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Lecture: James Clerk Maxwell (1831 - 1879)

Professor C. W. Francis Everitt of Stanford University offered a lecture celebrating the life of James Clerk Maxwell, the physicist and natural philosopher. Prof Everitt is a biographer of Maxwell, and the principal investigator on NASA's Gravity Probe B, which was launched 2on April 2004. Particular emphasis was placed on Maxwell's critical contribution to the development of the concept of a "field" in all its many applications essential to the understanding of electro-magnetism, gravity and light, with the unifying and central concept that of the velocity of light. This particular chain of understanding stretches fiom the complete absence of the concept of a field in the natural philosophy of Newton, through its introduction into physics by Michael Faraday, its mathematical embodiment by Maxwell, its refinement by the "Maxwellians" and then on to its celebrated extension in two senses by Einstein - in 1905 in the context of special relativity, and in 1916 in the context of general relativity.

Apart from the theory of electromagnetism and the concept of the electromagnetic field (1 854-1 8779), Maxwell made seminal contributions to color vision (1 850- 1870), thermodynamics ("Theory of Heat", 1870), the understanding of Saturn's rings (1855- 1859), statistical and molecular physics (1 859-1 879)' optics (1 853- 1867), governors (theory of servomechanisms) (1868), as well as photoelasticity, viscoelasticity and engineering structures; and in his last years designed and developed the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge.

The dinner and lecture took place at Stanford in Washington, 2661 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. on October 29&, 2005.