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Maxwell almost failed his qualifying exam

  1. Jan 25, 2012 #1
    I have heard a story from one of my professors that Maxwell had failed the first two questions of his qualifying exam, and as a last chance, they gave him a take-home assignment. Maxwell returned with the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution of velocities.

    Can anyone verify also hearing a similar story (the details may be off) ? Can anyone find a source for this? I can't find anything on Google
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2012 #2


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    Gold Member

    According to wikipedia, he gave the Maxwellian distribution of velocities in 1866 (so he was 24 or 25 years old). He started university much younger (age 16) than this and apparently did extremely well there. What do you mean by "qualifying exam"?
  4. Jan 26, 2012 #3

    Philip Wood

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    Unlikely. Maxwell had a brilliant undergraduate career at Cambridge. I wonder if the confusion arises from Maxwell's three successive attempts to produce a proof of the speed distribution. He regarded none as satisfactory.
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