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Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein & Robyn Arianrhod: Biography & Scientific Heroes

Born on 22nd September 1791, Michael Faraday is most famous for discovering " the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis." (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Faraday )- understanding which underpins all of our use of electricity and, thus, our entire, modern society. He is less well known today as a chemist, despite his discovery of one of the most important organic chemicals known to industry: benzene.

Few people could doubt that Michael Faraday was one of humanity's truly Greatest Minds, but this quote from his wikipedia entry shows just how highly rated he was by several of humankind's other "Great" scientific minds-

" Albert Einstein kept a picture of Faraday on his study wall, alongside pictures of Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell.[4] Physicist Ernest Rutherford stated, "When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and of industry, there is no honour too great to pay to the memory of Faraday, one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time."[5] "

Wikipedia's Footnotes for the quote immediately above are as follows:

[4]= Gleeson-White, Jane (10 November 2003). "Einstein's Heroes (book review)". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 24 October 2017.

[5]= Rao, C.N.R. (2000). Understanding Chemistry. Universities Press. ISBN 81-7371-250-6. p. 281.

The Article by writer, editor and mathematician Jane Gleeson-White in the Sydney Morning Herald cited above is also very worth reading; you can find it online here -


The article actually amounts to something of a rave review of the 340-page book "Einstein's Heroes" by Dr Robyn Arianrhod. Dr Arianrhod is a mathematician and Adjunct Research Fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. She is perhaps better known for her other highly acclaimed book "Seduced by Logic: Émilie du Châtelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution", but "Einstein's Heroes" has also come in for quite some praise across the board- bloombergnew.com, for example, commented that it is-

"A thrilling story" and that "Arianrhod is an easy author to like, and not simply for the clarity of her narrative. She brings out the human side of the scientists."

The human and, above that, the altruistic element of society's "Great Minds" is something we value very highly here on "The Greatest Minds", so any book with that focus is clearly of great interest here.

I grew up with a great love of Albert Einstein- as much for his pacifism and kindly approachability, as for his genius. I learned physics from a teacher who was (and undoubtedly still is) a huge fan of Michael Faraday - her reasoning was both for his genius and the pivotal utility of his work to our society and for the way he overcame snobery and class-based social discrimination. Years later, I did post-doctoral biophysics research under the late Prof. Jean-Pol Vigneron, who was a great fan of James Clark Maxwell. As I have grown older, I have become increasingly interested in what inspires those who are inspiring, increasingly drawn to contemplate the networks and influences that shaped history's great scientists. Biography is endlessly fascinating and, at its heart lie very fundamental questions. To what extent is success a matter of sheer will-power? How important are luck or connections?

Scientific biography, takes this curious interplay of personality, opportunity/ obstruction and raw innate talent and adds a whole load of other things to the mixture. Factors like the availability of materials and levels of intellectual freedom within a society become major co-factors-

How would Leonardo Da Vinci's studies of flight have been different if strong, light materials like aluminium tubing had been available to him? What if he had known all about the Chinese experiments with gunpowder? How would the great Arabian mathematicians and "alchemists" have functioned in a more restrictive or repressive political millieu? What great talent went untapped in Europe's dark ages? Would Albert Einstein ever have thought to imagine riding upon a beam of light if the train had not already been invented? (Or is that a mental leap that one could not make if the fastest possible speed known to mankind was riding at 30mph on horseback?). Which of today's great inventions would we have if Michael Faraday had, perhaps not been born and his discoveries had instead had to wait another generation or two to be uncovered...?

The list of questions is as endless as it is fascinating and, no doubt, it is one that will keep biographers occupied for generations to come.


- V. L. Welch for TheGreatestMinds.co.uk