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Maxwell 150: A dialogue with James Clerk Maxwell

Posted on 12/12/2014

Maxwell 150

Over the course of the year, the Department of Physics have been celebrating the 150 year anniversary which marks James Clerk Maxwell’s first presentation of the Maxwell Equations. 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. The anniversary event was attended by current staff and students, alumni of the Department of Physics, school and college students and members of the public.

The Maxwell Equations are 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). 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. 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.

To find out more information about previous events celebrating the Maxwell 150 anniversary, please take a look at our dedicated webpage.

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