The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell: 1846-1862

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CUP Archive, 1990 - Biography & Autobiography - 748 pages
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This work is the first volume of a comprehensive edition of the scientific letters and manuscript papers of James Clerk Maxwell, covering the period from 1846 to 1862. It is edited and annotated with a full historical commentary by P.M. Harman. Based almost entirely on Maxwell's autograph manuscripts, many printed for the first time, it illuminates the development of his scientific work. Maxwell's contributions to many fields of physics rank with those of Newton and Einstein and are fundamental to much of modern physics and technology. In this volume, documents are reproduced which describe Maxwell's greatest period of scientific innovation. Early works on field theory, including his announcement of the electromagnetic theory of light, as well as work in geometry, Saturn's rings, color vision and the statistical theory of gases are among the most notable writings. This is an important book for physicists, mathematicians and historians of science. A fundamental source of reference for the study of Maxwell and his work, it will be especially relevant to university and physics departmental libraries.
 

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About the author (1990)

James Maxwell was a British physicist who developed a standard theoretical model for the modern understanding of electricity and magnetism. He showed that these two phenomena are two aspects of the same field and as a result he unified and systematized a vast field of research. Maxwell took many diverse observations and qualitative concepts developed by Michael Faraday and others, formulating them into a unified theory between 1864 and 1873. On the basis of this theory, Maxwell predicted that electromagnetic waves should exist and travel with the speed of light, and he identified light as a form of electromagnetic radiation. Both of these predictions were experimentally confirmed. Maxwell's other great contribution to physics was formulating a mathematical basis for the kinetic theory of gases. Using a statistical approach, he related the velocity of the molecules in a gas to its temperature, showing that heat results from the motion of molecules. Maxwell's result had been conjectured for some time, but it had never been supported experimentally. Maxwell then expanded his research to study viscosity, diffusion, and other properties of gases. Maxwell also provided the first satisfactory explanation of Saturn's rings. He established on theoretical grounds that the rings are not solid but rather composed of many small, fragmented objects that orbit Saturn.

P. M. HARMAN is Professor of the History of Science at Lancaster University.

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