theory. While this may have been his crowning achievement it was not the only work which still bears his name, with him doing important work in statistical mechanics, and even providing some of the foundational work on explaining colourblindness and colour perception in the human eye. Strangely while most physicists would likely rank him up with or just behind Newton and Einstein he is generally vastly less well known.
Seventy five years ago, Einstein celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Maxwell’s birth by saying Maxwell’s work was the “most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time…
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