Faraday Michael life and biography

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Faraday Michael biography

Date of birth : 1791-11-22
Date of death : 1867-08-25
Birthplace : London, England
Nationality : English
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2010-03-30
Credited as : scientist, electricity, electro-magnetism

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Michael Faraday was an influential British scientist who, amongst other discoveries, helped turn electricity into a property that could be easily used.

He was born on 22 September 1791 in south London to relatively poor parents. At the age of 14, he left school and started an apprenticeship at a local book binder. In his spare time he was an avid reader, teaching himself many scientific concepts. Faraday was thus mostly self-taught and became one of the greatest scientists despite his rudimentary maths.

In 1812, at the age of 20 he receive some tickets for a series of lectures by the eminent scientist Humphry Davy. After the lecture Michael sent Davy a 300 page document offering notes on the lectures. Davy was impressed and he employed Faraday as an assistant. This later led to a Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a position to which he was appointed for life.

His early work centred on chemistry. He made a special study of Cholrine and new chlorides of carbon. Faraday was a great practical inventor and one of the most useful pieces of chemistry equipment he developed was an early form of the Bunsen burner. By mixing air with gas before lighting, Faraday found an easily accessible form of higher temperature. His model of the Bunsen burner was developed, but is still used in laboratories around the world.

Electricity and magnetism

Faraday is best known for his work with electricity and magnetism. The first experiment which he recorded was the construction of a voltaic pile with seven halfpence pieces, stacked together with seven disks of sheet zinc, and six pieces of paper moistened with salt water. With this pile he decomposed sulphate of magnesia (first letter to Abbott, 12 July 1812).

In 1821, soon after the Danish physicist and chemist, Hans Christian Ørsted discovered the phenomenon of electromagnetism, Davy and British scientist William Hyde Wollaston tried but failed to design an electric motor. Faraday, having discussed the problem with the two men, went on to build two devices to produce what he called electromagnetic rotation: a continuous circular motion from the circular magnetic force around a wire and a wire extending into a pool of mercury with a magnet placed inside would rotate around the magnet if supplied with current from a chemical battery. The latter device is known as a homopolar motor. These experiments and inventions form the foundation of modern electromagnetic technology. In his excitement, Faraday published results without acknowledging his work with either Wollaston or Davy. The resulting controversy within the Royal Society strained his mentor relationship with Davy and may well have contributed to Faraday’s assignment to other activities, thereby removing him from electromagnetic research for several years.

From his initial electromagnetic (EM) discovery in 1821, Faraday continued his laboratory work exploring properties of materials and developing the requisite experience. In 1824, Faraday briefly set up a circuit to study whether a magnetic field could regulate the flow of a current in an adjacent wire, but could find no such relationship. This lab followed similar work with light and magnets three years earlier with identical results. During the next seven years, Faraday spent much of his time perfecting his recipe for optical quality (heavy) glass, boro-silicate of lead, which he used in his future studies connecting light with magnetism. In his spare time from this optics work, Faraday continued publishing his experimental work (some of which related to EM) and conducted foreign correspondence with scientists (also working on EM) he previously met on his journeys about Europe with Davy. Two years after the death of Davy, in 1831, he began his great series of experiments in which he discovered electromagnetic induction. Joseph Henry likely discovered self-induction a few months earlier and both may have been anticipated by the work of Francesco Zantedeschi in Italy in 1829 and 1830.

Faraday's breakthrough came when he wrapped two insulated coils of wire around an iron ring, and found that upon passing a current through one coil, a momentary current was induced in the other coil. This phenomenon is known as mutual induction. The iron ring-coil apparatus is still on display at the Royal Institution. In subsequent experiments he found that if he moved a magnet through a loop of wire, an electric current flowed in the wire. The current also flowed if the loop was moved over a stationary magnet. His demonstrations established that a changing magnetic field produces an electric field. This relation was modelled mathematically by James Clerk Maxwell as Faraday's law, which subsequently became one of the four Maxwell equations. These in turn have evolved into the generalisation known today as field theory.

Faraday later used the principle to construct the electric dynamo, the ancestor of modern power generators.

In 1839 he completed a series of experiments aimed at investigating the fundamental nature of electricity. Faraday used "static", batteries, and "animal electricity" to produce the phenomena of electrostatic attraction, electrolysis, magnetism, etc. He concluded that, contrary to scientific opinion of the time, the divisions between the various "kinds" of electricity were illusory. Faraday instead proposed that only a single "electricity" exists, and the changing values of quantity and intensity (current and voltage) would produce different groups of phenomena.

Near the end of his career Faraday proposed that electromagnetic forces extended into the empty space around the conductor. This idea was rejected by his fellow scientists, and Faraday did not live to see this idea eventually accepted. Faraday's concept of lines of flux emanating from charged bodies and magnets provided a way to visualise electric and magnetic fields. That mental model was crucial to the successful development of electromechanical devices which dominated engineering and industry for the remainder of the 19th century.

As well as being a prominent scientist, Faraday also undertook other projects related to science. For example, after a large explosion in a coal mine in County Durham 1865, he along with Charles Lyell, produced a report on the dangers of coal dust. A recommendation which unfortunately was not acted upon until after another coal tragedy in 1913.

Faraday had strong religious convictions, belonging to a strict Christain sect called the Sandemanian Church - founded in the eighteenth century – an offshoot of the Church of Scotland. His religious beliefs influenced his work and he was keen to show the unity of God and nature through his scientific discoveries.

"I shall be with Christ, and that is enough.” - Michael Faraday, being asked about the afterlife

His religious beliefs may have been a reason he refused to help the British governments request that he might develop chemical weapons for the Crimean war.

In the early 1840s, Faraday's health began to deteriorate and he did less research. He died on 25 August 1867 at Hampton Court, where he had been given official lodgings in recognition of his contribution to science.

"Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature, and in such things as these, experiment is the best test of such consistency."- Michael Faraday

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