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Maxwell 150

Maxwell 150 - four equations which changed the World


 The Maxwell Equations

Around 150 Years ago, James Clerk-Maxwell first wrote down what are now known as the Maxwell Equations – four equations which explain the way that magnetic and electric fields are essentially two sides of the same coin.  The development of these equations was one of the two most important individual pieces of physics to have occurred anywhere in the 19th Century (alongside the development of thermodynamics, a field in which Maxwell also played a central role in).  

The equations contain the mechanism by which electromagnetic radiation exists - all light, all x-rays, microwaves, radio waves and gamma rays arise as solutions to Maxwell’s equations.  They set the stage for future work in electricity and later electronics, revolutionising our way of life.

Maxwell was working at King’s College London when he developed these equations and this work is one of the two important events in the history of Physics at King's, rivalled only by the discovery of DNA. 

Celebratory Events

Over the course of the year, the Department of Physics delivered a number of public lectures to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of Maxwell's Equations which culminated in the actual 150th anniversary of the first presentation of his results on Monday 8 December 2014. Students, staff, alumni and members of the general public all attended these popular anniversary lectures.

Maxwell 150

23rd November 2013

The first in the series of the Maxwell 150 events, we invited Professor Gerard't Hooft  and Professor Jim Pinfold to speak on:

The Missing Part of Maxwell's Equations - Monopoles

Abstract & Biography


In the absence of matter, Maxwell's equations are completely symmetric in that magentic fields and electric fields behave identically and are completely interchangable. The same is not true of the matter we observe in the Universe today - we see particles with electric charge but no-one has ever observed a particle with magnetic charge. These magnetic "monopoles" are predicted to exist in various theories however and there are several active searches for them.


Gerard 't Hooft is widely accepted as being one of the finest living theoretical physicists and won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to the unification of the electromagnetic and weak interactions. He also has worked on the theory of monopoles so he is uniquely qualified to talk to us about this subject.

Jim Pinfold is head of the MoEDAL collaboration at CERN which is looking for exotic particles created in high energy proton collisions at the LHC, including monopoles. He has a long interest in monopole searches and will give us an update on these efforts.


18 March 2014

Next in the Maxwell 150 series was Professor Carl Bender's public lecture on:

 The Physics of Thing's which aren't There

Abstract & Biography


Science is different from other intellectual pursuits in that it makes predictions. When a prediction is verified by a subsequent experiment, this vindicates currently accepted scientific theory. However, sometimes a prediction is incorrect, and this is most exciting because it forces a revolution in scientific thinking. For example, the existence of the planet Neptune was predicted to explain the quirks in the orbit of Uranus, and the observation of Neptune strengthened Newton's theory of gravity. However, the planet Vulcan was also predicted to explain the quirks in the orbit of Mercury, and Vulcan does not exist! This forced the replacement of Newtonian gravity by Einstein's revolutionary new theory of gravity. Current scientific theory predicts the existence of "dark matter," but it has not yet been seen. Are we on the cusp of a new scientific breakthrough or must we wait until observational techniques are good enough to see it? Professor Bender will expound upon these issues and relate them to Maxwell's battles with the concept of an aether


Carl Bender Wilfred R. and Ann Lee Konneker Distinguished Professor of Physics at Washington University in St. Louis. and is an expert in theoretical physics, particularly quantum theory.


1 October 2014

On 1 October 2014 we were joined by Professor Sir John Pendry for the third in the series of the Maxwell 150 lecture. Professor Pendry spoke on:

Maxwell's Equations and Invisibility: Still full of Surprises after 150 years


8 December 2014

On Monday 8th December the current Maxwell Professor, John Ellis FRS was joined by Dr Malcolm Fairbairn and an actor who played the part of Maxwell, to re-enact the reading of Maxwell’s original paper. Professor John Ellis and Dr Malcolm Fairbairn set Maxwell’s work into context and explained how his work revolutionised physics.

 A Dialogue with James Clerk Maxwell




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