Electrical motor

How to get incredible powers from electricity and magnetism

Michael Faraday (London, September 22, 1791 – London, August 25, 1867)

Michael Faraday laid the foundation for everything we know today about electrical and magnetic phenomena. In 1831 he discovered the way in which mechanical energy could be converted into electrical energy. He thus became, as it were, the inventor of the electric motor.

The greatest British genius of the first half of the nineteenth century was born the son of a poor blacksmith in the suburbs of London. He barely went to school and had to earn his living as a child as an apprentice to a bookbinder.

His parents were members of the Sandemanians, a cult that viewed nature as "a book written by the finger of God."

In his spare time he read everything he could get his hands on about science in the bookbindery. He noticed very early that he was suffering from temporary amnesia. So he wrote everything down. Many of his diaries have been lost or destroyed.

Others give a very precise picture of his doings, his view of the world and, above all, what drove him. He managed to become an assistant to the well-known scholar Humphry Davy. Assistant is a big word. In fact, he was more of a valet.

He did help Davy with his experiments, but as a 24-year-old he also had to shave his master, polish his shoes or empty his chamber pot.

If Davy drove around in a carriage, Faraday was on the box in all weathers. If Davy was asleep in the cabin of a ship, Faraday would try to fall asleep above deck under the open sky.

At a dinner with a French scholar, Davy once sent his assistant into the kitchen to eat. "Then I will also sit in the kitchen," said the Frenchman, who immediately realized what was going on. And so Faraday was allowed to sit at Davy's table.

Faraday had the amazing talent to come up with new, special experiments all the time. The lad, who had only had a few years of primary education, very quickly began to surpass his learned master.

As the son of a blacksmith and from his bondage, he was very practical and technically inclined. And he wrote everything down. He had to, because the amnesia worsened with age. From August 1832 he began to number his experiments.

On January 15, for example, he describes the construction of what will later be called 'the Faraday cage': a cage-shaped construction of electrically conductive material such as copper or iron that ensures that electromagnetic radiation cannot penetrate inside the cage.

All kinds of interference fields, such as from lightning strikes, have no influence in a Faraday cage.

His experiments come to a halt on the number 16,041, in 1860, when he was 69. All those years he gave his wildly popular Friday night lectures at the Royal Institution in London. The auditorium was always packed to the brim. The average number of visitors was eight hundred.

Sometimes, in a lecture on magnetism in 1851, someone counted one thousand twenty-eight men.

To do this well, the little man had taken evening classes: there he learned, for example, how to place his feet when speaking, how to move his arms and hands, and what to do with his eyes. And above all, he learned to explain something plainly and clearly.

He was finally able to free himself from his poor-people accent and always spoke with a sign on the table in front of him on which the word 'slow' was written in capitals. The servant had become a master teacher.
You could always ask Faraday for an expertise: he descended into a coal mine to analyze the dangers; or he visited a munitions factory to see how another disaster could be avoided. He spent half his life as a lighting consultant for an organization that managed lighthouses.

At 72 he was still in Dover. He wrote in his diary: 'The roads were closed because of the snow. Climbing over hedges and walls and crossing fields, I still made it to the lighthouse and was able to make the required surveys and observations.'

Towards the end of his life, he became very concerned about the quality of science lessons in education. Nothing he had preached for fifty years had reached secondary school.

He who thought that politics was "the basest of human passions" allowed himself to be tempted to sit on a government committee for the improvement of science education.

It was a shock to the old man to find that the politicians only thought about the expensive boarding schools. They were well-educated people who nagged him for years to scientifically prove the power of the laying on of hands and the spinning of tables at spiritualistic séances.

And Faraday wrote: 'At the end of their education they are ignorant of their own ignorance. And all I can say is that there is something wrong with an education system that leaves these minds – the brightest of them – in such a state.'

"Give me the most simple funeral," he said, "attended by none but my relatives, and afterwards place the simplest tombstone, on a simple piece of earth." And so it happened.

Faraday is not in Westminster Abbey with giants like Newton and Darwin, where he really belonged. His tombstone in Highgate Cemetery does not indicate that it was he who taught mankind how to extract incredible power from electricity and magnetism.

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