W. Th. Mitkewich

The Work of Faraday and Modern Developments in the Application of Electrical Energy

Written: 1931;
Source: Science at the Crossroads: Papers Presented to the International Congress of the History of Science and technology Held in London from June 29th to July 3rd, 1931 by the delegates of the U.S.S.R, Frank Cass and Co., 1931
Online Version: For marxists.org May, 2002.

1. The history of science frequently exhibits a close connection between the achievements of scientific research and their practical applications. In other words, we can clearly state a relation, between science and technology, and acknowledge their inner unity. In this respect, we have an extremely striking example in the conditions arising from and the development of modern electro-technique. The scientific discoveries of Faraday were a mighty stimulus for the use of electrical energy in practical life.

A century ago, Faraday discovered the electro-magnetic induction of current. Thanks to his intuitive capacity, that has never been surpassed, he could look into the very nature of things, and arrive at once at a correct and clear understanding of all that was going on in the real world of electro-magnetic phenomena which surrounds us. It enabled mankind to adopt the most convenient and simple method of transforming mechanical work into electrical energy capable of easy and speedy transportation to great distances, and to many other useful transformations. Thus we can state that Faraday's discoveries were the basis of up-to-date electrical engineering, and all the applications of electrical energy. It is clear, of course, that the growth of new ideas arising from Faraday's scientific work, the construction of electromagnetic machinery and other apparatus embodying these ideas in practical use, brought to life in this great domain the work of a number of other physicists and a number of inventors. But it is undeniable that Faraday was the true founder of this branch of applied science. The whole army of those who worked theoretically and practically, and carried on Faraday's task, was always and invariably inspired and supported by the genius of that great man.

2. The fundamental thought that guided Faraday's investigations, and led him to the discovery of electro-magnetic induction, was that between the phenomena of electricity and those of magnetism there must exist some close connection. He possessed an intuitive bent of mind that enabled him to inquire into the relationship of phenomena. Convinced of the correlation of forces and of the conservation of energy long before either of those doctrines had received distinct enunciation as principles of natural philosophy, he seems never to have viewed an action without thinking of the necessary and appropriate reaction. He seems never to have deemed any physical relation complete in which discovery had not been made of the converse relation for which instinctively he sought as in the case of a copper coil and an iron core. Given that electricity was flowing through the one, it set up magnetism in the other. What was the converse? Searching from all angles for a solution of this question and continually varying his experiments Faraday was making his way to his aim to " Convert magnetism into electricity." At last, in the autumn of 1831, he solved the problem. He succeeded in generating the electric current by means of electro-magnetic induction! He saw from the beginning that peculiar properties of magnetic flux are manifested in this phenomenon. It is necessary to state that the conception of the magnetic flux, as such, belongs fully to Faraday himself. Truly, we must acknowledge that It was Faraday who was the founder of the doctrine of physical properties of magnetic flux. There were other physicists who saw centres of forces acting at a distance. Faraday in his mind's eye saw physical lines of force traversing all space. From mathematical fictions which were used and still continue to be used by some, Faraday's point of view leads us to a closer contact with what is actually going on. The experimental methods given by Faraday permit us, in the real sense of the word, to feel the invisible magnetic flux as something real. Faraday was the first who touched the really existing magnetic flux which has primary importance in all the manifestations of the electric current; magnetic flux bearing all the electric current energy; magnetic flux that has such an important role in all applications of the electrical energy. Faraday was the first who realised the insufficiency, the complete onesidedness, and even the fallibility of our usual conceptions on the electric current, those conceptions being connected, owing to purely historical conditions, with the process of movement of electrical fluids. He directed scientific research to the space round the conductor carrying the current, to that space where is located the electric current energy.

Faraday's thought has quite an exclusive penetration into the depth of things when analysing the specific importance of the magnetic flux in all electro-magnetic phenomena, and particularly in the electro-magnetic complex called by us the electric current flowing through some conductor. Faraday's mind was possessed more and more by this idea, which completely dominated his mind to the end of his scientific activity. All the works of Faraday's final period, beginning with series XIX of his "Experimental Researches in Electricity" are, in fact, nearly all consecrated to these questions. Clark Maxwell, the great interpreter of Faraday's ideas, used a great deal of material from this analysis in electro-magnetic phenomena. But it is undoubtedly true that many of Faraday's scientific achievements are not yet sufficiently understood and appreciated. His "Experimental Researches in Electricity" remains an Arabian book under seven seals for those who, owing to the excesses of purely formal methods of investigation, have lost, in some degree, the capacity of understanding thoughts expressed in simple mords. Faraday gave us the highest model of what physical thinking should be. He was a true natural philosopher. Every deviation from Faraday's method of study and analysis of physical phenomena leads to painful results. The roots of the modern crisis in physics must be sought to a great degree in this direction.

3. Faraday's nonformal treatment of physical phenomena, that we have just spoken of, was the intrinsic cause of the exclusive practical fruitfulness of his discoveries in electro-magnetic induction. Faraday himself settled the fundamental laws of electro-magnetic induction. At the same time physical conceptions, in a high degree adequate to their real nature, conceptions that he formulated as the basis of understanding of this phenomenon--opened an easy way for practical applications of his discovery.

The conditions for Faraday's experiments were very simple, and, generally speaking, they did not exceed purely laboratory investigation limits. And yet we meet here with all the principal elements of to-day's electrical installations. Perhaps this statement will seem somewhat exaggerated, and not quite true. But, in fact, it is quite right, and becomes entirely clear when we analyse unprejudicially the work of Faraday.

Faraday has stated that always when the conductor is moving across magnetic lines a tendency (electro-motive force) develops in this conductor, and electric current is caused if the conductor forms a part of some closed circuit. He realised during his studies several arrangements in which he generated by these means an electric current of alternating directions. In other arrangements by applying a copper disc rotating between magnet poles he obtained a constant electric current. All this we can and must consider as a prototype of modern dynamo-electric machinery. Even such an important part as the dynamo commutator may be seen in a rudimentary form in his experiment of the rotating disc with a sliding brush on its edge, this brush taking off the current from its radial elements passing under the brush in succession.

In Faraday's experiments with an iron ring, having two separate windings, one of which (primary) was alternatively joined to or cut off from the battery and the other (secondary) was connected with a galvanometer by means of sufficiently long conductors, he gave us the prototype of a modern alternating current transformer--a most important part in every power transmission and distribution system.

The conductors connecting the electric generator to the galvanometer or to other Faraday's receivers of electrical energy are the prototype of modern electric power transmission line.

The galvanometer used by Faraday, or the minute spark between the lightly touching charcoal points were the prototype of modern electrical energy receivers. We can find in a galvanometer the simplest electromagnetic mechanism transforming electrical energy into motion. It performs the same function as does any modern electromotor uninterruptedly and in a more perfect way. The prototype of such an electro-motor with a constant rotary motion we can see in Faraday's experiments, in which he discovered that a wire included in the circuit, but mounted so as to hang with its lower end in a pool of quicksilver, could rotate around the pole of a magnet; and conversely that if the wire were fixed and the pole of the magnet free to move, the latter would rotate around the former.

The first steps in the practical application of electric lighting ought to be connected with the name of Faraday. He was a permanent consultor for many long years at Trinity House on different questions and, in particular, concerning the feeding of electric are lamps from magneto-electric machines. To Faraday belongs the idea of using for electric lighting an incandescent lamp containing a platinum wire spiral.

Thus we see how gigantic was the work of Faraday in the sphere of electro-magnetic phenomena and how much he contributed to the modern development of the applications of electrical energy.

4. In conclusion it is very interesting to read the following passage from Clark Maxwell's article on Faraday in the " Encyclopedia Britannica," which admirably sums up the matter:--

"The magnitude and originality of Faraday's achievement may be estimated by tracing the subsequent history of his discovery. As might be expected it was at once made the subject of investigation by a whole scientific world, but some of the most experienced physicists were unable to avoid mistakes in stating, in what they conceived to be more scientific language than Faraday's, the phenomena before them. Up to the present time the mathematicians who have rejected Faraday's method of stating his law as unworthy of the precision of their science, have never succeeded in devising any essentially different formula which shall fully express the phenomena without introducing hypotheses about the mutual action of things which have no physical existence, such as elements of currents which flow out of nothing, then along a wire, and finally sink into nothing again.

" After nearly half a century of labour of this kind we may say that, though the practical applications of Faraday's discovery have increased and are increasing in number and value every year, no exception to the statement of these laws as given by Faraday has been discovered, no new law has been added to them, and Faraday's original statement remains to this day the only one which asserts no more than can be verified by experiment, and the only one by which the theory of the phenomena can be expressed in a manner which is exactly and numerically accurate, and at the same time within the range of elementary methods of exposition."