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How did Maxwell build his theory

  1. Jun 12, 2007 #1
    Without any doubt, Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism is the foundation of modern physics and relativity.
    I am always impressed by how it is easy to learn, and conversly I am disappointed by my ignorance about how Maxwell did his job.

    Would some of you know about a good reference describing how Maxwell designed his equations. What was known at the beginning, in which form, what were the problems to be solved, how they were solved and why they were solved the way Maxwell did.

    It is always impressing for me to thing that electrostatics and magnetism led to a theory of light and to relativity. For me there is a kind of mystery there that can only be understood by going back in time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 12, 2007 #2
    All Maxwell did was to correct one of the equations with the displacement current and rederive the equations (known before him) from scratch.

    The wikipedia page gives good explanation with links to Maxwell papers:
  4. Jun 12, 2007 #3
    He actually had some twenty equations in some twenty variables initially. I think he then re-cast it into a slightly simpler quaternion formulation (or he may have originally done it in that form).

    This section on the Wikipedia Maxwell's Equations article may shed some further light. They link to his original treatise etc.
  5. Jun 12, 2007 #4

    Chris Hillman

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    Suggest some good articles/books, plus avoiding the most massive thing often called..

    A classic paper published (I think) in Science many years ago is just what you need: N. M. Wise, "The mutual embrace of electricity and magnetism", Science 203 (1979): 1310-1318.

    See also Peter Michael Harmon, The Natural Philosophy of James Clerk Maxwell, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    On-line resources include www.lns.cornell.edu/spr/2005-02/msg0066934.html

    I'd be very cautious about anything you read in the Wikipedia, however. Why, just the other day I became aware of a major mistake in another wikibiography... which I wrote! :blushing: (No, my mistake was certainly not intentional! For the record, while I have become disaffected from the Wikipedia after being one of the 500 most active members in 2006, as some PF members already know, I oppose Colbert-like "social experiments", aka vandalism.) I'd recommend that serious inquirers avoid the Wikipedia except perhaps to find references, but then you should stick with reliable secondary sources, e.g. printed books from respectable academic publishers such as CUP. (Breaking this rule was in fact what got me into trouble in the regretable episode which I just mentioned.)

    Then there are primary sources such as The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, P. M. Harman, Ed., 3 volumes, Cambridge University Press, 1990-2002.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2007
  6. Jun 12, 2007 #5
    I hope the OP forgives me a quick off- topic question to Chris Hillman.

    Chris Hillman why haven't you finished your "Categorical Primer" paper??
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