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James Clerk Maxwell

Scotland has produced a great number of famous scientists and inventors, including Alexander Graham Bell (Chapter 4), Lord Kelvin (Chapter 73), John Napier (Chapter 57), John Logie Baird (page 452), and James Watt (page 299). But in the world of mathematics and physics, one name stands above them all: James Clerk Maxwell.

Einstein described Maxwell’s contributions as “the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton” because in 1864 Maxwell showed, in the paper A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field, that light is actually formed from electromagnetic waves. He also suggested that there might be other types of radiation obeying the same laws, and it wasn’t long before other types of radiation were discovered: radio waves were found by Hertz in 1886, X-rays by Röntgen in 1895, and gamma rays by Villard in 1900.

And, above all, Maxwell’s important theoretical step underpins Einstein’s 1905 work on relativity. But completely changing physics wasn’t enough for Maxwell’s prodigious talent—he also made a major ...

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