The First Electronic Church of America
James Clerk Maxwell
The Scottish physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell was born November 13, 1831, the year that Samuel F.B. Morse first conceived the telegraph, and he died in Cambridge on November 5, 1879, the year that Thomas Edison was doing his first early work to invent the light bulb.
Maxwell was a precocious, natural-born scientist, always asking his dad, while just a tot, "What's the go of that?" Or, "But what's the particular go?". He made his own scientific toys before he was eight, and, at age 14, he wrote a paper on a method for constructing perfect oval curves, which was read to the Royal Society of Edinburgh by one Prof. James Forbes "for it was not thought proper for a boy in a round jacket to mount the rostrum there." As a young man, Maxwell was something of a nerd. But, at Cambridge University, though he remained a prize-winning mathematics scholar, he became socialized and humanized. He was elected one of the 12 Apostles, a group of the university's most outstanding young men. He wrote poetry. He studied theology. And he pursued a number of scientific investigations that had little to do with mathematics. He did one study that answered the question, "Why does a cat always land on its feet -- even when you turn it upside down and drop it from a height of two inches?"
Maxwell invented nothing. His major discovery of "the ether," the vast sea of space that made possible the transmission of light, heat and radio waves, was nothing more than a poetic metaphor. But Maxwell's ether, or "sea of space," made it possible for scientists and engineers who followed Maxwell to think of "waves," a move that gave them the imaginative model they needed to proceed with the experiments in electromagnetism that led to the wireless telegraph, radio, television, radar and the laser. Maxwell's metaphor led to all the advances in electronic communication that followed. His extension of the electromagnetic theory of light led directly to Heinrich Hertz's discovery of radio waves and to related advances in science and technology which have transformed the modern world.
The reason for this: Maxwell's mathematical equations -- expressing the behavior of electric and magnetic fields and their interrelated nature -- his equations were valid, even though his theory of the ether was not. His calculations were not theories; they were scientific observations resulting in his conclusion that the speed of propagation of an electromagnetic field is approximately that of the speed of light. Maxwell's proposal -- that the phenomenon of light is therefore an electromagnetic phenomenon -- seemed to fit what he and other scientists could observe of the world around them. Maxwell concluded that visible light forms only a small part of the entire spectrum of possible electromagnetic radiation. Put another way, Maxwell was saying that light is an electromagnetic vibration, just as radio or TV waves are electromagnetic vibrations. They are each different manifestations of the same phenomenon, not to be discovered for another 25 years: electrons in motion, whizzing along at different frequencies, in what Heinrich Hertz was to call "a mighty kingdom, the great domain of electricity." Commentators now agree that all modern electronics is based on the mathematical equations elaborated by Maxwell.