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In the 19th century, science in general — and physics in particular — grew up, assuming its modern form which is still recognisable today. At the start of the century, the word “scientist” was not yet in use, and the natural philosophers of the time were often amateurs. University research in the sciences, particularly in Britain, was rare. Those working in the sciences were often occupied by cataloguing natural phenomena, and apart from Newton’s monumental achievements, few people focussed on discovering mathematical laws to explain the new physical phenomena which were being discovered such as electricity and magnetism.
One person, James Clerk Maxwell, was largely responsible for creating the way modern science is done. He can also claim credit for the way we think about theories of physics, restoring Britain’s standing in physics compared to work on the Continent, and creating an institution that continues to do important work into the present day. While every physicist and electrical engineer knows of Maxwell and his work, he is largely unknown to the general public, and even those who are aware of his seminal work in electromagnetism may be unaware of the extent his footprints are found all over the edifice of 19th century physics.More