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One of a blacksmith's 10 children, Michael Faraday was born on Sept. 22, 1791, in Newington, Surrey.
The family soon moved to London, where young Michael picked up the rudiments of reading, writing,
and arithmetic. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a bookbinder and bookseller. He read
ravenously and attended public lectures, including some by Sir Humphry Davy.
Faraday's career began when Davy, temporarily blinded in a laboratory accident, appointed Faraday
as his assistant at the Royal Institution. With Davy as a teacher in analytical chemistry, Faraday
advanced in his scientific apprenticeship and began independent chemical studies. By 1825 he
discovered benzene and had become the first to describe compounds of chlorine and carbon. He
adopted the atomic theory to explain that chemical qualities were the result of attraction and
repulsion between united atoms. This proved to be the theoretical foundation for much of his future
Faraday had already done some work in magnetism and electricity, and it was in this field that he
made his most outstanding contributions. His first triumph came when he found a solution to the
problem of producing continuous rotation by use of electric current, thus making electric motors
possible. Hans Oersted had discovered the magnetic effect of a current, but Faraday grasped the
fact that a conductor at rest and a steady magnetic field do not interact and that to get an induced
current either the conductor or the field has to move. On Aug. 29, 1831, he discovered
electromagnetic induction.
During the next 10 years Faraday explored and expanded the field of electricity. In 1834 he
announced his famous two laws of electrolysis. Briefly, they state that for any given amount of
electrical force in an electrochemical cell, chemical substances are released at the electrodes in the
ratio of their chemical equivalents. He also invented the voltmeter, a device for measuring electrical
charges, which was the first step toward the later standardization of electrical quantities.
Faraday continued to work in his laboratory, but his health began to deteriorate and he
had to stop work entirely in 1841. Almost miraculously, however, his health improved and
he resumed work in 1844. He began a search for an interaction between magnetism
and light and in 1845 turned his attention from electrostatics to electromagnetism. He
discovered that an intense magnetic field can rotate the plane of polarized light, a
phenomenon known today as the Faraday effect. In conjunction with these
experiments he showed that the magnetic line of force is conducted by all matter.
Those which were good conductors he called paramagnetics, while those which
conducted the force poorly he named diamagnetics. Thus, the energy of a magnet is in
the space around it, not in the magnet itself. This is the fundamental idea of the field
Faraday was a brilliant lecturer, and through his public lectures he did a great deal to
popularize science. Shortly after he became head of the Royal Institution in 1825, he
inaugurated the custom of giving a series of lectures for young people during the
Christmas season. This tradition has been maintained, and over the years the series have
frequently been the basis for fascinating, simply written, and informative books.
On Aug. 25, 1867, Faraday died in London.
The admiration of physicists for Faraday has been demonstrated by naming the unit of
capacitance the farad and a unit of charge, the faraday. No other man has been
doubly honored in this way. His name also appears frequently in connection with
effects, laws, and apparatus. These honors are proper tribute to the man who was
possibly the greatest experimentalist who ever lived.
Although Faraday's work with electricity is better known, he
began his scientific career as a chemist, synthesizing
chlorocarbons and, in 1825, discovering benzene, the chemical
that led to understanding all the aromatics. His principal studies
of electricity began in 1830. Faraday then developed electric
motors and generators and found the basic laws of electrolysis
and induction. Faraday is renowned as an experimentalist, but
his concept of a field based on lines of force has become one
of the main underpinnings of theoretical physics.
 As a chemist, Faraday discovered benzene, investigated the
clathrate hydrate of chlorine, invented an early form of the
Bunsen burner and the system of oxidation numbers, and
popularized terminology such as anode, cathode, electrode,
and ion. Faraday ultimately became the first and foremost
Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great
Britain, a life-time position.