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Maxwell at King's

Posted on 16/05/2011

Image of a tartan ribbon, considered the first colour photograph, demonstrated by Maxwell on 17 May 1861

It is 150 years since the physicist James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated the first colour photograph during a Royal Institution lecture on colour theory. Maxwell was a professor at King’s at the time and the College is celebrating his world changing scientific discoveries beginning on 17 May, the 150th anniversary of that remarkable demonstration.

From 1860 to 1865 James Clerk Maxwell was a professor at King's College London. In 1861 he published the first of his papers on electromagnetism, and as part of his work on understanding colour, demonstrated the first colour photograph.

Maxwell’s biographer Basil Mahon called him 'The Man Who Changed Everything', and Albert Einstein said that 'One scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell'. He was arguably the greatest physicist of the 19th century.

Professor David Richards, head of the Department of Physics, said: 'Maxwell is generally regarded as the world's leading theorist of the 19th century, laying the foundations for many of the most important achievements of 20th century physics. The legacy of his work can be sen in many areas of research at King's today, from telecommunications to medical imaging.

In Maxwell’s own Department of Physics, research is concerned with unifying fundamental forces by advancing our understanding of the physics of the early universe, and with the manipulation of light at nanometre lengthscales for the next generation of information and communication technologies.'

To celebrate Maxwell’s achievements at King’s a series of events will take place in the Anatomy Theatre & Museum, Strand Campus. These commence with a launch event 'Entanglements with colour' on 17 May 2011, hosted by Professor Rick Trainor, Principal of King’s, and chaired by Professor David Richards, Head of the Department of Physics. Speakers include Maxwell biographer Basil Mohan and Professor John Ellis, Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King’s.'

An accompanying series of lunchtime talks looks at colour from various viewpoints. These take place on Tuesdays from 17 May for four weeks.

See or email for more information on Maxwell at King's.


17 May, 18.00-20.00
Entanglements with colour
An evening of talks celebrating the world-changing scientific discoveries of James Clerk Maxwell during his time at King’s College London, on the 150th anniversary of his demonstration of the first colour photograph.
Speakers: Basil Mahon, Maxwell biographer; Professor Frank James, Royal Institution; Mr William Ayliffe, Gresham Professor of Physic; Professor John Ellis, Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics, King’s College London

Lunchtime talks:
All talks will be held in the Anatomy Theatre & Museum on Tuesday lunchtimes from 1.00 till 2.00. All are welcome to attend.

17 May, 13.00-14.00
Monumentalising James Clerk Maxwell: The Importance of Light in the Edinburgh Statue
Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland

24 May, 13.00-14.00
Constructing Colour in the Brain
Dr Dominic ffytche, Institute of Psychiatry

31 May, 13.00-14.00
Colour Theory before Maxwell
Ms Alexandra Loske, University of Sussex

7 June, 13.00-14.00
Colour is Vulgar: A Brief History of Colour Photography
Professor Julian Stallabrass, Courtauld Institute of Art

Notes to editors

King's College London

King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (2010 QS international world rankings), The Sunday Times 'University of the Year 2010/11' and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has nearly 23,500 students (of whom more than 9,000 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 6,000 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.

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