James Clerk Maxwell - The Great Unknown

Kevin Johnson

Maxwell's Career

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(The Life of James Clerk Maxwell)

James Clerk Maxwell achieved so much in his career it is difficult to summarise it all. He published 101 papers including reviews and lectures, and almost every one was excellent in its own right. However, in the following table, I will attempt to catalogue some of his greater works:

Edinburgh Academy (November 1841 to June 1847)
1846 Oval Curves - (see section 5.1)

Edinburgh University (November 1847 to June 1850)
1847 Rolling Curves - Geometrical paper similar to Oval paper. Read to Royal Society of Edinburgh.
1849-50 The Equilibrium of Elastic Solids - 'the kind of paper any good nineteenth century scientist would have been pleased with' [10, p45]. Describes applications of work previously done by G. G. Stokes.

Cambridge University, student of Trinity College (October 1850 to June 1854)
1854 On the Transformation of Surfaces by Bending - Based on work done by Gauss, Monge, Liouville and others, was not a brilliant piece but displayed improved mathematical ability.
1854 Graduated as Second Wrangler sharing the Smith's Prize with First Wrangler E J Routh.

Cambridge University, fellow of Trinity College (Early 1855 to November 1856)
1855 Experiments on Colour, as perceived by the Eye, with remarks on Colour-blindness - (see section 4.2)
1855-56 On Faraday's Lines of Force - (see section 4.4)

Aberdeen University, Professor of Natural Philosophy of Marchisal College (November 1856 to 1860)
1856 Wrote a series of summaries of talks and short papers on optics, colour, the eye, spinning tops and the geometric construction of Faraday's lines of force.
1857 Wrote an excellent short piece on the theory of the gyroscope.
1859 The Motion of Saturn's Rings - Concludes that Saturn's rings are composed of loose particles not mutually coherent. This won the 1857 Adams Prize and was described by Airy as 'one of the most remarkable applications of mathematics to physics I have ever seen' [25].
1859 Illustrations of the Dynamic Theory of Gases - (see section 4.3)

London University, Head of Natural Philosophy at King's College (1860 to 1865)
1860 On the Theory of Colour Vision - (see section 4.2)
1861 Took the first ever colour photograph - (see section 4.2)
1861-62 On Physical Lines of Force - (see section 4.4)
1864 A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field - (see section 4.4)

Glenlair, near Dumfries, his family home (1865-1871)
1867 On the Dynamical Theory of Gases - (see section 4.3)
1868 On Governors - Contains the first formulation of the theory of feedback, the foundation of cybernetics.
1868 Wrote three manuscripts on topology in which he defined the Reidemeister moves, later shown to be the fundamental moves in modifying knots.
1870 On Hills and Dales - The beginning of the discipline of global analysis. States the relationship involved in a topographic contour map now named Noah's Theorem.
1870 The Theory of Heat - (see section 4.3)

Cambridge University, Cavendish Professor of Physics (1871 to 1879)

1871-74 Designed, set up and partially financed the Cavendish Laboratory.
1873 Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism - (see section 4.4)
1874-79 Edited the Cavendish papers which was a time consuming and largely unnecessary task as Henry Cavendish had recorded his work well.
1878 On Boltzmann's Theorem on the Average Distribution of Energy in a System of Material Points - (see section 4.3)
1879 On Stresses in Rarefied Gases Arising from Inequalities of Temperature - (see section 4.3)

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