James Clerk Maxwell had to endure considerable verbal humour at his expense, and was nicknamed ‘Dafty’. His school and College contemporaries found him somewhat of an oddball with strange interests in mechanisms and natural phenomena . Today he would be called a ‘nerd’.
His insight and contributions to theoretical physics were vast. Einstein had Maxwell’s portrait on his office wall and said of him, ‘He was the Newton of Electricity’.
Maxwell not only established the electromagnetic theory of light, which subsequently brought about the huge electromagnetic and electronic revolutions of the 20th century onwards, but triggered off Einstein to establish Special Relativity - a most significant break with Classical Physics.
He established the basis for colour photography and the nature of Saturn‘s rings. The electrical advances of the nineteenth century in experimental and theoretical physics , it might well be argued, are the last great revolutions in classical physics which, in effect, led to those remarkable modern physics breakthroughs of relativity and quantum theory.
Dr Ken Smith is a member of the School of Engineering, University of Kent.