Inspirational & Thought Provoking People Part 2: James Clerk Maxwell

In part 2 , I would it like write about one of my favourite scientists that made a tremendous impact on our society who is not that well known by the general public. As I’m sure you’ve read in the title, the individual that I am speaking of is James Clerk Maxwell. I wanted to write about him to help popularize his name among the other great scientists such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. I truly believe that Mr. Maxwell’s contributions to physics & our society was just as important as the discoveries made by Newton & Einstein and just as thought provoking.

Who was James Clerk Maxwell?

James Maxwell was a Scottish physicist born on June 13, 1831 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Throughout his life, it was noted that he was a gifted child in terms his ability to reason and understand Nature around him. Maxwell studied at the University of Cambridge and innovated in areas such as optics, thermodynamics, the analysis of different gases & the unified theory of electromagnetism. Maxwell died of stomach Cancer on November 5, 1879 in Cambridge, England and was buried at Parton Kirk.

What did he discover?

From my own perspective, I think Maxwell’s main contribution to our society was his set of equations that helped unify electricity & magnetism, which was later called electromagnetism. There were many great scientists before him that looked specifically at electrical properties or magnetism and a few even suspected a connection, but none before him had the genius to prove that both of these entities are different faces of the same coin.

With his theory of electromagnetism, Maxwell was able to figure out that light and all waves could be explained through the electromagnetic spectrum. Waves such as ultraviolet, radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, gamma rays and so forth. For an in depth explanation of this spectrum of waves, please take a look at the link at the bottom of this post.

Why is Maxwell’s work on electromagnetism important to us?

Just think about this for a second, without his equations to understand electromagnetism, here are several things that would not exist in our world:

  • Radio
  • Television
  • Mobile Phones
  • Electronics
  • The Internet

Could you imagine what our society would look like without these inventions? It’s crazy to think that these things, which have become so pivotal to our society, would not have existed without James Clerk Maxwell. Really take the time to think about this and let this thought sink in.

Additionally, Maxwell’s equations also revealed that fastest an object can move is the speed of an electromagnetic wave, which was called this the “speed of light”. That’s right, the entire basis of Albert Einstein’s famous theories on General Relativity hinge on one key factor: Maxwell’s speed of light.

When Einstein was asked if he stood on the shoulders of Isaac Newton he said “No, on the shoulders of Maxwell”. It was later discovered that Einstein placed a picture of Maxwell in his office where he studied. To me, this really highlights the importance of Maxwell in allowing Albert Einstein to become the world wide archetypal “Genius”.

Maxwell’s work on colour & photography

Aside from his discoveries in physics, Maxwell also had a deep interest in trying to understand colour, which led him to create the colour triangle from pure mathematical equations; showing all the possible colour combinations between red, green & blue.


He also created the world’s first coloured photographic picture by inventing the trichromatic process of mixing colours. His method helped pioneer the way to modern photography. Here is the worlds first coloured picture by Maxwell, shown to people in 1861 at the Royal Institution in London:


In addition to all of the things mentioned above, Maxwell innovated in a plethora of other areas in science, engineering, mathematics. I will provide several links below to other articles if you’re interested in reading more about Mr. Maxwell.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I feel like he is still relatively unknown to the general public, and after seeing his massive contributions to our modern day internet, mobile phones, photography and television – I really feel that he deserves more recognition for his accomplishments in helping develop our current society.

The next time you turn on your computer, listen to your radio, watch TV & surf the internet; just remember that without James Clerk Maxwell, none of these things would’ve existed.

References for further reading:

Explanation of Electromagnetic spectrum

James Clerk Maxwell – Biography

Impact of James Maxwell

The First Colour Photographic image

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