Michael Faraday for Kids: His Life, Work, and Legacy
Portrait of Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday's Education
Michael Faraday was a British Citizen, born in London in 1791.
You would expect one of the most important scientists in history to have been educated at the best schools and a fine university. But you would be wrong.
Michael Faraday was born the son of a humble blacksmith and left school before he'd completed fourth grade.
When he was old enough, he was apprenticed to a firm of bookbinders. In every spare moment that he could find, the young man taught himself to read and began devouring every book he could lay his hands on.
So he began educating himself. He read untold numbers of books while he was an apprentice. Through his reading he developed a fascination with science.
Before long, he had studied some of the most serious academic works of his day.
Michael Faraday and Sir Humphrey Davy
When he was twenty years old, he was able to attend the public lectures at the recently founded Royal Institution in London.
The president of the Institution at that time was Sir Humphrey Davy.
It was Sir Humphrey who had invented the famous miner's lamp. The Davy Lamp was especially designed for miners to use in underground atmospheres where there was the risk of flammable gasses being present.
The lamp included a mesh screen which allowed gasses in so they could be burned but prevented the burning from spreading so they could not cause an explosion.
Michael Faraday's Early Career
While he was attending the lectures at the Royal Institution, he made lots of notes. Eventually he decided to send these notes to Sir Humphrey Davy. It was a wise move as on the basis of the notes Sir Humphrey offered him a permanent position as his private secretary.
His genius was soon recognized and in 1813, at the age of just twenty-two, he was made Chemical Experimental Assistant for the Royal Institution.
He became well known as an experimenter. He was particularly good at working out new experiments to test ideas, designing everything himself and sometimes even inventing and making new equipment.
His lively imagination and enthusiasm led him to make many valuable contributions to the experimental methods of science.
Michael Faraday's Work as a Chemist
Michael Faraday's early work was as a chemist.
He was especially interested in the effects and uses of electrolysis.
Electrolysis is a method of breaking down certain chemical compounds by applying an electric current.
At the time, the way electrolysis worked was not very well understood. Faraday worked out the physical and chemical rules that governed the operation of electrolysis and formulated what are now known as 'Faraday's Law' and 'Faraday's Constant.'
Modern calculations in electrolysis still use these same laws.
Electrolysis is now widely used in industry, in the manufacture of many useful chemicals and gasses and in processes such as copper plating.
Michael Faraday's Early Work
- isolated the chemical benzene - the basis of gasoline and other fuels.
- worked out how to liquefy the gas, chlorine - now widely used in the sanitization of drinking water and swimming pools and as a bleach in paper and cloth manufacturing.
- discovered the rotation of polarized light - which helps chemists measure the concentration of chemical substances.
Inventor of the First Electric Motor
Michael Faraday's most important and lasting contribution to science - and all our lives - was the invention of the electric motor.
Through his work with electrolysis, Faraday became fascinated by electricity and magnetism, which at the time were thought to be separate forces. Modern physicists now recognize a single electromagnetic force.
Faraday realized that there was a connection between magnetism and electricity and that the two could act on each other to create movement. And the electric motor was born.
Had it not been for Faraday we may never have had the electric motor. Just think of all the everyday items that have one: computers, washing machines, power tools, kitchen goods, toys, clocks, medical equipment, satellites... can you imagine a world without them?
In many ways we owe the very shape of the modern world and the way we live in it to the genius of Michael Faraday.
An Early Electric Motor
Make Your Own Faraday Electric Motor
You can easily make your own Faraday Electric Motor simply using objects that you can likely find around the home or in the local stores.
This is very similar to the motor that was first demonstrated by Michael Faraday back in 1821.
Watch the following video which gives you step-by-step instructions on how to make a Faraday Motor.
Keep watching after the demonstration for a full explanation of why and how it works.
Things You Will Need to Make a Faraday Electric Motor
- a large jar
- sticky tape
- copper wire
- aluminium foil
- wire and crocodile clips
- a glass
- salt water
- 9 volt battery.
- paper clips
Build an Electric Motor Step-by-Step Guide
Faraday also discovered the process of magnetic induction which is the foundation of all modern electronics.
He was able to demonstrate that it was possible for one electric current to induce the generation of another electric current.
Illustration of Faraday's Ring
He invented a device composed of two copper coils - wire wound around an iron ring. If a current was passed through one of the coils, then a corresponding current would be generated in the other.
He then experimented with passing a magnet in and out of the copper coil. He found that doing this created a new current in the wire coil.
He had invented the first dynamo. It is exactly the same principle that is used today in modern power stations.
Demonstration of Electromagnetic Induction and Faraday's Law
Michael Faraday and Public Life
Michael Faraday dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of science and invention.
However, he became a widely known and highly respected figure and was involved in many positive social causes connected to the environment and public health.
He was responsible, in 1885, for demonstrating the link between the polluted state of the River Thames and the incidence of disease epidemics across the city of London, which led to new policies ensuring the river's return to a healthy condition. The Thames is now one of the cleanest rivers in Europe.
He also made a significant contribution to the design of modern lighthouses and many other things.
The Royal Institution
The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures
Michael Faraday was also an engaging and charismatic public speaker.
No doubt remembering how important the lectures at the Royal Institution had been for him as a young man, he began to give demonstration lectures especially for young people every Christmas.
These proved very popular, and the tradition has continued long after his death. The annual demonstrations and lectures are now broadcast on television by the BBC and some of the greatest scientists of our own time from all over the world have given them.
Michael Faraday Documentary
Michael Faraday, a Humble Genius
Michael Faraday was devoutly religious and a very humble man.
In 1853 the War Office requested him to turn his talents to make chemical weapons for use in the Crimean War but he refused on grounds of conscience.
He was also offered the Knighthood twice and both times he declined the honor.
Despite repeated requests, he also refused to take up the role as President of the Royal Society.
He died peacefully in 1867.
His contribution to our lives is something that we see around us all the time.
So next time you flick a switch and something happens, give thanks for the life of Michael Faraday.
Michael Faraday in a Nutshell
Secretary to Sir Humphrey Davy
First Electric Motor
First Christmas Lecture
Cleaning Thames River
I really hope that you have enjoyed finding out about Michael Faraday as much as I have.
He was an extraordinary man and made such a huge contribution not only to science but to every aspect of modern life.
Below, there are some further resources if you would like to find out more about him and his work.
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Find out more...
- Collections : RI Channel
Royal Institution Channel Collections - an amazing resource!
- The Royal Institution of Great Britain | Faraday Museum
Michael Faraday for beginners
- BBC - History - Michael Faraday
Discover the life story of Michael Faraday the British 19th century inventor and electrical pioneer.
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© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn