Michael Faraday. 22 September 1791 – 25 August 1867. English physicist and chemist. Fellow of the Royal Society of London, Foreign Honorary Member of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Discoverer.


Life and Work:

1. Speaking of Faraday, Helmholtz once said: “A few wires and some old bits of wood and iron seem to serve him for the greatest discoveries.” Very much so: Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction, chemical effect of electricity, the laws of electrolysis, diamagnetism, longitudinal magneto-optical effect named after him. He was first to predict electromagnetic waves, built the first electric motor and the first electrical transformer. Before Faraday, science did not know such terms, as ion, cathode, anode, electrolyte, dielectric, diamagnetism.


2. The English genius, Michael Faraday, was born into a poor family. His father and elder brother were blacksmiths but the family’s income did not allow Michael to finish even the secondary school.


3. Faraday Junior did not become a blacksmith, however. He got a job of an errand boy at a bookstall. Michael was later hired an apprentice to the bookbinder of the same bookstall where he eventually became an avid reader.


4. Faraday was particularly carried away by books on physics and chemistry. The article about electricity in the Encyclopaedia Britannica defined his academic choices. The money his brother blacksmith sent allowed him to set up a most basic home laboratory and attend private lectures on physics and astronomy.


5. The book buyers noticed an inquisitive fellow. One of them gave him a ticket for a series of public lectures by the distinguished chemist and physicist Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution.


6. Later, Faraday decided to take “a courageous and naïve step” as he said it. He bound and subsequently sent Davy a book based on detailed notes that he had taken during these lectures along with a request to find him a place at the Royal Institution. In a couple of months, Faraday’s dream came true as Davy employed him as a laboratory assistant.


7. Soon, Davy took Faraday on a two-year journey to European research centers. The assistant and secretary and his patron met great contemporaries, including Ampère, Gay-Lussac, Volta.


8. At the Royal Institution, Faraday had a good allowance at the time of 30 shillings and he lost himself in work. His scientific publications came out one after another. In six years, Faraday entered the same classroom of the Philosophical Society where he attended public lectures and took the lectern.


9. Faraday earned fame of “the king of experiments.” The great scholar kept logs of his test all his life. The last electromagnetism experiment was marked in one of his notebooks under the number 16041. Over the course of his life, the exceptional scientist performed nearly 30,000 experiments. The logs of his tests were published in the 20th century.


10. At the age of thirty, Faraday married Miss Barnard, his childhood friend. Her family belonged to the same Sandemanian sect which the family of Faraday were members of. It was a happy marriage and the spouses lived 45 years together. “I think, there has never been a more courageous, more pure and more unfailing love...,” a friend of their family wrote.


11. On 17 October 1831, Faraday wrapped two insulated coils of wire around an iron ring, attached one to the battery and found current induced in the other coil. This is how he discovered electromagnetic induction. And all of the modern electricity emerged.


12. Faraday was endeavoring to explain to Gladstone an important new discovery in science Gladstone’s (the then Prime Minister) only commentary was: “But, after all, what use is it?” Faraday replied: “Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it!”


13. In 1853, Faraday studied the “table-tipping” which was popular back then and was adamant that the table is tipped not by the spirits of the dead conjured by the psychic but by unconscious movements of fingers of the participants. Occultists were furious but Faraday replied acidly that he would accept the claims from the spirits only.


14. Later on, Humphry Davy, a prominent scholar himself, believed that his greatest world-shaking discovery in life was Michael Faraday.


15. The rumor goes that Faraday was an avid fan of tea and added dashes of herbs and flowers into a common brew of dry tea leaves. Sometimes, it was enough to add just a few blades of herbs or petals for the tea to get an unexpected taste and aroma. This gave the physicist an interesting idea and he made experiments by adding small amounts of chrome, manganese, vanadium into steel and receiving new material properties. His steel alloying tests found no practical use but became part of the history of science and technology.


16. Faraday’s scientific contributions gained world-wide renown. He was elected a member of the Royal Society of London and a corresponding member of the Paris Academy of Sciences. He was elected an honorary member of nearly hundred scientific institutions all over the world.


17. The contemporaries held in high regard teaching skills of Faraday, Professor of the Royal Institution. The outstanding scholar perfectly combined visualization and availability with depth of the subject considerations. His popular science masterpiece for children, History of a Candle, has been published until now.


18. In order to shield his equipment from external electromagnetic fields, Faraday invented a special device – a Faraday cage. It is an enclosure made from a good conducting material. Jokingly, it is compared to a tin foil hat which also protects the brain from electromagnetic waves. In earnest, a Faraday cage is used to block mobile communications, in microwave ovens, MRI rooms, construction electrician clothes and many other applications.


19. The worldwide fame did not change Faraday. He remained a sweet and modest person and even refused an offer to have him knighted. The Royal Society wanted to elect him president twice but Faraday refused this honor as well.


20. Queen Victoria thought highly of Faraday, invited him over to lunch and gave to the scientist the lifetime use of a house part of Hampton Court Palace. The queen bore all house expenses and taxes. Faraday spent the last 9 years of his life at Hampton Court.