Faraday: father of electricity and the future of tech safety
Many describe Michael Faraday - born in 1791 - as the father of electricity. Faraday came from what can only be described as humble beginnings; his father was a blacksmith from Yorkshire, his mother was a farmer’s daughter, and Faraday received only a basic formal education at a day school where he learnt to read, write and count. Urgently needing to find work to help his family’s dwindling finances, Faraday became apprenticed to a bookbinder at age 14, and over the next 7 years, he became self-educated on a vast range of scientific subjects. Fuelled by his voracious curiosity, Faraday attended several lectures by famous chemist Humphrey Davy in 1812. In 1813, Davy appointed Faraday to the job of chemical assistant at the Royal Institution. ("BBC - History - Michael Faraday", 2020)
Faraday rapidly established his inherent ingenuity in the fields of chemistry and physics. In the early stages of his career as a chemist, he was the first to liquefy a permanent gas (chlorine) in 1823, and he discovered a number of new organic compounds, most notably benzene, in 1825. In the early 1830s, Faraday also founded the first and second laws of electrolysis, and coined the words electrode, cathode, and ion - terms that are grounded in physicists’ and chemists’ lexicons. ("Faraday, Michael (1791–1867), natural philosopher, scientific adviser, and Sandemanian", 2020)
His most fundamental contributions, however, lie within the fields of electricity and magnetism. ("Michael Faraday | Biography, Inventions, & Facts", 2020) Faraday’s discoveries, often using relatively rudimentary experimental tools, are essentially the foundation of the technologies we use today. Faraday’s achievements are exceptional: his major discoveries include, but are not limited to, electro–magnetic rotations (1821), electro-magnetic induction (1831), the magneto-optical effect (the effect of magnetism on light) and diamagnetism (both 1845), as well as providing the experimental and theoretical foundation for Maxwell’s classical electromagnetic field theory.
Faraday was the first to produce an electric current from a magnetic field, driving the discovery of electromagnetic induction, arguably his most central finding. By moving a magnet in and out of a wire coil, inducing an electric current, he discovered that a magnet could produce electricity.
Faraday formalised his pivotal discovery into Faraday’s Law. Those of us who have taken physics lessons will all have come across Faraday’s law, as it is crucial for an understanding of electricity and magnetism. Essentially, the law describes how an electric current produces a magnetic field, and how a changing magnetic field generates an electric current in a conductor. It predicts how a magnetic field will interact with an electric circuit to produce an electromotive force (EMF), stating that the induced voltage in a circuit is proportional to the rate of change over time of the magnetic flux through that circuit. In other words, the faster the magnetic field changes, the greater will be the voltage in the circuit. The direction of the change in the magnetic field determines the direction of the current, whilst voltage is raised by increasing the number of loops in the circuit.
Through Faraday’s discovery and application of both electromagnetic induction and electromagnetic rotation in 1831 and 1821, respectively, Faraday was able to apply electricity to a functioning electric motor - a device that transforms electrical energy into mechanical energy. The conception of the electric motor rendered electricity practical and useful, rather than a mere curiosity. In the pre-Faraday era, despite scientists’ awareness of electricity, little had been done to investigate its practical applications. Faraday’s discovery was crucial in allowing electricity to be transformed into a powerful new technology. By the 1880s, electric motors were producing energy on a vast scale, powering everything from transportation to industry to domestic lighting. The electric motor even played a crucial role in a second industrial revolution.
Furthermore, Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction is the basic operating principle of modern transformers and generators. In transformers, an alternating current, which changes direction many times per second, is sent through a coil wrapped around a magnetic core. This produces a changing magnetic field in the core, which in turn induces a current in a second coil wrapped around a different part of the same magnetic core. Transformers render possible the extensive electric power grids we depend on for our industrial and technological society.
It was largely due to Faraday’s ingenuity that electricity became practical for use in technology: electromagnetic induction made possible the ever-developing modern electric motors, dynamos, transformers, and generators that form the foundation of modern technology industries and individuals alike rely on today. Without his discovery of electromagnetic induction, the world we inhabit would be a vastly different place – we wouldn’t have wireless energy transfer (think trains, washing machines, electric hobs and cookers, guitar pickups, air conditioning, and wireless charging of mobile devices). Other modern applications of electromagnetic induction include various instruments essential to the medicine and chemistry fields, ranging from ESR spectrometers to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) (Thomas, 2017). And Faraday has paved the way towards future technological developments: engineers are currently developing wireless systems to charge electric vehicles which can be buried underground (beneath roads and motorways), to reduce the street clutter and hazards associated with vehicle charging stations involving wires. ("It is now practical to refuel electric vehicles through thin air", 2017)
Faraday’s establishment of the basis of the electromagnetic field led to a further renowned invention – The Faraday Cage (1836) – whose use and application remains today. Faraday cages demonstrate both electromagnetic induction and electrostatic induction, which deals with electric fields. Faraday discovered that an incoming electric field is diverted by the conductor, since the electric field rearranges the electrons in the conductor to neutralize any charge within the conductor. Faraday cages take the electrical charge and redistribute it around the cage, rather than allowing it to penetrate through (Dayal, 2020).
Crucially, Faraday cages are able to block electromagnetic fields via redistribution, which has important implications for the protection against the EMRs (electromagnetic field radiation) emitted from our electronic devices and microwave ovens. In order to block emissions of harmful EMFs it is possible to employ the principles of a Faraday cage to create a two-dimensional shield that acts as a wall to block EMF radiation coming from one side. Faraday cages within microwave ovens contain the electromagnetic energy within the oven and shield the exterior from radiation.
Ranging from chemistry to electricity, to experimental ingenuity, the significance of Faraday’s discoveries cannot be overstated. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine a world deprived of his contributions to science and technology. Although the name Michael Faraday is unfamiliar to many, his contributions to science have continued to impact society for centuries. And despite his lack of formal education, he remains to this day one of the most influential scientists in history. Faraday was one of three scientists to be displayed on Albert Einstein’s study wall, alongside James Clerk Maxwell and Isaac Newton. A quote from renowned physicist Ernest Rutherford reinforces the scope of Faraday’s contributions, “When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and industry, there is no honour too great to pay to the memory of Faraday”, declaring him “one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time.” And named in Faraday’s honour, a farad is a unit of measurement that tracks capacitance - how much electric charge can be stored in a system.
This article was brought to you by Dig Detox. The Faraday cage is the technology behind Dig Detox’s anti-radiation mobile phone case. Our earlier article explored the potential risks of prolonged exposure to the EMF emissions from our mobile devices, particularly when exposed to our brains and reproductive organs. Our mission is to help people use technology safely because we believe health is your most valuable asset. Please visit www.digdetox.com for more articles, research and information about the movement.
By Effie Webb
University of Oxford
First Published 21st July 2020
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Thomas, J. (2017). The extraordinary impact of Michael Faraday on chemistry and related subjects. Retrieved 8 July 2020, from https://pubs.rsc.org
It is now practical to refuel electric vehicles through thin air. (2017). Retrieved 8 July 2020, from https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2017/10/28/it-is-now-practical-to-refuel-electric-vehicles-through-thin-air
Dayal, G. (2020). Faraday cages. Retrieved 8 July 2020, from https://www.computerworld.com/article/2547046/faraday-cages.html