Michael Faraday: One Of The World's Greatest Scientists

Biography of Michael Faraday discovered how to generate electricity from a magnet and the laws of electrolysis.

Michael Faraday was born in 1791 in Newington, England. His family was poor and self-educated. Faraday left school when he was 13. When he was 14, he became an apprentice to a bookbinder and bookseller. He read extensively and began keeping a notebook with entries about art, history and the nature. He had an early interest in geology and natural history, and often went to the countryside and recorded the names of the plants he found.

In 1812, he began attending the lectures of Sir Humphry Davy, a prominent scientist and experimentalist, who lectured at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. In 1813, Davy hired Faraday as a bottle washer and his assistant. After six months, Faraday was doing chemical experiments and preparing explosive materials.

When he was twenty, Faraday began lecturing at the Royal Institution. His lectures were dramatic and enlightening. On one occasion he put water in iron containers and left them in the basement of the Institution to freeze. At the next lecture, the containers exploded before the audience and Faraday had proven that water expands when frozen. Faraday liquefied approximately 20 different gases, making refrigeration possible. In 1827, Faraday succeeded Sir Davy as Chair of Chemistry at the Royal Institution and published the book, "Chemical Manipulation." He later published "Experimental Researches in Electricity," and Experimental Researches in Chemistry and Physics."



In 1831, experimental science was transformed when his experiments proved that frictional electricity from the clouds was the same as animal electricity, such as that of the electric eel. Faraday was the first scientist to recognize that a magnetic field could produce a current. His greatest achievement was the idea of the magnet and electric lines of force, causing a current to flow in the wire while the magnet is moving, which is called electromagnetic induction, based on "Faraday's law." Faraday's discoveries of magnetic lines of force and electric lines of force were the impetus for the emergence of electronics, which has given us the television, telephone, fax machine and radio. Faraday is also credited with the invention of a primitive electric motor. This motor was the first device that used an electric current to make an object move. The nature of industry and manufacture were changed by Faraday's laws of electrolysis. His experiments on the chemical effects of electric currents are the basis of electrochemistry. He popularized the basic terminology of electrochemistry such as ion, anode, cathode, and electrode.

Albert Einstein said that, "Faraday had made the greatest breakthrough in physics since Isaac Newton."

In 1849, Faraday gave an impressive lecture on the chemical history of a candle. A portion of the lecture illustrates his ability to present ideas in a graphic, dramatic way, which appealed to his audience:

"Now I must take you to a very interesting part of our subject--to the relation between the combustion of a candle and that living kind of combustion that goes on within us. In every one of us there is a living process of combustion going on very similar to that of the candle, and I must try to make that plain to you. For it is not merely true in a poetical sense--the relation of man to a taper; and if you will follow I think I can make this clear. You will be astonished when I tell you what this curious display of carbon amounts to. A candle will burn some four, five, six or seven hours. What then must be the daily amount of carbon going up into the air in the way of carbonic acid! What a quantity of carbon must go from each of us in respiration! What a considerable change of carbon must take place under these circumstances of combustion or respiration! A man in twenty-four hours converts as much as seven ounces of carbon into carbonic acid: a milch cow will convert seventy ounces and a horse seventy-nine ounces, solely by the act of respiration. That is, the horse in twenty-four hours burns seventy-nine ounces of charcoal, or carbon, in his organs of respiration to supply his natural warmth in that time."

Faraday was very religious and believed that his work was an understanding of the world God created. He said, "I have long held an opinion almost to conviction in common, I believe, with other lovers of the natural worlds, that all the forces of all place matter have one common cause."

In 1867, Faraday died in his home study. The equipment he used to conduct experiments are still displayed in his magnetic laboratory at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Faraday is proclaimed as one of the greatest scientists in the world, and noted as a natural philosopher and the person who popularized science.

© High Speed Ventures 2011