James Clerk Maxwell

1831 - 1879

James Clerk Maxwell
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

James Clerk Maxwell

Mathematician and physicist. A great great grandson of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik (1676 - 1755), Clerk-Maxwell was born in Edinburgh, although his family moved to Glenlair (Dumfries and Galloway) soon after. However, his mother died when he was 8, and in the interests of his education, the boy returned to Edinburgh to live with his aunt in Heriot Row.

Clerk-Maxwell was a slow developer, known as daftie to his fellow pupils at Edinburgh Academy. However, his talent blossomed and he had published his first paper by the age of 15, and started at the University of Edinburgh the following year. Remarkably, he was appointed Professor of Physics at the University of Aberdeen in 1857, aged only 25. Clerk-Maxwell contributed significantly to the study of electro-magnetism and prepared the way for quantum physics. He ranks along with Newton and Einstein as one of the World's greatest physicists.

Clerk-Maxwell was also a photographic pioneer, taking the world's first colour photograph, of a tartan ribbon. He demonstrated the technique to a meeting of the Royal Institution in 1861.

Clerk-Maxwell was appointed as the first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge (1871), where he died eight years later. He is buried in the churchyard at the village of Parton (Dumfries and Galloway). Although he married in 1858, he had no children. He is remembered by a statue at the east end of George Street in Edinburgh and a building on the King's Buildings campus of the University of Edinburgh.

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