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Astro*Dictionary by Michael Erlewine





1 article for "Maxwell, James Clerk"

Maxwell, James Clerk [Astro*Index]

(1831-1879) Scottish mathematician and physicist. Born at Edinburgh; died at Cambridge, England.

In 1857, Maxwell demonstrated analytically (i.e., from theoretical considerations) that if Saturn's rings were either solid or liquid, that the gravitational and mechanical forces exerted upon them would break them up. If, however, they were composed of a collection of small solid particles, they would still give the appearance of being solid. The Maxwell-Boltzmann Kinetic Theory of Gases was the result of applying powerful mathematical tools to the problem of molecular motion in a gas. He is best-known for work on electricity and magnetism. He was able to express, in a few simple equations, all the various phenomena of both electricity and magnetism. Furthermore, these equations showed that electricity and magnetism could not separately exist. Consequently, his theory is called the Electromagnetic Theory. In addition, he showed that an oscillating electric charge would produce an electromagnetic field which radiated at a constant speed, and that this speed could be expressed as a ratio of two sets of units, one expressing magnetic phenomena, and the other expressing electric phenomena. The numerical value of this ratio was remarkably close to that of c, the velocity of light (299792.5 kilometers/sec.). He suggested that light, itself, was an electromagnetic radiation, caused by an oscillating electric charge. Although the theories of Einstein were to shake the very foundations of classical physics (Newton's Theory of Gravitation, for example), it is remarkable that Maxwell's Equations remained unaltered.

See also:
♦ Light, Velocity of


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