Though no one would realize it for many years to come, September 22 1791 would be a day which would shape the future. On this day in the small English town of Newington Butts Michael Faraday was born. He was the third child (of four) in a very poor family. He attended school until around the age of 11, at which time his mother removed him from the class. One story says that this happened because of a sever beating he suffered from a teacher. Being the common theory at the time she was attempting to beat a speech impediment known as rhotacism out of him (this was shown in an episode of Cosmos when he couldn’t help but tell his instructor his name was “Michael Fawaday”).
With no education for a career Michael began an apprenticeship as a bookbinder at the age of 14. During this time he took the opportunity to read and educate himself. A couple of the books which stood out to him were The Improvement of the Mind by Isaac Watt and Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet. From these and other books Faraday developed an admiration for the sciences. It’s no surprise that when he was offered tickets in 1812 to see a series of lectures by renowned scientist Humphrey Davey he jumped at the opportunity. While attending these lectures Faraday kept notes and hung on every word. Shortly after he would use his book making skills to compile these notes and send them as a gift to Davey. This caught the attention of the scientist and when he was in need of an assistant the following year due to a lab accident, he remembered the young man with an aptitude for observation and note taking. This position eventually led Faraday on his path to greatness.
During his time with Davey, Michael had the chance to no only learn from one of the greatest minds in England, but he was also exposed to other great minds all over Europe. He accompanied Humphrey as his Valet from 1813-1815 on his travels. Though Davey’s wife made this time a living hell for Faraday he was determined to learn all he could. By the time he married Sarah Barnard in 1821 Faraday had thoroughly impressed his mentor and was making a name for him self. His experimentation was revolutionary. He realized that magnetism not only moved in waves but created fields in the surrounding space. Using this theory he created the world very first electrically powered motor. He discovered two compounds of chlorine and carbon during his research into diffusion of gas and liquefied chlorine for the first time ever.
The Royal Society didn’t overlook these accomplishments and in 1824, at the age of 33 Michael Faraday, with no formal education was elected a member of the greatest scientific institute in Great Britain. This opened up a world of new opportunities for Faraday. In 1827 he was tasked with discovering the Bavarian secret to glass making Joseph von Fraunhofer had discovered years earlier. Though his endeavors were ultimately fruitless the experience in glass making turned out to be vital in his later works. The same year Michael began what turned into an annual tradition to this day. A strong advocate of education, Faraday began a series of scientific lectures held on Christmas day for young people. Between 1827 and 1860 he gave 19 lectures total believing that young minds could be inspired by science and that lectures should not only be educational, but fun and exciting. During this time he also spoke out against pseudo sciences such as mesmerism and seances.
Though he was granted foreign memberships into many scientific academies around the world, Faraday was known to be a very humble man. He was twice offered presidency of the Royal Society and refused. He was also offered a burial at Westminster Abbey among royalty, poets and the greatest scientific minds of England, but he again refused (though a memorial plaque was places in the cemetery not for from Sir Isaac Newton’s grave). Michael Faraday felt that the scientific mind was morally superior and the pursuit of knowledge was the purest thing one could do. For this reason some find it ironic that he was a very religious man. He served both as a deacon and an elder of the Sandemanian church.
On August 25 1867, only a month before his 76th birthday Michael Faraday passed away. During his life time he proved to be one of, if not the greatest scientific mind in the world. Though he struggled carrying out equations due to his lack of education Faraday more than made up for it with his brilliant observations, perseverance and passion for science. His experiments are still conducted in schools to this day and he layed the groundwork for innumerable every day things we use. Induction cook tops, windows on microwaves, anything with an electric motor and many different pieces of medical equipment are all possible thanks to Michael Faraday’s work. Faraday proved that there is a relationship between light and magnetism (now known as the electro-magnetic spectrum). He was also one of the first scientists to take an interest in environmental studies and realized even in his time the damage we do with pollution.
As someone who loves science but never went through the schooling for it I can relate to Faraday quite a bit. I only hope with these blogs I can make a fraction of the difference to someone that he made to people every day. Though it may have seemed long this was only a little bit about Faraday’s amazing life and I encourage everyone to look up more about him. Also if you haven’t yet, read my blog about Jan Oort as well. Another brilliant mind often passed over in everyday science talk.
“Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature, and in such things as these, experiment is the best test of such consistency!”