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HEPL Seminar


Wednesday, March 14, 2007 4:00pm
Location: Applied Physics 200

Professor C.W. Francis Everitt
W.W. Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory, Stanford University

“Maxwell at 175 ”

James Clerk Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 13 June 1831. His dual last name has both social and intellectual importance, reflecting his double descent from two very different, leading Scottish families: the Clerks from near Edinburgh who go back to the 16th century and the Maxwells from the southwest border country who go back to the 12th.

When Einstein visited Cambridge in the 1920s, someone said to him “You stand on Newton’s shoulders.” His answer was “No, I stand on Maxwell’s shoulders.” This statement about relativity is correct; a similar one could also be correctly put for the background to quantum mechanics. These are the measures of Maxwell’s intellectual greatness, the more impressive because he was cut off in 1879 at the age of 48.

This talk aims at three things. First, to describe some of Maxwell’s achievements, both well-known (kinetic theory and the electromagnetic theory of light) and less well-known (the first color photograph and first paper on control theory). Second, to give a picture of Maxwell’s intriguing dual education at Edinburgh and Cambridge, two very different universities with different philosophies of education. And third, to give some impressions of Maxwell’s thoughts beyond physics, which may be instructive even to us in a world very different from his.

Professor Francis Everitt is the Principal Investigator of the NASA Gravity Probe B (GP-B) and Satellite Test of the Equivalence Principle (STEP) missions, both related to fundamental physics in space. In addition, he has a strong interest in the history and philosophy of physics and has written a biography of Maxwell, James Clerk Maxwell, Physicist and Natural Philosopher, and several other works on 19th and 20th century physics. He has been at Stanford for 38.8% of the history of the University.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 4:00pm
Location: Applied Physics 200


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