The lyrical visionary: James Clerk Maxwell
in A sonnet to science
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This chapter investigates the extent to which poetry influenced the life and work of one of the most important scientists of the nineteenth century: James Clerk Maxwell. In deriving what have become known as the ‘Maxwell Equations’, Maxwell summarised all previous understanding of electricity and magnetism, and in doing so revealed new insights that have since greatly benefited both scientific research and discovery. This chapter presents the argument that in reading Maxwell’s poetry, we likewise observe an intellect and wit that expressed complex and multifaceted thoughts in clear and succinct verse, including, but not limited to, an erudite warning about the dangers presented by scientific materialism such as that of the physicist John Tyndall.

A sonnet to science

Scientists and their poetry

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