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Aug 29 Faraday discovers Electricity

Today the great experimentalist Michael Faraday induced the first electrical current. Faraday would later use the principles he had discovered to construct the electric dynamo, the ancestor of modern power generators and the electric motor. His achievements were all the more notable as he had received little formal education, but he became one of the most influential scientists in history.


The son of an English blacksmith, he was apprenticed at the age of 14 to a bookseller and bookbinder and in this work environment, he read every book on science in the bookshop and attended lectures given at the Royal Institution by various natural philosophers, including Sir Humphry Davy, the discoverer of several chemical elements. In 1812, he applied to Davy for a job, citing his interest in science and showing Davy the extensive lecture notes he had taken. Davy hired Faraday to assist with his research and lecture demonstrations. He also served as a deacon and for two terms as an elder in the Sandemanian church, an offshoot of the Church of Scotland. His church was located at Paul's Alley in the Barbican. This meeting house relocated in 1862 to Barnsbury Grove, Islington; and some of his biographers have noted that "a strong sense of the unity of God and nature pervaded Faraday's life and work."

Faraday belonged to a small nonconformist denomination and his Christian convictions shaped his attitude towards his science as much as to other aspects of his life. Faraday firmly believed in God as creator, but was critical of the natural theology that dominated much early Victorian science, and neither did he look to the Bible as a source of scientific information. He was very influenced by the medieval Franciscan Roger Bacon who placed considerable emphasis on the study of nature through empiricism. In the early modern era, he was regarded as a wizard and he is sometimes credited as one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method. Bacon applied the empirical method of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) to observations in texts attributed to Aristotle. Bacon discovered the importance of empirical testing when the results he obtained were different from those that would have been predicted by Aristotle.

Like Bacon, Faraday was convinced that the book of God’s world and the book of God’s word had the same author, so that ‘the natural works of God can never by any possibility come into contradiction with the higher things that belong to our future existence… Faraday had a deep sense of the order of God’s creation. The laws of nature ‘were established from the beginning’ and so were ‘as old as creation’. The notes of one of his earliest lectures contain the pithy exhortation ‘Search for laws’. The task of science was to discover those laws by a process of empirical investigation. As Faraday argued in a memorandum (1844) on the nature of matter: ‘God has been pleased to work in his material creation by laws’ and ‘the Creator governs his material works by definite laws resulting from the forces impressed on matter’. The ‘beauty of electricity….[is] that it is under law’. ‘The laws of nature, as we understand them, are the foundations of our knowledge of natural things’, he told the audience at one of his lectures.

The ‘holy grail’ of the relationship between the various powers of creation was a topic to which Faraday frequently referred, though it was a topic still so speculative that he wasn't taken seriously by the scientific community.

Faraday was a brilliant iconoclast which fitted his nonconformist mindset. Einstein remarked of Faraday that he, of all people, ‘had made the greatest change in our conception of reality’. Yet despite his achievements, Faraday remained a modest and humble person. He declined to be knighted or to receive honorary degrees and only reluctantly accepted a small pension on his retirement in 1858. Science was a noble vocation for Faraday, He was not interested in science to further his own needs but to discover and learn about God through nature – At the end of one his famous Christmas lectures he expressed it this way “Indeed, all I can say to you at the end of these lectures (for we must come to an end at one time or other) is to express a wish that you may, in your generation, be fit to compare to a candle; that, in all your actions, you may justify the beauty of the taper by making your deeds honourable and effectual in the discharge of your duty to your fellow-men”.

In 1832, he completed a series of experiments aimed at investigating the fundamental nature of electricity; Faraday used "static", batteries, and "animal electricity" to produce the phenomena of electrostatic attraction, electrolysis, magnetism, etc. He concluded that, contrary to the scientific opinion of the time, the divisions between the various "kinds" of electricity were illusory. Faraday instead proposed that only a single "electricity" exists, and the changing values of quantity and intensity (current and voltage) would produce different groups of phenomena.

Near the end of his career, Faraday proposed that electromagnetic forces extended into the empty space around the conductor. This idea was rejected by his fellow scientists, and Faraday did not live to see the eventual acceptance of his proposition by the scientific community. Faraday's concept of lines of flux emanating from charged bodies and magnets provided a way to visualize electric and magnetic fields; that conceptual model was crucial for the successful development of the electromechanical devices that dominated engineering and industry for the remainder of the 19th century.

From 1991 until 2001, Faraday's picture featured on the reverse of Series of £20 banknotes issued by the Bank of England. He was portrayed conducting a lecture at the Royal Institution with the magneto-electric spark apparatus. In 2002, Faraday was ranked number 22 in the BBC's list of the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide vote. The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion was created in 2006 by a $2,000,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to carry out academic research, to foster understanding of the interaction between science and religion, and to engage public understanding in both these subject areas


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