University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cavendish Physical Society > Special CPS lecture : MAKING EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS BITE: JAMES CLERK MAXWELL AND THE FOUNDING OF THE CAVENDISH LABORATORY

Special CPS lecture : MAKING EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS BITE: JAMES CLERK MAXWELL AND THE FOUNDING OF THE CAVENDISH LABORATORY

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Leona Hope-Coles.

Synopsis: “… it will need a good deal of effort to make Exp. Physics bite into our University system which is so continuous and complete without it…” wrote James Clerk Maxwell on taking up his appointment as the first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge. This talk examines how Maxwell approached the challenge, establishing the Cavendish Laboratory and defining the place of experimental physics. It considers fresh evidence and situates Maxwell’s approaches to physics and teaching within the context of his time.

Isobel Falconer is the leading authority on the early history of the Cavendish Laboratory. Her book with Professor E.A. Davis J.J. Thomson and the Discovery of the Electron (1997) is the authoritative discussion of what Thomson and his colleagues actually did. In 1989 she contributed a chapter JJ Thomson and ‘Cavendish’ Physics to the volume The Development of the Laboratory. She has written the biographies of numerous Cavendish physicists for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, including major essays on Barkla, Campbell, Chadwick, Larmor, Mott, Raman and JJ Thomson. Recently she has been helping Lord Rayleigh with the scoping of his archive collection. She was responsible for the cataloguing and setting up of the permanent exhibition of historic apparatus in the Cavendish museum, as well as writing the Outline Guide to the Museum. Her chapter in the forthcoming book James Clerk Maxwell (OUP 2014) is entitled “Building the Cavendish and time at Cambridge’. There will be on display in the lecture a number of Maxwell’s original pieces of apparatus and some of these will be used in live demonstrations.

This talk is part of the Cavendish Physical Society series.

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