Michael Faraday, the Father of Electricity
Do you think it’s possible to become a scientist without a college education – or even a middle school or high school education? Michael Faraday did it. He learned reading, writing, and arithmetic as a young boy, but that was the end of his formal education. Everything else he learned came from reading books.
- Michael Faraday was born in Surrey, England in 1791. Michael’s parents were very poor and very religious. His father was apprenticed to a blacksmith. Michael had little chance for a formal education.
- In England in the 1800s, children from poorer families were “apprenticed” to tradesmen. In their apprentices, they worked (usually for free) to learn a trade. At the age of 14, Michael was apprenticed to a book binder (a company that makes books).
- He loved reading the books in the shop, especially the encyclopedias. In particular, he enjoyed the science sections of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
- He also enjoyed attending science presentations at the London Philosophical Society.
- A customer gave Michael free tickets to attend a lecture by Sir Humphrey Davy, a famous scientist. Michael was inspired and made it his goal to work for Davy.
- During the lecture, Michael kept detailed notes of everything Davy said. These notes impressed Davy and he did hire Michael.
- Initially, Michael accompanied Davy and his wife on a tour of Europe. Sometimes he had to work as Mrs. Davy’s servant – not exactly what he had had in mind.
- Upon their return to London, Michael began to seriously study chemistry. In 1825, he became the director of the laboratory at the Royal Institution. In 1833, he was appointed to the Fullerian Professorship of Chemistry.
- Michael learned how to liquefy gases, including chlorine; he studied metals and optical glass.
- Michael is best known for his work with electricity and electrical chemistry. He invented the first electrical generator and came up with a nomenclature (vocabulary and system of order) for electricity that is still used today.
- His work on electromagnetism inspired later scientists. Albert Einstein kept a picture of Michael in his study.
- Michael was a humble, kind man. He was deeply religious and believed in a great connection between God, science, and nature. Twice, he turned down opportunities to be president of the Royal Institution. He also refused the honor of being knighted. He said the Bible discouraged the pursuit of wealth and honor. He said he would focus instead on giving his service.
- Prince Albert gave Michael a comfortable home near the Royal Palace.
“How fortunate for civilization, that Beethoven, Michelangelo, Galileo and Faraday were not required by law to attend schools where their total personalities would have been operated upon to make them learn acceptable ways of participating as members of “the group.” – Joel H. Hildebrand
Watch a video about Michael Faraday.
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