People of Science: Michael Faraday

The Royal Society

The Making of a Scientist
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) is most famous for his experiments on electromagnetism which led him to discover electromagnetic fields. One of the founders of electrochemistry, he also discovered benzene and is the model for generations of experimental scientists.

Before becoming a scientist, at 14, Faraday served as an indentured apprentice to the bookseller and bookbinder George Riebau.

The purpose of the apprenticeship was for Faraday to learn 'the art of bookbinding, stationary, booksetting' for a period of 7 years.

Faraday recalls reading through the scientific books he was binding and later dedicated one of his books to his Master Riebau, thanking him for having encouraged his curiosity.

Royal Institution
Michael Faraday was appointed at the Royal Institution as Laboratory Assistant to Sir Humphrey Davy (1778-1829) in 1813, this was the beginning of his scientific career. Discover his magnetic lab at:
Faraday was elected Fellow of the Royal Society on 8 January 1824. He is described as 'eminently conversant in chemical science' and having 'several papers which have been published in the Transactions of the Royal Society'. 

Faraday was elected Fellow of the Royal Society on 8 January 1824.

He is described as 'eminently conversant in chemical science' and having 'several papers which have been published in the Transactions of the Royal Society'.

From experiments to theories
To improve the quality of glass for telescopes and microscopes Faraday designed this new furnace. This work was commissioned by the Royal Society and the Board of Longitude, and built at the Royal Institution. Faraday made hundreds of glasses with frustratingly little improvement of the overall quality. 
Faraday was inspired by Humphry Davy's lectures to become a scientist. In turn, he gave a series of chemical lectures and demonstrations at the RI, engaging a wide public with his scientific discoveries. 

There was mutual respect between Davy and Faraday.

In a paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1812, Davy thanked Faraday for his valuable contributions to experiments.

Faraday's practical researches in electrochemistry inspired his friend John Frederic Daniell (1790-1845), right, to embark upon his own investigations. In 1836, he invented the Daniell cell, an improved electric cell that supplies an even current during continued operation. For their researches Daniell and Faraday are known as the fathers of electrochemistry.
In a paper published by Faraday in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society entitled 'Experimental Researches in Electricity' he laid out the result of years of practical research and the law of induction which was named after him. The law explains how a magnetic field will interact with an electric circuit to produce an electromotive force. The publication was printed in 21 installments.  
Deputation to Faraday
This painting depicts a particular moment for the Royal Society: a group of Fellows presenting Faraday with the offer to become the next President of the Royal Society.

Faraday is depicted seated to the right, with a glass laboratory bottle on the table beside him.

The Fellows presenting the offer of the Presidency are, from left to right, John Wrottesley (1798-1867), John Peter Gassiot (1797-1877) and William Robert Grove (1811-1896).

Despite the delegation, Farraday refused the offer of the Presidency. Various hypotheses have been made to explain his refusal.

He himself wrote that he feared he wouldn't be able to make the impact on the Society he wished to see.

Scientific legacy
In his later years Faraday's reputation as a pioneering scientist was assured. Here, he is photographed in his 65th year holding a bar magnet. It was a component in his 1821 experiment that advanced theories of electromagnetism, which sparked a lifetime's interest in the nature of electricity.
The legacy of Faraday is vast. We can see his impact on the fields of physics and chemistry in many technologies we use today. Anything which uses an electrical motor can be traced back to Faraday's discoveries. In addition to this, he was a great populariser of science, and has inspired generations to pursue a greater understanding of the world we live in.
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