James Clerk Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the thirteenth of November in 1831. His original name was James Clerk. "Maxwell" was added after his mother died when James was a mere eight years old. In 1841, Maxwell was sent to the Edinburgh Academy when he was eleven. At the Edinburg Academy, Maxwell had two papers published by the Royal Society of Edinburg. From the Edinburg Academy, Maxwell began furthering his academic career at the University of Cambridge in 1850. There, at the University of Cambridge, he won honors and prizes in mathematics. He went on to become a lecturer at Trinity College and in 1854 at Trinity College he obtained a mathematics degree. Two years later he joined the faculty of Marischal College and married the daughter of the principal of Marischal College. King's College of London and Marischal College of Aberdeen combined. Maxwell was appointed to King's College in London in 1860.
He retired in 1865 to carry on his laboratory work but returned back to Cambridge in 1871. While at Cambridge, Maxwell planned the famous Cavendish laboratory and became the first Cavendish Professor. Maxwell's theory of electromagnetic waves established him as one of the greatest scientists in history.
Maxwell's first major contribution to science was a study of the planet Saturn's rings. Maxwell's theory was one of which the rings are composed of numerous small solid particles. This theory was confirmed one hundred years later by the first Voyager space probe to reach Saturn.
Next, Maxwell considered the kinetic theory of gases. By treating gases statistically in 1866 he formulated, independently of Ludwig Boltzmann, the Maxwell-Boltzmann kinetic theory of gases. This theory showed that temperatures and heat involved only molecular movement. Although Maxwell did not originate the kinetic theory of gases, he was the first to apply methods of probability and statistics to describe the properties of gas molecules.
The Maxwell-Boltzmann theory meant a change from a concept of certainty, heat viewed as flowing from hot to cold, to one of statistics, molecules at high temperature have only a high probability of moving toward those at low temperature. Maxwell's approach did not reject earlier studies of thermodynamics but used a better theory of the basis to explain the observations and experiments.
Maxwell contributed also to the study of color blindness and color vision.
Out of his research and experimentation of the color theory came the first color photograph, which was produced by photographing one subject through filters of the three primary colors of light (red, yellow, and blue) and then recombining the images.
Maxwell's most important achievement was in his extension and mathematical formulation of Michael Faraday's theories of electricity and magnetic lines of force. Maxwell suggested that electromagnetism moved through space in waves that could be generated in the laboratory. By calculating their velocity he found that the speed of electromagnetic waves was the same as the speed of light. He proposed that the phenomenon of light is therefore an electromagnetic phenomenon. Maxwell said:
"We can scarcely avoid the conclusion that light consists in the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena."
His paper On Faraday's Lines of Force was read to the Cambridge Philosophical Society in two parts, 1855 and 1856. Maxwell showed that a few relatively simple mathematical equations could not express the behavior of electric and magnetic fields and their interrelation.
At the time there was no evidence of comparable waves that could be transmitted or detected over any considerable distance. Maxwell died in Cambridge on the fifth of November in 1879, before his theory was successfully tested.
The four partial differential equations, known as Maxwell's equations, first appeared in fully developed form in Electricity and Magnetism (1873). These equations are one of the greatest achievements of nineteenth-century mathematics.
In 1888 Heinrich Hertz conducted investigations based on Maxwell's theories and demonstrated that an electric disturbance is transmitted through space in the form of waves. Today, electromagnetic waves are known to cover a wave spectrum of radiation. Maxwell expressed all the fundamental laws of light, electricity, and magnetism in a few mathematical equations which are commonly called the "Maxwell Field Equations". These equations were long considered a fundamental law of the universe, like Newton's laws of motion and gravitation. They do not apply, however, to phenomena that are governed by quantum theory, wave mechanics, and relativity.
Maxwell is generally regarded as one of the greatest physicists the world has ever seen. Einstein placed on record his view that the Scot's work resulted in the most profound change in the conception of reality in physics. Maxwell's theory is a unification that remains one of the greatest landmarks in the whole of science. Maxwell paved the way for Einstein's special theory of relativity. Maxwell's ideas also ushered in the other major innovation of twentieth-century physics, the quantum theory. One of the greatest scientists in history, James Clerk Maxwell died on the fifth of November in 1879 in Cambridge, England before seeing the conformation of his greatest theory - the "Maxwell Equations".