Home BiologyMichael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
BiologyBy Joe Burgett -

Michael Faraday is one of the single greatest scientists/inventors to ever live. What he was able to do for mankind through his discoveries, inventions, and how he applied them is the stuff of legend. Yet Faraday, nor his family or friends could have predicted everything that would happen.

Faraday grew up in a relatively poor family, making him deal with his poor income throughout most of his early life. He grew up as the third of four children, making him a middle child who certainly was affected by where he placed in line. In fact, Faraday has the most basic formal education of all his siblings.

He had to educate himself after an incident in school. His teacher was horrible to him, and his mother took notice, removing him from that environment. By the age of 14, he landed an internship as a Book Binder with George Riebau, a bookseller on Blandford Street in London, England.

While not the most reputable job, Faraday knew how to read. By day he might make the books, but by the night he would read them all. This ability to educate himself by reading books on pretty much everything under the sun would pay off for Faraday in a massive way.

His interest in books led him to read Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet. This book would change young Faraday’s life, making him have a massive interest in science.


Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Biography.com]

Faraday’s Gesture That Made All The Difference

A curious young man, Faraday was always invested in science and especially electricity. One day, an incredibly popular scientist at the time named Humphry Davy was doing a big lecture in England. Michael had to go, he just had to! Not only was Davy already a respected scientist who made several major discoveries by this point, but he also worked with electricity.

By 1812, Michael Faraday was 20 years old and his apprenticeship had ended. Why should he not attend such an important lecture? It just so happened that the poorer incomed Faraday was given free tickets to attend by William Dance, one of the founders of the Royal Philharmonic Society.

As Faraday watched the lecture, he took notes the entire time. When we say notes, we mean he quite literally wrote down everything Davy possibly could have said. He even remembered portions of it and wrote down more as the lecture ended. As a result, he wrote enough to make a 300-page book. This led Faraday to bind the book and send it to Davy as a present. Davy responded in kind to this and quite favorably.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Fine Art America]

The Day Davy Discovered Faraday

In 1813, Humphry was working with Nitrogen Trichloride and it exploded on him, damaging his eyesight. Sadly, The Royal Institution where Davy worked had fired John Payne, one of the big assistants for them. Davy now needed a new assistant in the biggest way possible. He remembered Faraday from before and asked him to come on as an assistant while he was recovering.

He came on as a temporary Chemical Assistant, but this soon turned into a full-time role for Michael Faraday, as now he and Humphry Davy were doing a lot together as a notable pair. Davy eventually trusted Faraday with his life and allowed him to work on the same stuff he himself was working with.

Davy even entrusted Faraday with the very same Nitrogen Trichloride that blinded him before. The two did work with it again and were both injured in another explosion using it. They did not do much with it after this. Yet Davy would allow Faraday access to so much that Michael soon began to figure out certain things that Humphry and others at the Royal Institute did not.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Fine Art America]

Faraday Watched As Davy Revolutionized Chemistry

At the time that Faraday joined Davy, we know that Davy was already in the process of figuring out major things in the world of chemistry. He was revolutionizing it, meaning Michael Faraday could learn to do the same. While the founder of modern chemistry, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, laid out all he knew from the 1770s to 1780s, he could not know what was to come. Since one cannot know what they could not know, it took Davy & Faraday to change things up.

Lavoisier would insist on a few main principles in his work. Oxygen was a unique element and it was the only supporter of combustion. It was also the element that lay at the basis of all acids. Yet Davy managed to discover sodium & potassium when he decomposed oxides of the elements and came up with muriatic acid (also known as hydrochloric acid). He found hydrogen when connected with water, produced acid. Davy found that the gas was an element, giving it the name “chlorine.”

No oxygen was involved in muriatic acid. Thus, he found that acidity was not the result of the presence of acid-forming elements but some other condition. It was the physical form of the acid molecule itself. Chemical properties here were not determined by specific elements, but also in the way the elements were arranged in molecules. This Atomic Theory concept managed to spark the curiosity as well as the ideology behind what Faraday would come up with later on.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Jesuits Ireland]

The Sparking Of Ideas

A theory proposed by Ruggero Giuseppe Boscovich claimed that atoms were mathematical points surrounded by alternating fields of attractive and repulsive forces. A true element would be at a single point and the chemical elements were composed of a number at those points. The resultant force fields could be quite complicated as a result. Molecules were built up by these elements.

