Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon: How James Clerk Maxwell unravelled the mysteries of electromagnetism and matter

Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon: How James Clerk Maxwell unravelled the mysteries of electromagnetism and matter

by Brian Clegg


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Asked to name a great physicist, most people would mention Newton or Einstein, Feynman or Hawking. But ask a physicist and there’s no doubt that James Clerk Maxwell will be near the top of the list.

Maxwell, an unassuming Victorian Scotsman, explained how we perceive colour. He uncovered the way gases behave. And, most significantly, he transformed the way physics was undertaken in his explanation of the interaction of electricity and magnetism, revealing the nature of light and laying the groundwork for everything from Einstein’s special relativity to modern electronics.

Along the way, he set up one of the most enduring challenges in physics, one that has taxed the best minds ever since. ‘Maxwell’s demon’ is a tiny but thoroughly disruptive thought experiment that suggests the second law of thermodynamics, the law that governs the flow of time itself, can be broken. This is the story of a groundbreaking scientist, a great contributor to our understanding of the way the world works, and his duplicitous demon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785784958
Publisher: Icon Books, Ltd. UK
Publication date: 05/14/2019
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 261,235
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Brian Clegg’s has writen many science books, published by Icon and St. Martin's Press. His most recent book for Icon was The Reality Frame. His Dice World and A Brief History of Infinity were both longlisted for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books. He has written for Nature, BBC Focus, Physics World, The Times and The Observer.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements v

Demonic Interlude I: In which the demon is summoned 1

Chapter 1 Not a little uncouth in his manners 5

Edinburgh and Glenlair 6

The Academy 10

The young mathematician 14

Churchman and country squire 17

The university life 20

A particular light 23

The path to Cambridge 26

Demonic Interlude II: In which electricity meets magnetism 31

Natural electricity 32

From the sides to the laboratory 35

Magnetic matter 38

The birth of electromagnetism 40

A matter of speculation 44

Chapter 2 A most original young man 49

Stepping up to Trinity 50

Becoming an Apostle 52

Cats and rhymes 55

The Wranglers 56

Colour vision 58

The true primaries 61

A peculiar inability 65

Quantifying Faraday's fields 67

For the benefit of working men 72

A new destination 75

Demonic Interlude III: In which atoms become real and heat gets moving 81

Atoms exist 81

A better model of heat 85

Chapter 3 The young professor 89

A city divided 89

His lectures were terrible 92

Lord of the rings 96

Life in Aberdeen 103

E pur si muove 107

Statistics to the rescue 110

A new family 113

Accommodating the British Ass 116

Leaving Aberdeen 119

Demonic Interlude IV: In which the demons challenge is posed 121

The tyranny of the second law 122

The demon is summoned 125

Doing it without energy 127

Chapter 4 A capital adventure 131

Science at King's 131

Bring colour to the Institution 135

Electromagnetism goes mechanical 138

Maxwell's electromagnetic spheres 141

Vortices and idle wheels 144

The power of analogy 146

Demonic Interlude V: In which the demon becomes a star 151

Victorian computer dating 151

The demon's catechism 154

Chapter 5 Seeing the light 157

The power of flexible cells 157

Waves in the ether 160

Seeing the light 163

Too heavy for one person to discharge 166

The Great London Exposition 168

Chapter 6 Science by numbers 171

The viscosity engine 174

Stereoscopes and coffins 177

A standard for resistance 179

The velocity of a resistor 183

Electromagnetism without visible support 185

In the mathematical belfry 188

A new physics 190

The beautiful equations 193

Getting away from it all 196

Demonic Interlude VI: In which the demon suffers a setback 199

The cost of measurement 199

Chapter 7 On the estate 205

Glenlair life 206

Back to viscosity 208

The wine merchant's batteries 211

Meet the governor 213

Thinking in four dimensions 215

The life academic 218

Chapter 8 Cambridge beckons 221

The Cavendish connection 221

A different professor 224

The last second home 228

Ancient lights and modern physics 233

A slow start 237

Women in the laboratory 239

Demonic Interlude VII: In which the demon's memory is challenged 243

Forgetting is never easy 244

Chapter 9 The last work 247

Books and the power of light 247

The Cavendish papers 250

Passing fancies 252

A sudden end 255

Demonic Interlude VIII: In which the demon lives on to fight another day 257

The reality of loopholes 257

Chapter 10 The legacy 263

Notes 269

Index 285

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