Suppose we didn’t know how to transmit electricity via long cables, how to store electrical energy in large condensers, and how electricity and magnetism are related. Would it have been possible for us to enjoy the perks of electrical energy the way we do today? Absolutely not. However, we haven’t made these advancements overnight. It took the work of several decades and the brilliance of several minds to realize these ideas. And one of the most important people to have contributed in this direction was Michael Faraday.

Michael Faraday was one such man who didn’t even enjoy half of the academic privileges that we have access to but still became one of the most celebrated scientists of his time, purely obliging to his curiosity. Let’s take a look at his extraordinary life and work.

Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday

Early life and education of Michael Faraday

On September 22, 1791, little Michael was born to a low-income family of blacksmiths in a small village named Newington Butts. Due to poor financial conditions, he and his family used to face a lot of hardships. Sometimes, the whole family had to survive on a piece of the loaf for a whole week. These circumstances deprived Faraday of most of his formal education, and eventually, he had to finish school when he was just 13.

A job with a bookbinder

A year after leaving school, Faraday became an apprentice to Mr. Riebeau, a local bookbinder, and this is when and where Faraday found his passion. While binding books, Michael Faraday used to find out time to gulp the knowledge possessed in them. In this way, he got to read many amazing books, with “Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet” being his favorite one.

Lectures by Sir Humphry Davy and the opportunity to work in his lab

The books acted as a turning point for Faraday. They inspired him to explore further and further. Catering to his curiosity aroused by reading, he began attending lectures at the Royal Institution by eminent scientist Sir Humphry Davy. Micheal used to make notes of all the lectures Davy delivered, compiled them into a book of 300 pages, and presented them to him. Davy got so impressed with Faraday that in 1813 when Davy damaged his eyesight in an accident, he decided to employ Faraday as his assistant. This is how Faraday got a major break where he could now learn things from his idol himself.

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Contributions to chemistry

Michael’s first love in basic sciences was chemistry. So with each passing day, new ideas struck Faraday’s mind. Pursuing his passion, Michael Faraday discovered two new compounds of chlorine and carbon. He invented an early form of the Bunsen burner and discovered benzene which he called bicarburet of hydrogen.

Journey to become the father of electricity

Although Michael Faraday made some of the greatest discoveries, the first breakthrough discovery of his life took place in 1821. Faraday showed that electrical energy can be converted into mechanical energy by performing experiments that now form the foundation of modern electromagnetic technology.

Faraday kept on experimenting with his ideas, and eventually, another breakthrough in his life came ten years later, in 1831. This time he came up with his phenomenon of electromagnetic induction, which established the relationship between electric current and magnetism and served as a basic principle in the construction of the electric dynamo, which was the ancestor of modern power generators and the electric motor.

How A Poor Bookbinder Became One Of The Greatest Scientists In History 1
Built in 1831, the Faraday disk/disk dynamo was the first electric generator.

Faraday demonstrated that the charge resides only on the exterior of a charged conductor, and the exterior charge had no influence on anything enclosed within a conductor. This led to the discovery of what we now call a Faraday cage. Not only this, “Michael Faraday: the father of electricity” also made some noteworthy contributions in the field of diamagnetism, polymer chemistry, and electrochemistry. His experiments and inventions laid the foundations for scientific metallurgy and metallography.

For his remarkable contributions to science and society, Faraday earned numerous accolades in his lifetime. He became the first and foremost Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution. He was also offered the presidency of the Royal Society in 1857. The SI unit of capacitance, the farad, is named in his honor. Over the years, numerous great personalities have penned down heaps of appreciation for him.

How A Poor Bookbinder Became One Of The Greatest Scientists In History 2
Three Fellows of the Royal Society offering the presidency to Faraday in 1857 | Image:  CC-BY-4.0

Looking at all of his extraordinary achievements and brilliance, there’s no doubt why Albert Einstein kept a picture of Michael Faraday on his study wall, alongside pictures of Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell. Moreover, physicist Ernest Rutherford also once stated; “When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and industry, there is no honor too great to pay to the memory of Faraday, one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time” and we cannot agree more on this! 

Before you go, here’s a dose of motivation for you:

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