One scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell
‘The work of James Clerk Maxwell changed the world forever’, said Albert Einstein of Maxwell’s four great electromagnetics papers, published when he was Professor of Natural Philosophy at King’s (1861-5).
Beginning with ‘On Physical Lines of Force’, published in May 1861, Maxwell demonstrated that magnetism, electricity and light are different manifestations of the same fundamental laws. His 1865 paper, ‘A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field’, showed this through what became known as ‘Maxwell’s Equations’, which paved the way for current technologies in radio, television, mobile phones, the internet and GPS.
Einstein’s own work on relativity and quantum theory relied on Maxwell’s discoveries. ‘One scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell’, he said.
Maxwell also demonstrated the world’s first colour photograph. With the help of Thomas Sutton, Lecturer in Photography at King’s, he separated the colour spectrum into red, green and blue and made a photograph of a tartan ribbon. Earlier he had shown how the rings of Saturn were made up of individual solid particles rotating in separate concentric orbits at different speeds.
The legacy of Maxwell’s work at King’s today covers research from telecommunications to medical imaging, and nanoscience contributing to the next generation of information and communication technologies.
In 2013 King’s alumnus Professor Peter Higgs was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the mechanism of the Higgs boson, which relies on the unified theory of the fundamental forces identified by Maxwell.
The boson was confirmed by work at CERN where John Ellis FRS, now Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King’s, was one of the first to study how the boson could be produced and discovered. Professor Ellis is currently studying the implications of the Higgs particle for possible new physics such as dark matter and supersymmetry.
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