Michael Faraday

Scientist, Physicist, Chemist
September 22, 1791 - August 25, 1867
English physicist and chemist Michael Faraday is known for his many experiments that contributed greatly to the understanding of electromagnetism. Faraday, who became one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century, began his career as a chemist. He wrote a manual of practical chemistry that reveals his mastery of the technical aspects of his art, discovered a number of new organic compounds, among them benzene, and was the first to liquefy a "permanent" gas (i.e., one that was believed to be incapable of liquefaction).
His major contribution, however, was in the field of electricity and magnetism . He was the first to produce an electric current from a magnetic field, invented the first electric motor and dynamo, demonstrated the relation between electricity and chemical bonding, discovered the effect of magnetism on light, and discovered and named diamagnetism, the peculiar behavior of certain substances in strong magnetic fields.
He provided the experimental, and a good deal of the theoretical, foundation upon which James Clerk Maxwell erected classical electromagnetic field theory.

Michael Faraday's Early Career

Faraday began his scientific career as Sir Humphry Davy's laboratory assistant. When Faraday joined Davy in 1812, Davy was in the process of revolutionizing the chemistry of the day. Davy's ideas were influenced by an atomic theory that was also to have important consequences for Faraday's thought.
Faraday's work under Davy came to an end in 1820. There followed a series of discoveries that astonished the scientific world. . In 1820 he produced the first known compounds of carbon and chlorine , $C_2 Cl_6$ and $C_2 Cl_4$. These compounds were produced by substituting chlorine for hydrogen in "olefiant gas" (ethylene), the first substitution reactions induced.
In 1825, as a result of research on illuminating gases, Faraday isolated and described benzene . In the 1820s he also conducted investigations of steel alloys, helping to lay the foundations for scientific metallurgy and metallography. While completing an assignment from the Royal Society of London to improve the quality of optical glass for telescopes, he produced a glass of very high refractive index that was to lead him, in 1845, to the discovery of diamagnetism.
By the 1820s Andre-Marie Ampere had shown that magnetic force apparently was a circular one, producing in effect a cylinder of magnetism around a wire carrying an electric current. No such circular force had ever before been observed, and Faraday was the first to understand what it implied. If a magnetic pole could be isolated, it ought to move constantly in a circle around a current-carrying wire. Faraday's ingenuity and laboratory skill enabled him to construct an apparatus that confirmed this conclusion. This device, which transformed electrical energy into mechanical energy, was the first electric motor.
On Aug. 29, 1831, Faraday wound a thick iron ring on one side with insulated wire that was connected to a battery. He then wound the opposite side with wire connected to a galvanometer. What he expected was that a "wave" would be produced when the battery circuit was closed and that the wave would show up as a deflection of the galvanometer in the second circuit. He closed the primary circuit and, to his delight and satisfaction, saw the galvanometer needle jump. A current had been induced in the secondary coil by one in the primary. When he opened the circuit, however, he was astonished to see the galvanometer jump in the opposite direction. Somehow, turning off the current also created an induced current in the secondary circuit, equal and opposite to the original current. This phenomenon led Faraday to propose what he called the "electrotonic" state of particles in the wire, which he considered a state of tension.
In the fall of 1831 Faraday attempted to determine just how an induced current was produced. He discovered that when a permanent magnet was moved in and out of a coil of wire a current was induced in the coil. Magnets, he knew, were surrounded by forces that could be made visible by the simple expedient of sprinkling iron filings on a card held over them.
Faraday saw the "lines of force" thus revealed as lines of tension in the medium, namely air, surrounding the magnet, and he soon discovered the law determining the production of electric currents by magnets: the magnitude of the current was dependent upon the number of lines of force cut by the conductor in unit time. He immediately realized that a continuous current could be produced by rotating a copper disk between the poles of a powerful magnet and taking leads off the disk's rim and center. This was the first dynamo. It was also the direct ancestor of electric motors, for it was only necessary to reverse the situation, to feed an electric current to the disk, to make it rotate.

Later Life

Since the very beginning of his scientific work, Faraday had believed in what he called the unity of the forces of nature. By this he meant that all the forces of nature were but manifestations of a single universal force and ought, therefore, to be convertible into one another. In 1846 he made public some of his speculations in a lecture titled "Thoughts on Ray Vibrations." Specifically referring to point atoms and their infinite fields of force, he suggested that the lines of electric and magnetic force associated with these atoms might, in fact, serve as the medium by which light waves were propagated.
In 1845 Faraday tackled the problem of his hypothetical electrotonic state. He passed a beam of plane-polarized light through the optical glass of high refractive index and then turned on an electromagnet so that its lines of force ran parallel to the light ray. The plane of polarization was rotated, indicating a strain in the molecules of the glass. But Faraday again noted an unexpected result. When he changed the direction of the ray of light, the rotation remained in the same direction, a fact that Faraday correctly interpreted as meaning that the strain was not in the molecules of the glass but in the magnetic lines of force. The direction of rotation of the plane of polarization depended solely upon the polarity of the lines of force; the glass served merely to detect the effect.
By 1850 Faraday had evolved a radically new view of space and force. Space was not "nothing," the mere location of bodies and forces, but a medium capable of supporting the strains of electric and magnetic forces. The energies of the world were not localized in the particles from which these forces arose but rather were to be found in the space surrounding them. Thus was born field theory. As Maxwell later freely admitted, the basic ideas for his mathematical theory of electrical and magnetic fields came from Faraday; his contribution was to mathematize those ideas in the form of his classical field equations.