back to article Saturn's rings, radio waves ... poetry? At home with Scotland's Mr Physics

Say the the word “radio” and the mind goes to Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian emigrant whose work on the watershed of Cornwall and the Atlantic Ocean helped turn wireless into the defining medium of the early 20th Century. But radio wasn’t invented by Marconi – or any one person. Rather, it was discovered, and the man who drove …

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  2. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

    Whilst in the area....

    Should you be making the trip from further afield to spend some time in Auld Reekie (Edinburgh) then you are missing a geek-treat if you do not take a trip over the water to Fife to visit the excellent Museum of Communications in Burntisland. Rather conveniently, take the train from Edinburgh and you'll get to cross the Forth Bridge, which may placate other-halfs and kids too....

    1. AbelSoul
      Thumb Up

      Re: Whilst in the area....

      I had no idea about this. Cheers for the head's up.

      As an aside, I'm guessing the Edinburgh station in question is Waverley and not one of the several other stations in the city ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Whilst in the area....

        The walking tour starts at St. John's Church, which can be found by emerging from..........

        Edinburgh Waverly station and taking a left at the top of the Waverley Steps Exit walk east along Princes Street for just under a mile, when the church will be visible on the left on the corner with Lothian Road.

        Edinburgh Haymarket station is about the same distance (turn right on exiting), but a much less scenic route.

        1. jphb

          Re: Whilst in the area....

          If you turn left on exiting Waverley Station you will be walking WEST along Princes Street, not East.

          And whilst you're checking this out on Google Street View switch 3D photo-realistic buildings on and,

          if you're PC's up to it, enjoy.

  3. Nameless Dread

    This would be the same Maxwell who invented a daemon to watch, wait and open a door to let only hot (speedy) particles go from one chamber into another and only cool particles go in the opposite direction, thus contravening the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. (He knew it wouldn't work of course, because measuring the speed changed the entropy of the system.)

    Nowadays, daemons which watch, wait and do things, are alive and well in Unix systems. Their names end in "d". (systemd, etc, anyone ?)

    1. David Given

      I believe that both Maxwell's daemons and Unix daemons are named after the daimons from Greek mythology, which are invisible agents which mediate between them and humans, known only by their actions. They're neither good nor evil, although they may do good or evil things (which to my mind makes the description spot-on accurate in the Unix sense).

      Wikipedia's got lots more information but the page is incredibly mangled. The Talk page is worth a laugh, though.

      1. The last doughnut

        In fact they are named after the Ferengi daimons of Star Trek the Next Generation.

        I thank you.

  4. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Not measured

    Apols in advance for tips & corrections in these comments, but my email is down while I rebuild my main computer. But, as others have said, interesting article.

    1. "The breakthrough was his measurement of the speed of electromagnetism".

    It was not a measurement but a prediction: a formula based on known electromagentic constants, arising from his equations.

    2. "(Principle's) daughter". No, principal's.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Not measured

      A constant which interestingly wanted to STAY constant, whatever the galilean reference frame.

  5. Colin Ritchie

    We can't even think of a word that rhymes.

    Having studied Physics briefly at Heriot Watt, I was shocked to find out I knew nothing of Maxwell's existence. I used to walk down Heriot Row without even being aware of his birthplace round the corner. The shame!

    1. PCar

      Re: We can't even think of a word that rhymes.

      You went to the wrong university to study physics ;)

      Ray forgot to mention a building built long before Edinburgh Academy's new Maxwell building.

      "School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh

      The James Clerk Maxwell Building (JCMB) is the administrative and teaching centre of the School and is located within the University of Edinburgh's King's Buildings campus, situated about 2 miles south of the city centre.

      Almost all undergraduate teaching in years two and above takes place here; some Astrophysics teaching takes place in the nearby Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

      JCMB houses the Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics and the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems."

      Building is huge:

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: We can't even think of a word that rhymes.

      I was shocked to find out I knew nothing of Maxwell's existence

      Did the curriculum stop after Newton?

      1. Colin Ritchie

        Re: We can't even think of a word that rhymes.

        No, I stopped after only 1 term with no job and a mounting student debt. I calculated I would be about £17000 in the red after 3 years and quit, went and got a job instead. That was 20 years ago, now I study polymer processing in Ireland.

        I would have loved to have seen the historical physicists featured in the course, especially as some were right on my doorstep.

  6. defiler

    Let's not forget JCMB

    The James Clerk Maxwell Building at the Kings Buildings campus of Edinburgh University. Legendary for having no Ground floor, having the front door come into the second floor and the enigmatic sign that said "level 1" and "other level 1".

