Magnetic fields are the source of numerous technologies in use today, but they are not necessarily only the stuff of rocket scientists, as Michael Faraday exemplifies. The Magnetic Fields and Faraday. How Michael Faraday Saw Force Fields Without Calculations.
The discovery of force fields was made by Michael Faraday, a man without formal education, but instead the strongest desire to create and exploit the phenomena of magnetics that he could see in his mind. His unending determination despite not having formal education furthered many concepts in magnetic fields that opened up physics and chemistry to the world.
Seeing Force Fields
Anyone who has seen any version of the Star Trek saga is surely familiar with the defense shields of the start ship Enterprise. It is amazing how easy it is to understand both the basic concept of a force field as well as how it is adapts to a defense weapon.
The idea of a force field is probably best understood via the magnets played with as children. If magnets are placed in close proximity to each other, they either slide together or repel each other quite well. The relative size of the magnets and the relation to how much power increases with size is easy to visualize as well. Another example of an unseen but understood force field is basic electricity. Although unseen, its power is obvious through the services it provides, as well as the pain if touched!
Faraday’s Discovery of Force Fields
Force fields were discovered by Michael Faraday in the 1800s. Faraday established the building blocks for the electromagnetic field concept in physics. He has quite the laundry list of accomplishments, including deriving the terms used in electricity, the laws of electrolysis, and the concepts that make a motor work. He was one of Albert Einstein’s icons, occupying a spot on the wall next to Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell. The SI unit of capacitance, the farad, and the charge on a mole of electrons, the Faraday constant, are named after him.
What makes Faraday all the more interesting? He had little formal schooling. Born into a working class family who could not afford higher education, he gained his knowledge and passion for electricity from reading books at the bookseller where he worked as a teenager. Later, he worked as secretary and even valet to a physics professor in order to get closer to his passion of electricity. Although this position was frustrating and challenging to his ambitions, he eventually was recognized for his exceptional understanding of physics and chemistry and was appointed professor of chemistry for life.
In Faraday’s mind, he could “see” the “lines” that made electricity and magnetism possible. With no mathematical background and no ability to do the calculations, he simply drew on paper what he saw in his mind. Those drawings are still applicable today.
Faraday is also known for his extensive experimentation. Instead of theory, he continually experimented with new materials and new ideas to keep pace with the concepts in his mind. He wanted to see the effects of what he imagined. He did this both in physics and chemistry. He even invented tools such as the future Bunsen burner. He did so because what he needed was often not available.
Faraday’s Work Expands into Other Physics Breakthroughs
Although he lacked the mathematical skills to underlie his experiments with calculations, he continued throughout his life to invent new concepts. James Clerk Maxwell would eventually transcribe those experiments into math equations that are used today. Maxwell would become famous in his own right. He aggregated several works in progress together and unified the concept of electromagneticism, resulting in Maxwell’s equations.