Sunday, April 03, 2011

150 Years of Maxwell Equations

We seem to have a lot of anniversaries in this year of 2011. I already mentioned of the 100 year anniversary of the discovery of superconductivity. There is also the Physical Review Landmark paper from 30 years ago of Alan Guth's expanding universe paper. It seems that we almost overlook another significant birthday, and that is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the first "unification" idea of electricity and magnetism by James Clerk Maxwell.

To much fanfare, Italy celebrated 150 years since its unification two weeks ago. Less exuberantly, America is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the civil war, a failed attempt to undo its union. Amid this flurry of historical fissions and fusions it is easy to overlook another, arguably more significant unification set in motion in spring 1861. In March of that year James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish physicist (pictured above), published the first piece of a four-part paper entitled "On physical lines of force". Sprinkled amid the prose in the Philosophical Magazine were equations which revealed electricity, magnetism and light to be different manifestations of the same phenomenon.

Read the entire article on why this is more than just an important event for the study of electromagnetic theory.


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