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Michael Faraday is acclaimed as one of the most distinguished scientists and inventors of modern times, and his work on electricity, in the form of Faraday’s Laws, is still studied today. But few people are aware of his inspiring life story, which is rich with valor and overcoming adversity. This biography narrates his life story.
A Scientist from Suburb
Faraday was born in a poor London suburb. He suffered from a speech defect as a child. He would pronounce ‘rabbit’ as ‘wabbit’. He could not even say his own name and would call himself ‘Fawaday’. Circumstances forced his mother to withdraw his admission from school and thus at the age of twelve, his formal education came to an end. At thirteen he started to work with a bookbinder. Reading became his routine and eventually an obsession. One day he came across a book on electricity. That was his first introduction to the subject of electricity, which soon became a lifelong fascination.
A friend once gave him a free ticket to see renowned chemist Humphry Davy give a public lecture and demonstration at London’s Royal Institution. Davy’s contribution to the topic of chemicals and electrical illumination was a discussion among the scientists of the time. The same technique enabled Thomas Edison to build the first reliable light bulb seventy years later. Faraday was enthralled by Davy’s speech that day in 1812. He continued to scribble down notes about the mysterious power of electric fluid.
That day, Faraday determined that he didn’t only want to sell books; he wanted to be a great scientist, capable of writing his own. Davy became a hero to him. Faraday believed it would be fantastic if Davy could be his mentor, but Davy declined. Faraday was not discouraged; instead, he persisted in his efforts.
Davy was partially blinded in a chemical accident a few years later. He now required an assistant with a sharp memory. Faraday came to mind, and he decided to hire him as his secretary. On the basis of his social background and education, Davy never believed Faraday could achieve anything in the world of science.
Faraday’s ambitions were therefore disregarded, and he urged him to continue to bookbinding. Faraday, on the other hand, was unyielding. He labored day and night to understand everything he could about Davy’s experiments. Faraday quickly impressed Davy and was promoted to the lab assistant. This was his first step towards a career in science.
The Mockery Motor
Davy attempted to recreate a famous electromagnetism experiment with fellow chemist William Wollaston one day, attempting to understand why an electric current applied to a wire leads that wire to behave like a magnet. Davy believed that if he could figure out why it happened and control it, the power could be used in a variety of ways.
He was frustrated because he failed. To mock Faraday, he asked Faraday to try his hand at it after he cleaned the lab. Faraday solved the problem in a few days. He even went one step farther, creating the first induction motor, which transformed electrical power into continuous mechanical motion.
A revolution was sparked by the induction motor. Fans, air conditioning, sewing machines, and even trains and airplane engines evolved from this simple invention, which was born out of Faraday’s ridicule. Faraday became a celebrity scientist overnight. Davy turned green with envy and gave Faraday an impossible task to keep him out of his way.
He gave him a piece of Bavarian glass that was used in telescope and microscope lenses and asked him to reverse engineer it. The bavarian glass was made using a secret, sophisticated technique, and Davy knew that Faraday would never be able to complete the assignment using the lab’s equipment. This shard of glass became an important part of Faraday’s life.
Faraday had undaunted determination and idolized Davy. So, despite the fact that he knew the task would be difficult, he accepted it. He struggled for four years without Davy’s assistance. Faraday never discovered the secret, and it was his first scientific failure. He kept a solitary glass block on his shelf as a souvenir to remind himself of these trying times. This would always motivate him.
Davy died in 1829, and Faraday took over as head of the laboratory. He was free to do whatever he wanted, and he produced yet another ground-breaking discovery, the electrical generator. In 1840, he developed memory loss, which continued for the rest of his life. But the disease did not stop him.
Faraday was determined to turn the remainder of his first major setback into a powerful tool for success. He demonstrated that, in the presence of a magnet, light could be isolated into a single wave rather than spreading out randomly in all directions, a concept known as polarisation.
To further prove his research, he sprinkled iron filings on a sheet of paper near a magnet, making circular patterns. His lack of formal schooling worked against him in this situation. Faraday was not well-versed in complicated mathematics, so he just reproduced the iron filing patterns by hand. He couldn’t put them into mathematical equations to describe them. He created hundreds of such drawings, but they were rejected because they lacked equations.
When Faraday met James Maxwell, a wealthy, well-educated scientist who was well-versed in mathematics, fortune smiled on him once more. He was eager to collaborate with Faraday. Maxwell was the one who put Faraday’s concept into a series of equations that are now known as Maxwell’s equations. Today’s electronics and communication systems are built on their discoveries. We may one day be able to speak with aliens from other galaxies utilizing the technology developed as a result of these discoveries.
Faraday’s life began with challenges, but as a brilliant scientist, he overcame them with tenacity and determination. He was given impossible assignments that he accepted as challenges and chances. He personifies what the Walt Disney character Pinocchio said: ‘It doesn’t matter who you are when you wish upon a star.’