The chemical qualities of both elements and compounds were the result of the final patterns of force, surrounding a bunch of point atoms. A specific property of those atoms and molecules should be paid close attention to, as it could be placed under considerable strain or tension. Eventually, the bonds holding them together will break. Boscovich’s concept gave Faraday his starting ideas regarding electricity.

Between learning all about this concept as well as chemistry from Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday was given one of the greatest gifts one could ask. He learned chemistry as well as anyone in the world not named Humphry Davy himself. Once his second apprenticeship ended with Davy in 1820, Faraday was capable of developing his own theories and leading his own experimental concepts. This was when Faraday truly began to shine, right in front of his mentor.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Morphart Creation/Shutterstock.com]

Michael Faraday Figures Out What Humphry Davy Could Not

Humphry Davy was considered by the early 1800s to be one of the brightest men of his era. When it came to science, he might have very well been the most notable man of his time. Taking on an apprentice like Michael Faraday only made sense due to his skills, yet even Davy could not assume what would happen next.

In 1821, Danish Chemist and Physicist named Hans Christian Ørsted discovered electromagnetism, a phenomenon during its time. Due to this discovery, The Royal Society wanted to do something with it, as they felt an electric motor could utilize the concept. Both British scientist William Hyde Wollaston and Davy tried but failed numerous times to design a motor. Faraday watched the men and discussed the problem with them.

Davy pretty much told Faraday to play around with the same stuff he and Wollaston used, to see what he could figure out. He even did so in a joking manner, but Faraday did not take this as a joke at all. To Davy’s surprise, Faraday figured out what the other two could not and built two devices to produce what he then coined as “electromagnetic rotation.” Basically, Faraday built a motor that was the first version of every motor we see on Earth today!!

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
Homopolar Concept [Image via Fouad A. Saad/Shutterstock.com]

The Motor

Faraday managed to build two different motors, the first was the homopolar motor. With it, continuous circular motion is engendered by circular magnetic force, around a wire that extended into a pool of mercury. A magnet was in the pool and the wire would then rotate around the magnet if supplied with current from a chemical battery.

This was the foundation of modern electromagnetic technology. Clearly, due to his impressive discovery and invention, Faraday wanted to publish his findings. However, in his excitement to get the work out to the public he did not acknowledge his work with either Wollaston or Davy. This turned into a major issue at the Royal Society.

Not only did it strain the mentor/apprentice relationship Faraday had with Davy, it likely resulted in the issues that followed for Michael. It is said that Davy and/or the Royal Society, pushed Faraday out of the electromagnetic work and research he made their biggest discovery in. He was sent into other assignments regarding a multitude of activities.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Sandiwild/Shutterstock.com]

Faraday’s Mistake

When Michael Faraday discovered and invented something that put him on the map, he was the talk of the town. Davy was used to being “the man” in England but his apprentice outshining him was an issue. Yet many feel Davy did not have a problem with Faraday figuring out what he did. Rather, that he and Wollaston deserved some credit for his discovery. They too worked in the same lab and Faraday saw all their failures to know what NOT to do.

This is a very valuable thing to see, as Faraday himself would not spend time doing what he knows could not work. He’d also see where things worked and utilize that. Davy felt betrayed, which is why many feel he was not jealous of Faraday. However, it all depends on who you ask. Either way, the situation resulted in major friction between the two. Now, Faraday was sent to find out how the Bavarians made their glass.

Bavarian Glass was a closely guarded secret. Therefore, Michael Faraday would need to work backward from one piece of glass in order to get close. Of course, Faraday had no experience with glass and did not know how to work with it. He spent his years with chemicals and reading books. He was a chemist, not a glassmaker.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Doraemonz32/Shutterstock.com]

Michael Faraday’s Biggest Failure

Many felt that if anyone could figure out the secret to Bavarian Glass, it was Michael Faraday. This is why many, including Davy, felt that Faraday might actually deliver. Of course, they knew how difficult this could be. It did not matter how much of a genius someone happened to be. Sometimes, there’s no way to figure something out when you never knew what you were doing, to begin with.

