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SEEING THE INVISIBLE A FARADAY-MAXWELL CENTENARY LECTURE* E. F. BuRTON I. T HE summer of 1931 has been a marked year scientifically in Great Britain because of the celebration of the centenaries of three events, namely, the formation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the discovery of induced currents by Michael Faraday, and the birth of James Clerk Maxwell, the mathematical interpreter of Faraday. 1'he British Association for . the Advancement of Science was founded in York (1831) in an attempt to unify the work of a number of local scientific bodies scattered through Great Britain and Ireland. Its aims 1nay be said to be threefold:-(I) the popularization and spread of scientific knowledge among the great mass of the people; (2) the maintenance of a scientific cJearing house or court of last appeal which sets a seal on various scientific developments; (3) actual assistance to scientific work in various directions by the service of advisory committees and contributions of money for various investigations.· Without attempting to deal with its Ioo years of history we are justified in saying that no other organization in .the· English-speaking world has had so great an influence on the spread of popular appreciation of scientific work and accomplishment-an influence which has become Empire wide. From time to time the BritishAssociation meetings have been made epoch..:marking by the first public announce- *Delivered at the inaugural meeting of the Royal Canadian Institute, November 7, 1931. 143 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY ments ofworld-famous scientific discoveries. The advance which has been made during the last hundred years can be well illustrated by the change of attitude of the literati to scientific men. At the second meeting of the British Association (Oxford, 1832), the University conferred the honorary degree of D.C.L. on David Brewster, Michael Faraday, Robert Brown, and John Dalton-four scientists . The literary group represented by Keble was greatly upset, in the words of Keble, "at the temper and tone of the Oxford doctors; they had truckled sad!y to the spirit of the times in receiving the hodge-podge philosophers as they did.,, Their anger was probably chiefly inflamed by the fact that the candidates consisted of two Presbyterians, one Quaker and one Sandemanian. A striking historical coincidence has brought about the linking of the names of Faraday and Maxwell in the year 1931. One hundred years ago Faraday made his discovery of electromagnetic induction, a discovery parallelled by Henry in America, which has led to the whole modern development of electrical engineering in so far as it involves motors, dynamos and transformers. One hundred years ago Maxwell was born. The names of Faraday and Maxwell will always be connected; Faraday, the experimenter and the dreamer, Maxwell, the mathematician and experimenter, who translated into the language of the learned the dreams of Faraday. Great as are Faraday's contributions to our practical life, it is his attempt to enable us to see the unseen that will be counted as his greatest accomplishment and this accomplishment was brought to a glorious fruition by the work of Maxwell. Faraday and Maxwell are, in a sense, the Socrates and Plato of nineteenth century physics. Before proceeding to deal with their main contribution to our knowledge, I should like to dwell for a moment or 144 SEEING THE INVISIBLE two on the curious contrasts and similarities in their two lives. Faraday was bort;1 in 1791 into the home of a poor London blacksmith who had migrated to the city from a Yorkshire village a few years before. The boy's early education was of the indifferent variety of the local school and the East London street. Maxwell, born in I8JI, forty years later than Faraday, into the home of a wellto -do Scottish laird in the city of Edinburgh, was brought up in the tradition of the landed proprietor and educated at the best schools in the famous city. of his birth. He attended the Edinburgh Academy and afterwards Edinburgh University, where he spent three years before proceeding to Cambridge, then, as now, the Mecca of mathematicians and physicists. At school, Maxwell was rather reserved and every inch...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 143-163
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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