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Inspiring Brilliance: Celebrating Maxwell\'s Genius and Legacy

Posted 23/11/2015

The profound impact of James Clerk Maxwell, whose work continues to influence scientific and technological innovation, was celebrated by leading academics at the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s recent conference, Inspiring Brilliance: Celebrating Maxwell’s Genius and Legacy.

Nobel Laureate, Professor Peter Higgs, CH FRS FRSE was among the eminent speakers from across the UK who gathered to discuss Maxwell’s outstanding contribution to physics and beyond. His legacy has enabled developments in fields such as colour photography, statistical physics and structural mechanics and this serves to further demonstrate the extensive reach and impact of Maxwell’s work. Topics at the conference ranged from Saturn’s rings to cybernetics and digital communications to mathematics.

The conference attracted a large audience and, as the event was fully subscribed, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) elected to make it available more widely by streaming it live through Close to 450 people tuned in to watch online and the individual talks are now available to view on the RSE’s own YouTube channel.

To coincide with the conference and to mark the 150th anniversary of Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory of light propagation, a plaque depicting his pioneering equations was unveiled by Sir Michael Atiyah OM FRS FRSE and Dr Alasdair Allan, MSP Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland's Languages. The latter commented, “James Clerk Maxwell’s pioneering electromagnetic theory is central to the development of virtually all modern electronic, radio and photonic technologies – smart phones, colour photography and x-rays all depend on his work.

“The new plaque, installed with the support of the Scottish Government, will be a physical reminder of his huge scientific legacy, and explain to people passing his statue in Edinburgh why he is still so revered a century and a half after his most famous publication.

“Throughout UNESCO’s International Year of Light celebrations, our science centres and festivals have been hosting a range of events to remind visitors from around Scotland, and beyond, what a great contribution Maxwell made to science and society.”

Sir Michael Atiyah added, “Beneath his statue in George Street his equations are now embedded. Maxwell’s genius took him far beyond light and underlies colour photography, computer technologies and telecommunications. The equations plaque and the statue will together emphasise Maxwell’s huge contribution to his native city.”

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