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Great men never vouch for small challenges. They face unusual obstructions through which they acquire momentum to fight with tenacity and fortitude. Great men make great stories. They live forever and leave distinctive footprints in history.
While many fit this notion, it won’t be wrong to associate the impression with Michael Faraday.
But this story isn’t just about the enormity of the ingeniousness of Faraday. It is about how he laid the foundation of the world we are living in today. It is about how he turned down all odds and led the invention of one of the most important concepts in history. It is how the boy from a small village came to be known in the world as the Electro Boy.
Fasten your seatbelts and prepare your curious mindset as we are bringing you a precise and insightful ride into the life and achievements of one of the greatest of the past.
Did you ever wonder how your homes run on an invisible electrical force? How you can get signals from a phone? How do electrical messages travel at the speed of light?
It all began in the mind of a boy who was born of poverty and from whom, nothing was expected.
In 1971, in one of the lowliest slums of London, Michael Faraday was born. Showing little interest in studies, Faraday never went to school and remains self-taught during his entire childhood. He started working at a bookbinding shop at 13. By day, he bound the books and by night, he read them all. It was the start of his life-long fascination with electricity.
A hunger for inventions
Faradays worked at the book shop for years. But when he was 21, he finally strived to visit the open world and see the magical impact of electricity. He found his wish granted in the electrical shows under the ‘those-days’ concept of ‘science for public’ conducted by Humphrey Davy in the London’s Royal Institution. The electrical showcases in those events amazed everyone. While the audience was busy applauding, Faraday indulged in taking notes.
The showman was utterly impressed by his notes, writing, and thinking Creating a transcript of Davy’s shows landed Faraday a job at the office of Humphrey Davy. . Working to settle his curiosity, Faraday explored different chemicals, equipment, and writings, experimenting at the London Institution and working as the secretary of Humphrey Davy.
During an experiment, Davy was working on a compass that was changing its position when the nearby electrical circuit was completed. ‘What could be driving the needle away from the wire?’, he asked. ‘It might be something to do with magnetism and electricity.’ Davy’s fellow scientist answered. Faraday, who was cleaning equipment in the same room, was hearing the conversation. ‘Imagine what can be accomplished if the needle would move continuously.’ Davy replied back saying ‘just imagine what we can accomplish when we put the forces to work.’
Intrigued by the theory, Faraday could not sleep that night. His subconscious was erupting with fire. He knew that electricity could make light flash for an instant or turn a compass needle for a second. But could it do something bigger?
Devoting every moment of his spare time, Faraday started working on making electricity turn into a practical application.
And it worked out the invention that changed humanity.
Faraday invents motor
The revolution began that very night. Faraday invented the first electric motor that converted electric current into mechanical motion. He used a bowl filled with a mercury bath that would cause the needle to rotate continuously due to a continuously generated field of magnetism. That was the invention of the first Electric Motor. It is the same we are using today in our fans, generators, motors, toys, mobile phones, and even automobiles.
Faraday was able to develop an infinite army of undiscovered electrons that would work at the command of human whim.
Things just got started.
The invention of the motor was enough to land Faraday in history books and earn him a lifetime of fortune. But he had no interest in making profits from his invention and ideas. He was committed to making the world a better place.
Years later, after Davy’s demise, the boy from the slums succeeded him and became the director of the Laboratory. Using his new authorities, Faraday wished to do something unparalleled. He started a series of lectures on experiments for the young and needy that are being organized to date.
Faraday continued to research and experiment on the new invisible forces of electricity in the London lab.
Altering the positions and powers, he induced currents by moving the magnets across an electrically charged coil. This depicted the conversion of motion into electricity.
This was the invention of the first Generator. Yes-one that gives us electricity today – ON DEMAND.
God showed no mercy on Faraday
When he was in his late 40s, an unforgivable illness attacked his mind. He could not remember things he used to. Things turned worse. He was sickened by short-term memory loss. Due to this, Faraday faced severe depression. He could not experiment and the work came to standstill.
History has it that Faraday Never recovered from this illness.
And yet, his greatest invention was still to come.