Faraday’s lack of glassmaking prowess made finding out the secret to what the Bavarians did, well, impossible. He worked for several years trying to figure it out. All the while, Davy and The Royal Society were getting a lot of other things done. Faraday literally spent some of his prime years failing to make glass. Meanwhile, he could have been discovering new things and inventing grand, impressive new technology.

Faraday never did figure out the secret to Bavarian Glass after seven years of trying. What we now know is that the Bavarians did keep their ingredients and concepts top secret. However, making glass is also an art form that the Bavarians had mastered. It could not be expected for Faraday to become a master glassmaker. Faraday wanted to always remember his failure so that he never repeated it again. This is why he kept a small brick of Bavarian Glass on a shelf in his office or home.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock.com]

Opportunity Arises

While Faraday was working on glass, he never did give up his passion for other areas of science. He continued to publish his experimental work on optics and electromagnetism. He also spoke with various other scientists that he met while working alongside Davy. Sadly, Humphry Davy would pass away in 1831. However, this left open a huge opportunity for Faraday.

Without Davy, the Royal Society would need someone like Michael Faraday to take over as one of their top scientists. Since he was taught so much by Davy anyway and had some impressive work to his credit, it only made sense to use him more. This was when Faraday began working mostly with electromagnetism again.

It was during this point that he discovered electromagnetic induction. He’d do so, according to his personal diary, on October 28, 1831. He claimed he was “making many experiments with the great magnet of the Royal Society” when discovering it, which is key to remember. As anyone could recall, he did not reference others when he invented the motor. Even though this was his diary, Faraday was quick to mention credit so he never made the same mistake twice.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Kathryn Boast – Twitter]

Faraday Could Not Be Stopped In 1831 Part 1

While working with Charles Wheatstone on the Theory of Sound in the Spring of 1831, Faraday became fascinated by Chladni Figures. These are formed by light power when spread on iron plates. A violin bow, at the time, used vibration on a nearby plate to make the powder turn into art on another. Faraday was invested in the static effect involved in this, which he felt occurred in a current-carrying wire.

This concept in acoustic induction helped Faraday figure out, perhaps, his most famous experiment. On August 29, 1831, Faraday wound up a thick iron ring on one side with an insulated wire that was connected to a battery. On the opposite side, he connected a wire to a galvanometer. He expected a wave of current would be produced when the battery circuit was closed. Then the wave would show up as a deflection of the galvanometer in the second circuit.

Instead, the galvanometer needle jumped. A current had been induced in the secondary coil by one in the primary. Apparently, turning off the current also created a current that was equal and even opposite to the original current, in the secondary. Faraday discovered “mutual induction.” The Royal Institution still has the iron ring on display to this day!

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via The Organic Chemistry Tutor – YouTube]

Faraday Could Not Be Stopped In 1831 Part 2

In the Fall of 1831, Faraday found that if one moves a magnet through a loop of wire, an electric current will flow through that very same wire. It would also flow if the loop was moved over a stationary magnet. This discovery now established that a changing magnetic field will produce an electric field.

Today, we know this concept as “Faraday’s Law” thanks to James Clerk Maxwell, who used it in a mathematical model. The very same law that Faraday found was used to construct the Electric Dynamo. Yes, Michael Faraday was the man who invented what we’d now come to know as the modern power generator.

Maxwell would officially make Faraday’s Law part of his “Four Maxwell Equations.” These equations are known today as “Field Theory” by scientists and mathematicians. Field Theory is also part of the Quantum Physics area, to which Albert Einstein helped to further around 100 years after Faraday’s discoveries.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Zyabich/Shutterstock.com]

1832 Was Another Year Of Amazing Discovery

Michael Faraday was a highly educated man who could do no wrong by this point in his career. He was even given an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree from the University of Oxford. Yet this was a year for more investigation and discovery. He completed several experiments that directly aimed at the nature of electricity.

Faraday used static, batteries, and even animal electricity. He managed to produce electrostatic attraction, electrolysis, magnetism, and much more. Due to these experiments, Faraday wrote that contrary to the scientific thought of the time, the divisions between the various “kinds” of electricity were simply an illusion.

