Michael Faraday, Life and Works 18th Century English Physicist and Chemist. Brief biography of Michael Faraday, greatest experimental scientist in history, famous for his breakthroughs in electricity and electrochemistry.
Faraday is best known for his ground works in electricity and electrochemistry. Considered the greatest experimental scientist in history, he discovered the first electric generators and transformers, electromagnetic rotations, electromagnetic and magneto-electric inductions that produced the first electrical generator and transformer, diamagnetism, magneto-optical effect, and the laws of electrolysis.
Early Life of Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday was born on September 22, 1791, in Newington Butts, south London, to a poor working-class family, James, a blacksmith, and Margaret Faraday. He was five when the family moved to Jacob’s Well Mews, near Manchester Square. When he was 19, his father died, leaving his mother to support the family.
The Faraday family belonged to the Sandemanians, a religious sect that believes in the literal truth of the Bible. Faraday maintained a separation between his religion and his science, both important to him.
Younger Faraday as Bookbinding Apprentice
Aged 13 he started work as an apprentice of George Riebau, a bookbinder and bookseller. He was a keen reader, a later influence in his life. He joined a group of young men called City Philosophical Society. They attended lectures and exchanged ideas on scientific matters.
In 1812, Riebau showed to Mr. Dance, one of his customers, some of Faraday’s notes. Mr. Dance, a member of the Royal Institution of London, was so impressed that he bought Faraday tickets for a series of lectures at the Royal Institution. At this time, Faraday had finished his seven-year apprenticeship with Riebau and had become a qualified bookbinder.
Faraday as Davy’s Apprentice
The lectures Faraday attended at the Royal Institution were given by the famous scientist Sir Humphry Davy. Faraday took notes during the lectures. Later, he wrote and sent to Davy a copy of his notes. Davy was impressed. When Davy was temporarily blinded from a chemical experimental explosion he took Faraday as his amanuensis. Eventually, he was hired on March 1, 1813, as a replacement of Davy’s assistant who was dismissed for misconduct.
When Davy went on a tour with his wife, he took Faraday with him and introduced him to leading scientists including Volta and Ampère. Faraday’s only problem was that Davy’s wife treated him like a servant.
Faraday the Analytical Chemist, Lecturer and Scientific Writer
On return to London after 18 months, Faraday began his experiments alongside working as Davy’s assistant. He began his lectures at the Philosophical Society and published his first scientific paper, the Analysis of Native Caustic Lime of Tuscany.
In 1820, Faraday produced the first known compounds of carbon and chlorine. Inspired with the advances in electricity and magnetism by Aragó and Ampère, and Oersted’s magnetic effect of an electric current, Faraday further experimented on the subject. The following year, he published “On some new Electro-Magnetical Motions, and on the Theory of Magnetism” in the Quarterly Journal of Science.
In 1821 Faraday married Sarah Barnard, also a member of the Sandemanian church. The Faradays lived in the Royal Institution.
More Scientific Discoveries
For the next 20 years since 1821, Faraday made one scientific discovery after another. He made his first electrical discovery, the electromagnetic rotations. He worked on the liquification of gases, discovery of benzene, process of electrolysis, the laws of electrochemistry, and devised new scientific words.
Michael Faraday’s Awards and Recognition
In 1824, Faraday was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of which Davy opposed but overruled. An excellent lecturer, Faraday instituted the celebrated series of Friday evening discourses. He was professor of chemistry at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He was in demand to give practical advice and commercial analysis.
In 1832, Faraday received more honours: honorary degree from the University of Oxford, Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, the Royal Medal and the Copley Medal, both from the Royal Society. In 1836 he was made a Member of the Senate of the University of London.
Final Years of Faraday
By mid-1850s, now spent, Faraday continued his children’s Christmas lectures, including the chemical history of the candle. In 1864, he declined the Presidency of the Royal Institution, and gracefully retreated from the scientific world. Queen Victoria gave him a Grace and Favour House at Hampton Court, where he died on August 25, 1867.
Faraday’s work for the magnetic field concept formed the foundations of the mathematical description of the electromagnetic theory taken up by James Clerk Maxwell after Faraday’s death.