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The Story of Michael Faraday

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Chance favours the prepared mind

Michael Faraday was born into a very poor family in 1791. There were times when the young Faraday ate from only one loaf of bread during a whole week. He was given only minimal formal education, and his father was an uneducated blacksmith.

Chance often plays a significant role in lives, but we need to be prepared to use its occasional gifts. When he was 14 years old, Faraday became an apprentice to a bookbinder and bookseller in London. Many 14-year-olds might have helped bind the pages of books and leave it at that. However, Faraday used his opportunity to undertake seven years of intense reading from books in the bookstore. He self-educated himself with some of the finest writers and thinkers.

At the age of 20, Faraday obtained a second stroke of luck. Again, he made the utmost of this opportunity. A customer of the bookstore gave Faraday tickets to attend lectures by the famous English chemist Humphry Davy. Faraday took careful and detailed notes of each lecture and then made these notes into a 300-page book that he presented Davy. Faraday had not been asked to do this, and Davy was surprised and delighted at this proactive and accurate work. So happy was Davy with Faraday that he later hired Faraday as an assistant.

Thus, began Faraday’s great adventure in chemistry and electricity. He was ever curious and invented the first transformer, uncovered the working of electric motors, and made the first continuous electrical generator through innovative experiments. All of these devices are still used in our modern electrical and electronic world.  Faraday said that he “could trust a fact [but] and always cross-questioned an assertion.”

Faraday discovered amazing aspects of our world and said, “Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it is consistent with the laws of nature.”

A man of principles

Faraday always provided help to the British government. These projects included constructing lighthouses, studying the effects of pollution in the river Thames, and protecting artworks.

While he was not properly educated, he was passionate about educating others. He gave free lectures to the public on various topics, including his latest experiments and research. He said that his approach to lecturing was that “a flame should be lighted at the commencement and kept alive with unremitting splendour to the end.”

The only time Faraday refused to help was when asked to help the government manufacture chemical weapons during the Crimean War. He refused. He was focused on helping mankind, not on making destructive weapons.

Faraday’s advice

In his old age, Faraday gave two pieces of advice

“It is right that we should stand by and act on our principles, but not right to hold them in obstinate blindness or retain them when proved to be erroneous.”

“The secret of my success was Work, Finish, Publish.”

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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