Today much of the modern world is powered by electricity. The use of this type of energy is therefore not exactly unknown to us.

But in order to be able to use lamps, computers, life support equipment or rechargeable batteries, a great deal of discovery had to be made first. And while some of these date back to before Christ, for the most part how to generate and apply electricity has been researched and discovered during the Modern Age.

One of the great pioneering personalities who made possible the development of studies on electricity and electromagnetism was Michael Faraday. He was the main discoverer of electromagnetic induction and electrolysis, whose practical application has made possible a very important technological development. The history of this researcher is therefore of great interest, which is why in this article we will see a biography of Michael Faraday .

The life of Michael Faraday: a brief biography

Michael Faraday was born on September 22, 1791, in the village of Newington Butt (which today is not a village but one of the London boroughs) in the English region of Surrey. He was the third of four brothers, sons of the stable blacksmith James Faraday and Margaret Hastwell.

The Faraday family, working class and peasant, had very few resources and could only offer their offspring a basic education. Initially he would go to school, but later his family decided to take him out of school and have him study at home.

It was also common for children to have to contribute financially to support the family, something that made Michael Faraday have to deliver newspapers since he was a child. Also largely due to family beliefs a great religious conviction was born in him, and he became part of the Sandemanian church . This faith would be a source of peace and strength for the scientist throughout his life.

Youth and first jobs

In 1805, at the age of fourteen, the young Faraday began an apprenticeship as a bookbinder with a bookseller for whom he had previously run several errands, George Riebau. During this period, which would last seven years, his work allowed him to have a deep contact with a great number of literary works. He also began to cultivate a certain predilection for electrical phenomena, after reading various articles and works on chemistry and electricity.

As he grew up, so did his scientific interest (along with his disenchantment with the commercial world) and thanks to his brother he was able to begin to attend and form part of the Philosophical Society of the city, governed by John Tatum.

His contact with this group allowed him to begin to know the work of the chemist Humphry Davy, who was going to give a series of lectures on the site. One of the members of the group arranged tickets for him, so that he was able to attend the lectures given by the chemist at the Royal Institution . He took a lot of notes and was able to write a small booklet. Faraday decided to send a copy to Davy and ask him to work as his assistant so that he could devote himself to science.

Beginning your learning in science

Humphrey Davy received the application and, since there was a vacant assistant position and he had also had a small accident that had left him temporarily blind, he accepted Faraday first as his secretary. When his previous assistant had to be fired, he also offered the position to Michael Faraday, who became his assistant in 1813.

Despite the fact that the chemist’s wife always showed him deep contempt and would treat him like a servant, Humphry would become his protector and teacher and together with him Faraday was able to travel (despite the conflict of the time), work and investigate aspects such as the composition of the diamond or witness the discovery of benzene.

He would also make numerous contacts and learn about chemistry in particular. In this respect he came to excel, something that made it possible for few people after returning from such trips Faraday could begin to give training on this subject. In 1815 he published Analysis of Caustic Lime of Tuscany , his first work, as well as numerous articles.

Great Discoveries

He was subsequently asked to write opinion pieces on the scientific contributions of various authors, which would make him recreate their experiments and meet the original authors.

It was in this context that Faraday began to make important discoveries: in 1821 he discovered the way to apply existing knowledge about electromagnetism to a first electromagnetic rotor . That same year he married a young woman whom he had met in his church, Sarah Barnard, and after his previous success he began to focus on and publish on the subject of electricity and magnetism.

In 1824 he was appointed to the Royal Society, and a year later he was appointed director of the Royal Society laboratory that his mentor was running at the time he met him. He began to give talks and lectures both at Christmas (the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures) and weekly (the Friday Evening Discourses).

In 1831 he made another of his great discoveries, electromagnetic induction. During the year 1832 he discovered, or rather empirically proved the existence of electrolysis . Also at that time, specifically in 1836, he developed the Faraday Cage in order to generate an electromagnetically protected area to prevent external electricity from reaching its interior. He was awarded various prizes and honours, including some that were rejected such as the presidency of the Royal Society or the title of knight.

Another of his investigations, this time linked to the study of light strength , gave rise to the well-known Faraday effect. This effect proposes that the action of a magnetic field can affect the polarization of light, something that corresponds to his idea that light, electricity and magnetism are related.

Last years and death

The 1860s would be the decade that would begin to mark the decline of this great author. Already in 1839 he had suffered problems and a nervous breakdown, and little by little he began to show symptoms on a neuropsychiatric level . He died at his home in Hampton Court at the age of 75, on August 25, 1867.

His legacy is enormous: his research has greatly improved the knowledge of electromagnetic phenomena and inspired authors such as Maxwell and Thomas Edison. Electric motors or even the light bulb could hardly have been built without his work.

Bibliographic references:

  • Baggott, J. (1991). “The myth of Michael Faraday: Michael Faraday was not just one of Britain’s greatest experimenters. A closer look at the man and his work reveals that he was also a clever theoretician”. New Scientist.