James Clerk Maxwell

Jacey Allen

Birth and Death

Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 13, 1831. He died on November 5, 1879 in Cambridge of abdominal cancer at the age of 48.


As a child, Maxwell got his education at the Edinburgh Academy but was isolated from the rest of the children because he didn't fit in since he was from the countryside. When he was 13, he won the mathematical medal and first place in English and poetry competitions. At 14, he wrote Oval Curves and it was presented to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. From 1847-1850 he attended the University of Edinburgh where he discovered photoelasticity. Later, from 1850-1856, he attended the University of Cambridge where he graduated from the Trinity in 1854 with a degree in mathematics and later presented his paper, Experiments on Colour, to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1855. He left Cambridge in 1856 to be a professor at Marischal College in Aberdeen and then went on to King's College in London in 1860.


His Contributions to Physics

He discovered that the propagation of electromagnetic waves was approximately the speed of light. He created the foundation of color photography by taking 3 black and white photographs and putting them in red, green, and blue filters and when all 3 transparent prints of the images were put together, the result would be the reproduction of the color of the scene that would be seen with the human eye. For thermodynamics, he developed a theory of the distributions of velocities in particles of gas and is shown in a Maxwell-Boltzmann diagram that gives the fractions of gas molecules moving at a specified velocity at any given temperature. Maxwell's work has influenced modern science in that his discoveries paved the way for the fields of special relativity and quantum mechanics.

Fun Fact

In the millennium poll, which surveyed 100 of the world's most renowned physicists, Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time behind only Newton and Einstein.