Faraday defied the odds, fighting and inventing ahead
Faraday came to know that by keeping two magnets together, there appears an invisible line of force between the two. This area, he called a magnetic field. Having experimented thousand times on the connections between electricity and magnetism, Faraday wondered, can there be a connection to a third entity- The Light?
Faraday knew the ways of polarization and how it can isolate a single ray of light. Faraday wished to see what happens if that single ray was passed across the invisible magnetic field. What would be the result, he wondered?
To his disappointment, there was no change in the light is passed. Magnetism had no effect on light moving through the air.
But then, he wondered again, what about light moving through other materials?
What kind of materials could be used?
Faraday started trying and literally used hundreds of materials but the light was not twisted by any.
And then, one day, he used a glass brick he had kept on his shelf years ago as a souvenir of his failure at the glass factory. Little did he know that he was in for the revelation of his life?
The trick worked out. The force of the magnet changed the direction of light when passed through the glass.
The experiment revealed to the world that magnetic force can manipulate light. Something that scientists could never discover in 100 years.
The use of the magnetic field to change the course of light opened the door for the revolutionary physics equations created by scientists like Albert Einstein.
Faraday at 60, going deeper into invisible forces
Plagued by unending depression and memory loss, Faraday could have said no to further experiments. But his strong will took him fearlessly deeper into the mysterious invisible forces. At this time, Michael Faraday was doomed as a ‘had-been’ scientist by the world. But he was about to change everyone’s perception at the age of 60.
During a regular experiment, Faraday sprinkled magnetic powder on a paper sheet.
He observed that the iron filings formed a spherical shape around electrical wires. The pattern, that everyone deemed to be normal, was something else. Faraday realized that the patterns were not there around just wires, but everywhere. These patterns existed around the earth, the north, and south poles, and in space as well.
The compass needle that people believed to be reacting to a faraway magnetic north pole was not at all reacting that way. It was attracted to a continuous force field that stretched all around the earth.
Faraday was the first one to invent that earth itself is a giant magnet. And it has a field around it, called Earth’s magnetic force. The lines of force extend far and are everywhere around us. They have always been there. But nobody noticed them, nobody until Faraday.
The magnetic field is due to the liquid iron present in the core of the earth. This helps us protect from the cosmo’s harmful rays as well. All this and more was decoded by Michael Faraday centuries ago.
The magnetic field also explains the northern lights and the Aurora in the night sky we see today.
More Was To Be Discovered
At this point, one could argue that the Earth’s magnetic field was Faraday’s last invention across the planet. But Faraday was determined to dwell deeper. For his last experiment, he wanted help from a genius.
Also, during that time, when Faraday was in his 60s, young scientists ridiculed his theories as mere conceptions and imaginations. Everyone wanted a strong expression of practicality in the earth’s magnetic field.
Working on this, Faraday decided to express his ideas in the language of modern physics- with equations and written-down theories. But the lack of education and poverty held Faraday back and he could not achieve this goal- he was not able to do the math.
Did he just hit something he could not overcome?
Modernization of Faraday’s laws
In another part of the world, a profound mathematician was studying all of the books and studies are written by Faraday. Growing up in a well-educated culture, James Clerk Maxwell, the greatest mathematical physicist of the 19th century, came to the rescue of Faradays’ theories. He knew that the theories put up by Faraday were real.
James was able to convert the concepts into precise mathematical formulations. Translating Faraday’s experimental observations on electromagnetic fields, Maxwell discovered something groundbreaking.
By tweaking an equation, by balancing a particular one from Faraday’s experiments, he realized that the static field invented by Faraday changed into waves that spread out. These waves had the speed of light and could be turned into couriers of our messages. These are the electromagnetic waves or radios we know today. These connect cities, countries, and even space satellites to one another, traveling at the speed of light.
This was the last known work of Michael Faraday.
Michael Faraday invented motor, generator, and transformers- the machines that changed our homes, farms, and factories forever. Despite being ill, he continued to invent and experiment. Plagued by memory loss, he was able to tell us how birds migrate using the earth’s magnetic field. How a compass works.
He is truly one of the greatest we had. Knowing his inventions, his life, and his obstacles just makes us wonder how a person becomes not just successful but great. And how we can become great too.
As the Electro Boy quoted- ‘nothing in this world is too wonderful to be true if it follows the laws of nature.’