Skip to main content
A B C D(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) E F G H I(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) J(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) K L M N O P Q(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) R S T U(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) V W X(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) Y(/People and pioneers/Pioneers/) Z

Maxwell, James Clerk Maxwell, James Clerk (1831-1879)

James Clerk Maxwell was a truly great scientist who first proposed a unified theory of electro-magnetism and helped shape the future of physics for several generations.

He grew up and studied in a wealthy environment in Edinburgh, moving to Aberdeen to become a professor of physics in 1856, aged only 25. His career really took off at King's College in London (1860) and was crowned at Cambridge (1871), where he directed the world-leading Cavendish Laboratory.

Maxwell was the first to propose that electromagnetic radiation travelled at the speed of light, and his theories inspired countless scientists (including Einstein, Hertz and Heaviside), underpinning the way radio, television, radar and microwaves work.

But physics was just part of the story; Maxwell could also turn his hand to mathematics, astronomy and engineering.His work included the measurement of the stresses on bridges and arches, an explanation of the formation of Saturn's rings, and the development of the first colour photography process.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...