James Clerk Maxwell

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James Clerk-Maxwell, of Glenlair

Birthdate: (48)
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Death: November 5, 1879 (48)
Cambridge, England
Place of Burial: Parton, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland
Immediate Family:

Son of John Clerk-Maxwell of Middlebie and Frances Clerk-Maxwell
Husband of Katherine Clerk-Maxwell

Occupation: physicist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About James Clerk Maxwell


James Clerk Maxwell FRS FRSE (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish mathematical physicist. His most prominent achievement was to formulate a set of equations that describe electricity, magnetism, and optics as manifestations of the same phenomenon, namely the electromagnetic field. Maxwell's achievements concerning electromagnetism have been called the "second great unification in physics", after the first one realised by Isaac Newton.

With the publication of A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field in 1865, Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. Maxwell proposed that light is in fact undulations in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena. The unification of light and electrical phenomena led to the prediction of the existence of radio waves.

Maxwell helped develop the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution, which is a statistical means of describing aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. He is also known for presenting the first durable colour photograph in 1861 and for his foundational work on analysing the rigidity of rod-and-joint frameworks (trusses) like those in many bridges.

His discoveries helped usher in the era of modern physics, laying the foundation for such fields as special relativity and quantum mechanics. Many physicists regard Maxwell as the 19th-century scientist having the greatest influence on 20th-century physics, and his contributions to the science are considered by many to be of the same magnitude as those of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. In the millennium poll—a survey of the 100 most prominent physicists—Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time, behind only Newton and Einstein. On the centenary of Maxwell's birthday, Einstein himself described Maxwell's work as the "most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton."

James Clerk-Maxwell co-inventor of color photography

...and the younger son John succeeded to the property of Middlebie, which descended to him from his grandmother, Dorothea, Lady Clerk Maxwell, and took the name of Maxwell. He married in 1826 Frances, daughter of Robert Cay of Charlton, and had one son, James Clerk Maxwell, born in July 1831, and died in Nov. 1879."

Source: The life of James Clerk Maxwell:with a selection from his correspondence and occasional writings and a sketch of his contributions to science (Google eBook) By Lewis Campbell, William Garnett Macmillan, 1882

From p. 16..


Biographical Summary

Maxwell of Glenlair, James Clerk-</etrong>. 13/06/1831-05/11/1879. Ref: 331. Male.

  • Place of Birth: Edinburgh.
  • Place of Death: Cambridge.
  • Place of interment: Parton, Kirkcudbrightshire.
  • Profession: Physicist, Mathematician.
  • Appointments Held: Professor 1856-60, Natural Philosophy, Marschal College, Aberdeen; 1860-5, Physics & Astronomy, King's College, London; 1st Cavendish Professor 1871-9, Experimental Physics, Cambridge.
  • Schools and Tutors: The Edinburgh Academy,1841-7.
  • Undergraduate Studies: 1847-50 Edinburgh University, MA(Cantab 1854).
  • Postgraduate Studies: LL D, DCL.
  • Publications: "Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism" 1873, "Electro-Magnetic Theory of Light".
  • Marital Status: Married Katherine Mary Dewar.
  • Family: no issue.
  • Mother: Frances Hodson Cay d.1839.
  • Father: John Clerk-Maxwell of Middlebie FRSE d.1856.
  • Other Family: Nephew of Sir George Clerk of Penicuik, Bart. FRSE 1787-1867 and of James Wedderburn FRSE 1782-1822.
  • References: DNB 37, 1894, 118-121; Proc Roy Soc Edinb, 10,1878-80, 331-9; Proc Roy Soc, 33, 1882, i-xvi; RSE Year Book, 1980, 5-23; A Boyle, Scotland's Cultural Heritage 5, 1984.
  • Memberships: FRS (1861).
  • Date of Election: 21/04/1856.
  • Proposers: James David Forbes, 18/2/1856, (ms Proposal NLS Acc 10,000/47).
  • RSE Prizes and Medals: Keith Prize 1869-71.
  • Notes: Buried with Father, Mother and Wife
  • Fellow Type: OF.

SOURCE: Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Biographical index of former fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1783-2002: Biographical Index. II. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN 978-0-902198-84-5. page 633

James Clerk Maxwell

1831 - 1879

James Clerk Maxwell

©1995-2009 Gazetteer for Scotland

James Clerk Maxwell

Mathematician and physicist. A great great grandson of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik (1676-1755), Clerk-Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, although his family moved to Glenlair (Dumfries and Galloway) soon after. However, his mother died when he was 8, and in the interests of his education, the boy returned to Edinburgh to live with his aunt in Heriot Row.

Clerk-Maxwell was a slow developer, known as daftie to his fellow pupils at Edinburgh Academy. However, his talent blossomed and he had published his first paper by the age of 15, and started at the University of Edinburgh the following year. He became Professor of Physics at Aberdeen in 1857. Clerk-Maxwell contributed significantly to the study of electro-magnetism and prepared the way for quantum physics. He ranks along with Newton and Einstein as one of the World's greatest physicists.

Clerk-Maxwell was also a photographic pioneer, taking the world's first colour photograph, of a tartan ribbon. He demonstrated the technique to a meeting of the Royal Institution in 1861.

Clerk-Maxwell was appointed as the first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge (1871), where he died eight years later. He is buried in the churchyard at the village of Parton (Dumfries and Galloway). Although he married in 1858, he had no children. He is remembered by a statue at the east end of George Street in Edinburgh and a building on the King's Buildings campus of the University of Edinburgh.

[Source: http://www.geo.ed.ac.uk/scotgaz/people/famousfirst242.html ]

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James Clerk Maxwell's Timeline

June 13, 1831
Edinburgh, Scotland
November 5, 1879
Age 48
Cambridge, England
Parton, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland