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Michael Faraday (1791-1867)

Born in September 22, 1791 in south London, Michael Faraday contributed significantly to the field of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. Faraday’s other major discoveries in Physics and Chemistry included; electromagnetic induction, electrolysis as well as diamagnetism.

He did not receive a lot of formal education and at an age of about 14, he read a lot of books and educated himself. In 1813, he was appointed at the Royal Institution by Davy Humphrey as an assistant lecturer.

In 1814, he was invited by Humphrey to meet several other scientists in Europe. He continued to work at the Institution and helped in numerous experiments and met new scientists as he continued to gain more knowledge and experience. In 1826, Faraday founded the Friday Evening Discourses at the Royal Institution and during the same year, he founded the Christmas Lectures that up to today both continue. He established a credible reputation in Physics and Chemistry with his outstanding lectures and he was the best of his time.

Faraday was referred to by many as an experimentalist despite his little formal education in the history of science. His discovery of electromagnetic induction is one of his greatest achievements. This discovery was fundamental in electric transformation into new technology. His research on magnetic fields around conductors carrying DC (direct current) established the basic concepts of electromagnetic fields in physics. He also brought on board the fact that magnetism has an effect on light rays and that there was a relationship between these two phenomena. The electric motor was also part of Faraday’s inventions through the electromagnetic rotary devices.

Faraday discovered benzene in chemistry, and experimented chlorine’s clathrate hydrate as well as invented a Bunsen burner of that time. In addition to this, he invented the oxidation number system, made known the widely used terms like cathode, anode, ions and electrodes. He was the first and foremost Chemistry Professor at the Institution, a life-time position. Faraday discovered the chlorine and carbon compounds. He conducted experiments on gas diffusion; this was pointed out by Dalton, which Joseph Loschmidt and Graham Thomas brought to light its importance in physics. Faraday enjoyed success in liquefying gases, experimented steel alloys, produced other new types of glasses for optical intentions. These new heavy glasses produced by Michael Faraday became very important during an experiment whereby, when it was placed in magnetic fields, the rotation of light polarization was noted, and this was referred to as the Faraday Effect. Faraday also discovered that the glass specimen was repelled by magnetic poles.

He discovered that several materials displayed relatively weak repulsions from magnetic fields through a phenomenon referred to as diamagnetism. He later used the spectroscope in search for different light alteration and changing spectral lines during his experiment in 1862 applying a magnetic field. This however, was faced by apparatus challenges; his apparatus were not of the level required to get the results. Zeeman, later improved Faraday’s research by using more improved equipments in studying this phenomenon and he published the results by the year 1897, and received a Nobel Prize in 1902 for his success in Physics. In his speech, Pieter Zeeman made references to the work of Faraday.

Faraday was also an excellent mathematician, but he did not extend beyond trigonometry or algebra. James Maxwell adapted Faraday’s work and formed the basis of the theory of electromagnetic phenomenon. Maxwell stated that the lines of force showed that Faraday was well informed and his mathematical applications were real and valid, and could be used in the future to derive other useful methods in mathematics, physics and chemistry. The farad is the SI unit for capacitance that was named in Michael Faraday’s honour.

Later in life, Faraday was granted an honorary as a Doctor of Civic Law by Oxford University in 1832. In 1838, he was elected as a member of Royal Swedish Academy, a science academy and he was among eight foreigners of French Academy in the year 1844. He retired in 1858 and lived in Hampton court in a house granted to him. He refused to give advice to the government on weapon production using chemical compounds. He died in his house on August the 25th 1867 at the age of 75 years, 11 months. In his commemoration, there is a statue in an Engineering and Technology institute in London. In addition, Gordon Rodney established a memorial for Faraday that was complete in 1961 near Michael Faraday’s place of birth.

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