James Clerk Maxwell---was he the founder of Electrical Engineering?
Steve Taranovich - June 8, 2012
There’s good case for Jim Maxwell to be the top dog of all those who could be called “The Founder of Electrical Engineering”
Maxwell was a prominent physicist in the latter part of the 19th century. It can be said that he developed most of the early concepts of electrical engineering, and in particular in the areas of broadcasting and radio.
Surprise microwave students and engineers!---He did not, as is the mistaken thought, write those four famous equations attached to his name in all electromagnetics text books! He certainly had a pronounced mathematical contribution to this area though.
Maxwell laid the foundations for electricity, magnetism and optics.
In electromagnetism, the first equations attributed to this theory have not been changed. Oh!---their interpretation have seen marked changes at least two times that we know of.
First by Hertz and Heaviside and then later by Larmor with the introduction of the electron into the theory.
Arguably the most significant event in the 19th century can be said to be Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electrodynamics. Sir John Ambrose Fleming stated that in electricity courses, Maxwell gave students a new and powerful method of dealing with network problems and linear conductors. “Kirchoff’s corollaries of Ohm’s law had provided a means only applicable in the case of simple problems in which one could forsee the direction of current flow in each conductor.” This was not possible in complicated networks.
Maxwell initiated a new method by considering the actual current in each wire to be the difference of two imaginary currents circulating in the same direction around each mesh in the network. The solution to the problem was reduced to a set of linear equations and current in any wire could be expressed as the quotient of two determinants! We are all familiar with this technique.
Remember that Gustav Robert Kirchhoff did write the theorems on the loop equations, but did not provide a general methodology to solve them in an arbitrary circuit. Maxwell completed that task.
Maxwell also developed the phenomenon of electrical resonance in parallel to acoustic resonance developed by Sir John William Strutt and Lord Rayleigh. Maxwell showed how a circuit with capacitance and inductance would respond when connected to generators containing alternating currents of different frequencies.
Later, Maxwell’s “Demon”, a molecule-sized creature that would defy the second law of thermodynamics, helped the creation of information theory. These basic concepts were reiterated by Shannon 20 years later and extended to a different level establishing the basis of coding theory.
In 1861, in setting up the standard for electrical resistance, he established the electrostatic units (ESU) and the electromagnetic units (EMU).
Maxwell had a firm grasp of essentials and could formulate great mathematical concepts but he was not as expert in the minute details of calculations—his physical instincts saved him from really vital errors, said Sir Horace Lamb.
Another reason that Maxwell was not recognized during his lifetime for his work was the eccentric side of his personality. In his private letters to Lord Rayleigh, he used to refer to the British Association as Brit. Ass.---maybe this was an abbreviation but it could also be interpreted as an insult.
What are your thoughts? Please weigh in on your ideas as to whom the Founder of EE might be.
Share your thoughts.
Currently no items