People of Science: Michael Faraday

People of Science with Brian Cox - Dame Julia Higgins (2018-02-12) by The Royal SocietyThe Royal Society

Portrait of Michael Faraday (1863) by John Watkins (1823-1874)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.

Michael Faraday's indenture of apprenticeship to George Riebau, bookseller. (1805-10-07)The Royal Society

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.

Faraday MichaelLIFE Photo Collection

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:

Royal Society Fellowship election certificate for Michael Faraday (1823) by The Royal SocietyThe 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'. 

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'.

The Making of Michael Faraday - Objectivity #105 (2017-01-31) by James Hennessy and Brady HaranThe Royal Society

Plan for a glass furnace (1827/1829) by Michael Faraday (1791-1867)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. 

Ticket to Mr. Brande and Mr Faraday's chemical lectures and demonstrations at the Royal Institution, London (mid-19th century) by Royal InstitutionThe Royal Society

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. 

New experiments on some of the combinations of phosphorus, p. 319 (1818) by Humphry Davy (1778-1829)The Royal Society

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.

Engraving of Michael Faraday and John Frederic Daniell in discussion (1848) by George Barclay (1830-1872)The Royal Society

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.

Experimental Researches in Electricity, first series Experimental Researches in Electricity, first series (1831) by Michael Faraday (1791-1867)The Royal Society

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 instalments.  

Deputation to Faraday (1873) by Edward Armitage (1817-1896)The Royal Society

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.

Photograph of Michael Faraday (1857) by Maull & PolyblankThe Royal Society

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.

Bust of Michael Faraday (19th century) by Feridah ForbesThe Royal Society

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.

Credits: Story

© Royal Society 2017

For more information about the Royal Society Library and Archive please visit our website:

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Once Upon a Try
A journey of invention and discovery with CERN, NASA, and more than 100 museums around the world
View theme
Google apps