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Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday FRS was an English scientist who contributed to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. His main discoveries include the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis.

As a chemist, Faraday discovered benzene, investigated the clathrate hydrate of chlorine, invented an early form of the Bunsen burner and the system of oxidation numbers, and popularised terminology such as "anode", "cathode", "electrode" and "ion". Faraday ultimately became the first and foremost Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, a lifetime position.

At the age of 14 he became an apprentice to George Riebau, a local bookbinder and bookseller in Blandford Street. During his seven-year apprenticeship Faraday read many books, including Isaac Watts's The Improvement of the Mind, and he enthusiastically implemented the principles and suggestions contained therein. He also developed an interest in science, especially in electricity. Faraday was particularly inspired by the book Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet.

In the class-based English society of the time, Faraday was not considered a gentleman. When Davy set out on a long tour of the continent in 181315, his valet did not wish to go, so instead, Faraday went as Davy's scientific assistant and was asked to act as Davy's valet until a replacement could be found in Paris. Faraday was forced to fill the role of valet as well as assistant throughout the trip. Davy's wife, Jane Apreece, refused to treat Faraday as an equal (making him travel outside the coach, eat with the servants, etc.), and made Faraday so miserable that he contemplated returning to England alone and giving up science altogether. The trip did, however, give him access to the scientific elite of Europe and exposed him to a host of stimulating ideas.

In 1832, Faraday was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1838, and was one of eight foreign members elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1844. In 1849 he was elected as associated member to the Royal Institute of the Netherlands, which two years later became the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and he was subsequently made foreign member.

Faraday's earliest chemical work was as an assistant to Humphry Davy. Faraday was specifically involved in the study of chlorine; he discovered two new compounds of chlorine and carbon. He also conducted the first rough experiments on the diffusion of gases, a phenomenon that was first pointed out by John Dalton. The physical importance of this phenomenon was more fully revealed by Thomas Graham and Joseph Loschmidt. Faraday succeeded in liquefying several gases, investigated the alloys of steel, and produced several new kinds of glass intended for optical purposes. A specimen of one of these heavy glasses subsequently became historically important; when the glass was placed in a magnetic field Faraday determined the rotation of the plane of polarisation of light. This specimen was also the first substance found to be repelled by the poles of a magnet.

Faraday was the first to report what later came to be called metallic nanoparticles. In 1847 he discovered that the optical properties of gold colloids differed from those of the corresponding bulk metal. This was probably the first reported observation of the effects of quantum size, and might be considered to be the birth of nanoscience.

In 1832, he completed a series of experiments aimed at investigating the fundamental nature of electricity; Faraday used "static", batteries, and "animal electricity" to produce the phenomena of electrostatic attraction, electrolysis, magnetism, etc. He concluded that, contrary to the scientific opinion of the time, the divisions between the various "kinds" of electricity were illusory. Faraday instead proposed that only a single "electricity" exists, and the changing values of quantity and intensity (current and voltage) would produce different groups of phenomena.

In his work on static electricity, Faraday's ice pail experiment demonstrated that the charge resided only on the exterior of a charged conductor, and exterior charge had no influence on anything enclosed within a conductor. This is because the exterior charges redistribute such that the interior fields emanating from them cancel one another. This shielding effect is used in what is now known as a Faraday cage.

Beyond his scientific research into areas such as chemistry, electricity, and magnetism at the Royal Institution, Faraday undertook numerous, and often time-consuming, service projects for private enterprise and the British government. This work included investigations of explosions in coal mines, being an expert witness in court, and along with two engineers from Chance Brothers c.1853, the preparation of high-quality optical glass, which was required by Chance for its lighthouses. In 1846, together with Charles Lyell, he produced a lengthy and detailed report on a serious explosion in the colliery at Haswell, County Durham, which killed 95 miners. Their report was a meticulous forensic investigation and indicated that coal dust contributed to the severity of the explosion. The report should have warned coal owners of the hazard of coal dust explosions, but the risk was ignored for over 60 years until the Senghenydd Colliery Disaster of 1913.

A statue of Faraday stands in Savoy Place, London, outside the Institution of Engineering and Technology. The Michael Faraday Memorial, designed by brutalist architect Rodney Gordon and completed in 1961, is at the Elephant & Castle gyratory system, near Faraday's birthplace at Newington Butts, London. Faraday School is located on Trinity Buoy Wharf where his workshop still stands above the Chain and Buoy Store, next to London's only lighthouse. Faraday Gardens is a small park in Walworth, London, not far from his birthplace at Newington Butts. It lies within the local council ward of Faraday in the London Borough of Southwark. Michael Faraday Primary school is situated on the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth.