“… and then there was light!”- The Legacy of James Clerk Maxwell
Once, there was a discovery, one that explained the force that holds together the entire universe itself. Today we know it, stated as follows,
“Every particle in this universe attracts every other particle with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers.”
It was Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. And then there was another discovery, the one that changed our understanding of the entirety of existence. Today we know it as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Between these two major discoveries, there was yet another breath-taking scientific breakthrough, the one that carried forward the legacy of Newton and the one that inspired the likes of Einstein to step up our understanding of Nature. It was something that laid the foundations to the advent of an age of Modern Physics, Electronics, and Communication.
Often termed as the second greatest unification in Physics, we are of course talking about Maxwell’s Theory of Electromagnetism. In simple terms it signified that Electricity, Magnetism, and Light, all three are in fact a manifestation of the same thing and are intertwined. Maxwell’s equations are indeed like the Bible for Electronic Engineers as many professors may coin it to be. These conclusions are a culmination of different laws of physics.
Maxwell’s equations aren’t the only ones he has come up with. His contributions to the Kinetic theory of Gases is equally noteworthy. This is however not an article to discuss a scientific theory but to celebrate the legacy of one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, the man who showed us light and to take forward the burning will of scientific curiosity he has left behind as we observe his 187th birth anniversary. There is a lot to learn from his work apart from his marvelous scientific discoveries.
James Clerk Maxwell wasn’t just an amazing physicist, but also an enticing poet;
“That small word “Force,” they make a barber’s block,
Ready to put on
Meanings most strange and various, fit to shock
Pupils of Newton….
The phrases of last century in this
Linger to play tricks —
Vis viva and Vis Mortua and Vis Acceleratrix: —
Those long-nebbed words that to our text books still
Cling by their titles,
And from them creep, as entozoa will,
Into our vitals.
But see! Tait writes in lucid symbols clear
One small equation;
And Force becomes of Energy a mere
― James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell wasn’t just a scientific genius, but also an intriguing philosopher;
“Happy is the man who can recognize in the work of to-day a connected portion of the work of life and an embodiment of the work of Eternity. The foundations of his confidence are unchangeable, for he has been made a partaker of Infinity. He strenuously works out his daily enterprises because the present is given him for a possession.
Thus ought man to be an impersonation of the divine process of nature, and to show forth the union of the infinite with the finite, not slighting his temporal existence, remembering that in it only is individual action possible, nor yet shutting out from his view that which is eternal, knowing that Time is a mystery which man cannot endure to contemplate until eternal Truth enlighten it.”
― James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell wasn’t just a brilliant researcher, but also a great teacher;
“It is of great advantage to the student of any subject to read the original memoirs on that subject, for science is always most completely assimilated when it is in the nascent state…”
― James Clerk Maxwell
He died young at just 48 but his discoveries and achievements in this short duration continue to impact humankind to this day. Whenever we look forward to progress, it is essential to take a look at the past as well.
In time, I believe there will be another revolutionary discovery, the one that may unite all those that came before it, the Theory of Everything. As we continue to look for it, never fail to remember what it took humanity to reach this point and those who have contributed to the same. The path to scientific excellence doesn’t come just by consuming extensive knowledge but also by exploring the expanse of nature and the universe in a way no one else did before, for which one should learn our ancestors’ journey.
The field of science and engineering will keep changing the world as we know it and Probe, the technical symposium of the Department of Electronics and Communication of NIT Trichy will continue to contribute to the collective advancement of mankind as we strive to take forward the legacy left behind by those who came before us.
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