Maxwell, James Clerk
James Clerk Maxwell was born on June 13, 1831, in Edinburgh, Scotland, to a family of comfortable means and was the only child of his parents. He is considered to be a pioneer in several fields of science. Maxwell contributed greatly to the field of optics and the study of color vision and helped lay the foundations for practical color photography. Over a period of 17 years from 1855 to 1872, he published a series of papers concerning the perception of color, color blindness, and color theory . He died in Cambridge at the age of 48 of abdominal cancer in 1879 .
Maxwell had a keen intellect and an unquenchable curiosity from childhood. Maxwell’s formal schooling began unsuccessfully, and it is reported that he was treated harshly by his private tutor for being slow and disobedient . He was then sent to the prestigious Edinburgh Academy to continue his education. At the age of 13, he won the school’s mathematical medal as well as the first prize for English and poetry. At the age of 14, he wrote his first academic paper on Oval Curves which was presented, on his behalf, at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Maxwell and Color
The nature of perception of color was one of Maxwell’s interests which had begun in Scotland. Using an improved version of a disk mixture apparatus, he demonstrated that white light results from a mixture of red, green, and blue light. His paper Experiments on Colour was a fundamental study of the color-mixing principles and was presented to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1855 . In the following years he built a visual spectrometer in which he could mix and adjust spectral lights. The results of his own and his wife’s mixture data, published in 1860, demonstrated that only three primary lights are required to match any spectral or composite light. In the same year he was awarded the Royal Society’s Rumford Medal “for his researches on the composition of colours and other optical papers.”
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