    Oh, and Mays cafe. But that's another tale (or ten)...

  7. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Maxwell's real breakthrough in electromagnetic theory was positing the displacement current, which is the rate of change of electric flux density , dD/dt. There was no empirical reason to expect this, but it made the equations nicely balanced by adding a term analogous to dB/dt. Everything else in the equations predated Maxwell, but he unified them and, by adding displacement current, git EM radiation to pop neatly out. It has - rightly, I think- be described as one of the greatest intellectual leaps ever made.

    Incidentally, Maxwell's own house, Glenlair in Galloway, is regularly open to visitors. The main part of the house was destroyed by fire years ago, but the surviving bit is under restoration. While in the area you can also visit Maxwell's grave in Parton kirk yard and see a memorial window in Corsock kirk, for which (the building) he paid. It's claimed to have the only stained glass representation of Maxwell's equations in the world.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      OTOH, the original "Maxwell Equations" were rather less pleasant to look at than today. It took a serious refactoring effort during the next 25 years:

      The Long Road to Maxwell's Equations

      It could be argued that these equations got their start 150 years ago this month, when Maxwell presented his theory uniting electricity and magnetism before the Royal Society of London, publishing a full report the next year, in 1865. It was this work that set the stage for all the great accomplishments in physics, telecommunications, and electrical engineering that were to follow.

      But there was a long gap between the presentation and the utilization. The mathematical and conceptual underpinnings of Maxwell’s theory were so complicated and counterintuitive that his theory was largely neglected after it was first introduced.

      It took nearly 25 years for a small group of physicists, themselves obsessed with the mysteries of electricity and magnetism, to put Maxwell’s theory on solid footing. They were the ones who gathered the experimental evidence needed to confirm that light is made up of electromagnetic waves. And they were the ones who gave his equations their present form. Without the Herculean efforts of this group of “Maxwellians,” so named by historian Bruce J. Hunt, of the University of Texas at Austin, it might have taken decades more before our modern conception of electricity and magnetism was widely adopted. And that would have delayed all the incredible science and technology that was to follow.

      1. JeffyPoooh


        Yep. Oliver Heaviside.

        1. RobHib

          @JeffyPoooh — Re: Oliver!

          An echo....

          Yep. Oliver Heaviside

          (And another here: Oliver Heaviside — see my footnote.)

    2. malcolmd3111

      Displacement Current - a massive fraud

      Maxwell made as people say "one of the greatest intellectual leaps ever made." Sadly, this may look fine in a a mathematical sense, but doesn't stand up to critical analysis. All electrical energy is, by definition TEM (Transverse Electromagnetic) with the Electric Field E and Magnetic Field H inextricably linked. In a Capacitor so called Displacement current is merely the measurement of an H field during a changing TEM applied signal. (Whether this is the Charging of said device or an applied time varying signal)

      Regardless of any mathematical convenience there is no such thing as Displacement Current in the real world.

  8. Faux Science Slayer

    "Marquise" Marconi was a low level noble PATENT THIEF and FRAUD....

    Marconi was selected by the Rothschild/Rockefeller crime syndicate to steal a year old Russian, useless single band broadcast patent to get a UK patent, then visit America and file the four Tesla radio patents that had sat for four years in the Rockefeller controlled crooked office. The Rockefeller syndicate stole every worthwhile patent from Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla, described in....

    "I'll Take Some E Pluribus....but HOLD the Unum" under History at FauxScienceSlayer site.

    This article to be updated soon with info on the THEFT of twelve patents from the Wright Brothers and the telephone patent theft by Alexander Bell. Virtually everything you "know" about the past century of science and history is a FRAUD.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: "Marquise" Marconi was a low level noble PATENT THIEF and FRAUD....

      Stormfront member, please.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: "Marquise" Marconi was a low level noble PATENT THIEF and FRAUD....

      Hey! It's been a while1 since we last heard from our resident kook. How's life in Science Conspiracy Cuckoo Land? Still hitting the Caps Lock, I see!

      1Just three weeks, apparently, according to the Reg archives. But it seems longer.

    3. Francis Boyle

      Re: "Marquise" Marconi was a low level noble PATENT THIEF and FRAUD....

      Faux Science Slayer thinks someone stole something from Edison. Now I know he really is crazy.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not visit his mansion in the countryside?

    Physics undergrads at Edinburgh can (or used to be able to) go and spend a reading week at his mansion. Pleasant coutryside for walking although by no means the most dramatic in Scotland. And there's a bar.

    If this is the same mansion (mists of time, can't remember where it was) then it is also open to the public.

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