Michael Faraday, grand unified theorist? (1851)

by / Wednesday, 04 October 2017 / Published in Electrical Engineering

At long last, I get to blog about the paper that first piqued my interest about the research of Michael Faraday!  If you haven’t been following my Faraday posts, let me give a quick recap: Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was one of the greatest experimental physicists of all time, and the discoverer of some of the most important effects related to electricity and magnetism.  I’ve blogged previously about his discovery of electromagnetic induction, his work in proving that all forms of electricity have the same common origin, and his demonstration of the relationship between light and magnetism (Faraday rotation). I haven’t even had time to discuss Faraday’s contributions in formulating the laws of electrolysis, understanding diamagnetism, and inventing the Faraday cage.

The common thread of many of these discoveries is their goal: demonstrating that all the physical forces of nature are but different manifestations of a single, ‘universal’ force.  This idea was a surprisingly modern one for Faraday’s time, and is known today as a unified field theory.  Such research was likely on the minds of many researchers of that era, however: once Ørsted discovered that a magnetic compass needle could be deflected by an electric current, the notion that all forces might be related was a tantalizing dream.  Faraday went further than any of his contemporaries in realizing that dream, and experimentally cemented the link between electricity and magnetism and light.  Faraday was by no means done, however, and in 1851 he published the results of his attempts to demonstrate that electricity and gravity are related!

Though his results were negative, they are a fascinating piece of experimental work and provide some lessons for modern day theorists and experimentalists alike.

Read full article here.