Portal:Scotland/Selected article/Week 33, 2007

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James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish mathematician and theoretical physicist. His most significant achievement was aggregating a set of equations in electricity, magnetism and inductance — eponymously named Maxwell's equations — including an important modification (extension) of the Ampère's Circuital Law. It was the most unified model of electromagnetism yet. It is famous for introducing to the physics community a detailed model of light as an electromagnetic phenomena, building upon the earlier hypothesis advanced by Faraday (Faraday Effect).

He also developed the Maxwell distribution, a statistical means to describe aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. These two discoveries helped usher in the era of modern physics, laying the foundation for future work in such fields as special relativity and quantum mechanics. He is also known for creating the first true colour photograph in 1861.

Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space, in the form of waves, and at the constant speed of light. Finally, in 1861 Maxwell wrote a four-part publication in the Philosophical Magazine called On Physical Lines of Force where he first proposed that light was in fact undulations in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.