Rather, Michael felt that it should be stated that one single form of electricity exists. The changing values of quantity and intensity would simply produce different groups. We now know of quantities and intensity as current and voltage only. This is now the accepted, consensus scientific rule.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via POP-THAILAND/Shutterstock.com]

New General Theory Of Electrical Action

In 1839, Michael Faraday was still at it. This was when he proposed a new and truly general theory of electric action, specifically in regards to how it acts within the body. He felt that electricity was caused by specific tension to be created in matter. When the tension was rapidly relieved then what occurred was a rapid repetition of cyclical buildup and breakdown. The buildup of tension passed along a substance like a wave.

Of course, such known substances he referenced were called conductors. Faraday had already referenced Electrochemistry in former work. He felt that not only was this part of it to consider, but it needed to be further studied. In the electrochemical processes, the rate of buildup and breakdown of a strain was equal or close to equal to the chemical affinities of the substances involved.

However, the current is not a material flow but, rather, a wave pattern that Faraday proposed regarding tensions and relieving them. Insulators, to Faraday, were materials whose particles could take a lot of strain before snapping. When adding in an electrostatic charge in an isolated insulator, we simply measure the accumulated strain. Therefore, if all was presented correctly then all electrical action was the result of forced strain in our human body.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Aonprom Photo/Shutterstock.com]

Nearing The End?

Several years of work was a lot for Faraday to take on. The very same year he came up with the new General Theory of Electrical Action, his health broke down. In 1839, the strain had gotten to him and he did not have really any involvement in creative sciences for 6 years.

He was attempting to write a letter one day when he forgot what he was about to say. His memory became unreliable, and he was unable to do much of anything he felt. By 1840, Faraday was now no longer able to be the scientist he once was. This resulted in major depression, sadness, and overall dissatisfaction that made him feel as if he did not know why he was still alive.

However, in 1845 he was able to return to research and extend some of his theoretical views. It was at this point that potentially his faith or perhaps simply a universal purpose stepped in. In spite of all he dealt with, something made him puzzled and caused Faraday to return back to his creative ways. That was his incredibly complicated effort to prove light is linked to electricity and magnetism.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via National Geographic]

The Optics Are Clear As Glass

Trying to prove light had any connection to electricity and magnetism was a tall order. This would have been hard for anyone, especially the elder Faraday. He would do several experiments to prove this but failed many times. That was until he looked to his shelf, and noticed the brick of glass from his greatest failure years prior. It was the key to proving the connection! He used left and right circularly polarized waves, which were placed at slightly different speeds (known as circular birefringence).

Linear polarization can be decomposed into a superposition of two equal-amplitude, circularly polarized components of opposite handedness and a different phase. When this is done, you’ll get a relative phase shift, induced by Faraday’s discovery. This manages to rotate the orientation of a wave’s linear polarization. Today, we know this entire experiment and concept: The Faraday Effect.

It has since been used for measuring instruments. You can see used to measure optical rotatory power & remote sensing of magnetic fields. Think of Fiber Optic Current Sensors there. The Faraday Effect is also used in Spintronics (or spin electronics). On top of that, Faraday Rotators can also be used for amplitude modulation of light and are how we were given optical isolators and optical circulators. The same stuff used in optical telecommunications and various laser applications.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via PopTika/Shutterstock.com]

Final Word

Near the end of his life, Faraday proposed that electromagnetic forces extend into empty spaces around conductors. Many of his scientific peers rejected this idea, and sadly Faraday did not live to see it through. He passed away in 1867 before finding out.

Faraday’s concept was that lines of flux emanating from charged bodies and magnets somehow provide a way to visualize electronic and magnetic fields. This conceptual model eventually became crucial to the creation of electromechanical devices that now dominate the world of engineering and overall “industry.” They’d remain present from the 19th Century to even today.

