Michael Faraday - Figures Throughout History

A portrait of Michael Faraday.

Michael Faraday was an English chemist and physicist who lived between the 18th and 19th century. He is one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. Though Faraday had little formal education, he made a significant contribution in the area of electrochemistry and electromagnetism. Faraday is touted as one of the most influential scientists in history, and due to his numerous accomplishments, the Queen Victoria awarded him the privilege to use Hampton Court, though he declined Knighthood. Faraday finally became the first and the foremost Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution.

5. Early Life

Michael Faraday was born on September 22nd, 1791 in Surrey, England. His impoverished family could not afford him a formal education and he, therefore, taught himself most of the science subjects. When he was 14, Faraday became an apprentice to a local bookseller and bookbinder. He used the opportunity to educate himself on a variety of scientific topics. One area of science that fascinated him was the field of electricity. Michael Faraday was fortunate to attend scientific lectures by the prominent chemist Sir Humphrey Davy who later hired him as his laboratory assistant. During his apprenticeship under Humphrey Davy, Michael learned chemistry extensively and practiced chemical analyses to the point of mastery.

4. Career

The beginning of Faraday's career was when Davy had an accident that blinded him in a laboratory experiment, and therefore selected Faraday to assist him at the Royal Institution. Faraday in his new job further advanced in his scientific experiments and began his independent studies in chemistry. Through his studies, Faraday in 1825 discovered benzene and therefore becoming the first person to describe compounds of carbon and chlorine. He espoused the atomic theory that explained that the chemical qualities were due to attraction and repulsion between bonded atoms. This theory became the conjectural framework for much of his future work. He worked extensively on chemical research and gave chemistry lectures at the Royal Institution.

3. Major Contributions

Michael Faraday is credited with many discoveries in his lifetime. He was able to liquefy gases such as chlorine and carbon dioxide; an achievement which was previously thought impossible. His research also led to the discovery of benzene and other hydrocarbons. Additionally, it is Michael Faraday who invented the Bunsen burner; a useful resource found in scientific laboratories all over the world. All in all, Faraday’s most outstanding achievement was in the field of electrochemistry which led to the creation of the world’s first electric generator. Faraday also invented of electromagnetic rotary devices which formed the core foundation of electric motor technology, and it was primarily because of his hard work that electricity became practical for use in technology. In the 1820’s Faraday conducted research on Steel alloys and formed the foundations for scientific metallography and metallurgy. His research in magnetism and electricity revolutionized physics.

2. Challenges

In his scientific work, like all other scientists, Michael encountered challenges. First, Michael lacked formal education a factor that hindered his progress. He was often disregarded by scientists due to his family’s underprivileged status. Michael’s first application to work as an assistant for renowned scientist Humphrey Davy was rejected. Nonetheless, he tried his luck again and fortunately got the job. The other challenge he encountered was that his experiments often failed, which left him frustrated. In another unfortunate incident, Michael and Humphrey suffered injuries from an explosion of the sensitive nitrogen trichloride samples they were working. Later in his life, Michael’s mind and health began to fail him as he could not perform research as he did in his youth.

1. Death and Legacy

Michael Faraday made his mark in the scientific world during his lifetime. The Royal Institution of Great Britain picked him as the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry in recognition of his positive contribution to science. He is responsible for the discovery of the law of electrolysis in addition to many more discoveries. Michael Faraday offered his skills to the British government as well as private businesses. He served as an expert witness in court, wrote a lengthy report on the cause of an explosion at a mine in Durham, and even investigated environmental pollution at Swansea. Michael also started a series of Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution in London, a trend that continues to this day. Michael Faraday died in 1867 at Hampton Court. In his honor, a unit of electrical capacitance farad is named after him.


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