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James Clerk Maxwell Biography

James Clerk Maxwell is one of the most important scientists of all time. Albert Einstein recognized that the beginnings of the special theory of relativity were down to Clerk Maxwell’s theories.

Einstein said: “The work of James Clerk Maxwell changed the world forever”.

James Clerk Maxwell facts

Clerk Maxwell’s research into electromagnetic radiation brought about many of the things we know today like television, mobile phones, radios and infra-red telescopes.

The largest astronomical telescope in the world, at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, is named in his honor.


James Clerk Maxwell as a Child

James Clerk Maxwell was certainly no ordinary child, considering what he achieved! He was born in Edinburgh in 1831. He attended school in the city and later studied at the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge.

He was a very curious child, and this might amaze you, but he wrote his first scientific paper at the age of just 14. Wow!

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Maxwell’s Later Years

At the age of 25 he became Professor of Physics at Aberdeen University’s Marischal College. That’s extremely young to be a professor; he was obviously one very clever man indeed.

In Aberdeen, he began to study the arrangement of all Saturn’s rings. For years and years no one, including scientists could understand why the rings didn’t just break up, crash into the planet or move away from it.

Well, there was one person who found the answer of course!

saturn dense planet

He spent two years researching and studying the rings, and then wrote a very detailed essay that was called ‘On the Stability of Saturn’s Rings’ in 1859.

After all this research he came to the decision that the rings were made up of lots and lots of small solid particles.

In 1860, he moved moved from Aberdeen to King’s College in London, and he stayed there until 1865.


In 1871 he was asked to go back to Cambridge and off he went! He was a very important person when it came to establishing and designing the now famous Cavendish Laboratory.

He became the first Cavendish Professor of Physics. The Laboratory was officially opened in 1874.


Research, Theories and Discoveries

Being the curious person that he was, he carried on plenty of research in lots of different fields including astronomy and mathematical physics. 

In 1873, he created the very famous four Maxwell equations. They were very complicated and you would have to be a scientist to figure them out.

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But these four theories played a very important role in Albert Einstein’s work on the special theory of relativity.

Einstein praised him and said, “The special theory of relativity owes its origins to Maxwell Equations of the electromagnetic field.”

albert einstein james maxwell

The discovery of the way electromagnetic waves form were the very beginning of a lot of technology that we know today and take for granted sometimes.

Radio, television, satellite communications and the mobile phone all come from some of his work. Isn’t that amazing?


It was said that the most significant event in the 19th Century was Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electrodynamics.

He was so good at science – in fact he was a genius – and because of this, the largest astronomical telescope in the world was named after him in 1987.

Whoa, he must have made one huge impact on the world of science.

astronomical telescope

It is of course called ‘The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT)’. It is 49 feet (15 meters) in diameter and is situated at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, and is at a height of of 13,425 feet (4,092 meters).

The JCMT is used to study our solar system, distant galaxies and interstellar dust and gas.

The Voyager space probes of the 1980s proved many of the conclusions that Clerk Maxwell had made over a century before.


James Clerk Maxwell’s died in Cambridge on 5 November.

As you can see, James Clerk Maxwell was a genius and added so much to the world! Now go and share your new knowledge!

Words You Need to Know

Electromagnetic RadiationElectromagnetic radiation (EM radiation or EMR) is a form of radiant energy released by certain electromagnetic processes.

Visible light is one type of electromagnetic radiation; other forms are invisible electromagnetic radiations such as X-rays and radio waves.

light bulb

Physics – this is the branch of science that has to do with the properties of matter and energy. The subject matter of physics includes mechanics, heat, light and other radiation, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the structure of atoms.

Electrodynamics – this is the branch of mechanics that has to do with the interaction of electric currents with magnetic fields or with other electric currents.

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