While he did not live to see it, Faraday’s concept became accepted by British scientists and eventually the rest of the world. It is compelling that even in death, Michael Faraday had to have the last word. He spent his entire life showing how things once thought impossible was possible. It should not surprise anyone when his concepts become indisputably factual.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Claudio Divizia/Shutterstock.com]

The Titles And Praises Given Or Offered To Michael Faraday

While Faraday accepted the kind gesture from Oxford, he was offered Knighthood by the Royal Family and turned it down. He felt it was wrong to do for religious reasons. He felt it was against the word of the Bible to gather riches and pursue a worldly reward. Michael claimed he did not care to be known as a “Sir.” He stated he was happy being “plain Mr. Faraday to the end.” The Royal Family did get the last laugh and awarded him “grace and favour.” This is a home owned by the monarchy.

In 1832, Faraday was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He’d be elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1838. Then was one of just eight foreign people elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1844. Yet in 1849, Faraday was elected as an associated member to the Royal Institute of the Netherlands. When it later became the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was made a foreign member.

Faraday was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1824 but refused to become President of the Society both times he was nominated. He did accept becoming the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at The Royal Institution when offered in 1833, however. Faraday felt that passing on his wisdom, similar to the kindness Davy showed him, would be the best thing he could do for the sciences.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via Lononist]

Michael Faraday Gave Back To Education

What makes Michael Faraday so impressive is that he was clearly a genius. Yet he never really had a formal education. This is why a lot of the time, in his experiments, he struggled to get the math right. Some feel that he would have discovered a lot more had he been given a proper education. Misunderstandings of his abilities and how he learned combined with being a member of a large poor family made things harder.

Faraday would actually be asked about the education system in Great Britain when he became famous. He was, umm…not positive. This forced the nation to reconsider how it taught their youth. In spite of walking into a world of science with a slight handicap compared to his peers, Faraday excelled. He is now known as one of the greatest Physics and Chemists to ever live, with a lot of his discoveries or inventions still used in some form to this day.

The best thing that Faraday started is the Christmas Lectures. He would teach this, even debut some new concepts, every year from 1827 to 1860. They were taught at the Royal Institution each Christmas and were always and remain to this day, a free event for young people to attend. To this day, there is a Christmas Lecture for young people taught here. Yet the concept also made its way to other countries, who also do it.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via VectorMine/Shutterstock.com]

Total Faraday Discoveries

Keep in mind that discoveries are not inventions, but sometimes you need to discover something before you can invent something using it. Faraday managed to discover a lot in his life. Due to his work with Humphry Davy, he worked a lot in chemistry. That could be why he managed to discover Benzene. This highly flammable compound is often known by its molecular name today, C6H6.

He also discovered Electromagnetic Induction, which we referenced earlier. On top of this, he discovered Electrolysis. He actually has two laws involved in it that we recommend you check into. Of course, we also referenced how he was able to prove that light, electricity, and magnetism had a connection. Faraday also discovered and coined the term of diamagnetism, a repulsion of the magnetic field.

This is not even referencing all the other things he managed to do without realizing it or living to see it. True impressiveness comes into play when your discoveries can be utilized for many years to come in other places. Faraday’s push for acceptance of electromagnetic material in Physics completely revolutionized it. Think about all that would never have happened without it.

Michael Faraday’s Electric Life Was Legendary
[Image via InterestingEngineering.com]

Total Faraday Inventions

If you thought he discovered a lot of things, he likely invented more than we can possibly cover here. Of course, we referenced his work that resulted in the very first motor as well as the first generator. Yet that was not all. There were some things that he began but never went into full detail about. Likely the most famous is Cryogenetics, which he began in his laboratory in 1823 when he was able to produce sub-freezing temperatures.

He also invented things to protect himself as well as other objects. One is known as the Faraday Cage. It shields things from electromagnetic radiation. In fact, it is capable of hiding something from an x-ray. Some have since used a form of it to pass through airport security. Some even use one to shield their phones from cybercriminals. Faraday had no idea how useful his inventions would one day become.

He was also a pioneer in Electrochemistry, adding words like anode, ion, cathode, and electrode to the scientific vernacular. We still hear about them in science classes across the planet to this day. Faraday was also the first to report what we later referred to metallic nanoparticles. This is why he’s often credited in the birth of nanoscience. Faraday even got involved in what we’d later call environmental science as he investigated pollution at Swansea, then tried to help resolve it.