Celebrating Maxwell’s Equations: 150 Years

Michigan participated in the worldwide celebration of 150 years of Maxwell's Equations with a special event.

A special celebration took place on November 20 that brought over 100 attendees together to commemorate the anniversary of James Clerk Maxwell’s foundational treatise on light and electromagnetism. Titled “Celebrating Maxwell’s Equations: 150 Years,” the event brought together students, researchers, and industry experts from around the nation to enjoy keynote talks, project demonstrations, and open discussion with a panel of experts.

This event was one of many around the world celebrating Maxwell and other major contributions to the field of optics as part of the 2015 International Year of Light. Sponsored by the United Nations, the International Year of Light is a global initiative to highlight the importance of light and optical technologies. Scientific communities around the world are holding special events to honor the contributions of James Maxwell and his 1865 treatise to our understanding of light and electromagnetism.

Attendees of the event were treated to two keynote talks by Drs. Arthur Yaghjian (titled “What did Maxwell Do and How Did He Do It: Overview of Maxwell’s Treatise”) and James Rautio (titled “Life of James Clerk Maxwell”). Each speaker is an expert on Maxwell and his work, and sought to illustrate the importance of the physicist’s treatise as well as offer insight into his life and career.

Local optics professionals Sue Dean and Dr. Deanna McMillen joined the speakers for an open panel discussion, offering career advice for grad students in attendance and an inside look at the work of optics engineers.

The evening’s reception was accompanied by a student demo competition. Students were challenged to create a demonstration of one of Maxwell’s equations for middle or high schoolers, and were judged by professors, event organizers, and local teachers. The three winning teams each received a cash prize, presented by University of Michigan Optics Society (OSUM) president Heather Ferguson, and attendees could vote for the “People’s Choice” winner.

Demos on display:

1st place

1st place, People’s Choice Award

Seeing Maxwell’s Equations by Brian Worthmann and TJ Flynn

2nd place

2nd place

Invisibility by Nicholas Chiotellis

3rd place

3rd place

Dispersion of Light by Anthony Aiello and Yongbum Park

Demos by Optical Society at the University of Michigan (OSUM) members

OSUM members involved:
Theresa Chick
Brandon Demory
Liz Dreyer
Heather Ferguson
Amanda Korant
Zhaorong Wang

OSUM demo1
Communication through Light
Total Internal Reflection

Demos by Student Astronomical Society (SAS) members

SAS members involved:
Andreia Carrillo
Andrea Lin
Adam Rubinstein
Austin Thomas
William Waalkes
Sunny Zhou

A Van de Graff Generator
Quantum Dots

Event Speakers and Panelists

speakers and panelists
The event’s panelists, speakers, and organizers. Prof. Somin Eunice Lee, event organizer; Sue Dean, panelist and Senior Operations Engineer, EOTech, L-3 Communications; Dr. Jim Rautio, guest speaker and CEO, President and Founder, Sonnet Software, Inc.; Dr. Deanna McMillen, panelist and Senior Optical Engineer, EOTech, L-3 Communications; Dr. Arthur Yaghjian, guest speaker and electromagnetics consultant; Dr. Lora Schulwitz, event co-organizer and Principal Engineer, MDA Information Systems.

Sue Dean is an engineering professional currently employed with L-3 Communications EOTech, where she is a key innovator for the manufacture of holographic weapon sights. Sue has developed a unique career path, working in areas from medical devices to special machine design and development, to military and commercial optics manufacturing. She is a U-M alum, earning both her Bachelor’s and Master’s here in Mechanical Engineering.

Dr. McMillen is a Senior Optical Engineer at EOTech, an L-3 Communications company. EOTech delivers cutting edge technology and products in the fields of holographic sighting systems, tactical lasers, illuminators and thermal imaging equipment. 

Dr. James C. Rautio is CEO, President and Founder of Sonnet Software, Inc., a private company dedicated to the development of commercial high frequency electromagnetic software. He founded Sonnet in 1983 to develop solutions to Maxwell’s equations for analysis of planar microwave circuits. Today, it is the leading vendor of high accuracy three-dimensional planar high-frequency electromagnetic analysis software. Jim has published many papers about the life and career of Maxwell, and has given over 130 lectures about him worldwide.

Dr. Arthur Yaghjian is currently an independent consultant in electromagnetics. His research in electromagnetics has led to many important findings across the fields of metamaterials, antennas, particle physics, and more. He is the author of the invited paper, “Reflections on Maxwell’s Treatise,” in which he attempts to explain the fundamentals of exactly what Maxwell did in his Treatise and how he did it.

About James Clerk Maxwell

In 1865, James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) published A Dynamical Theory of the Electrodynamic Field, which featured the original set of what is now referred to as Maxwell’s equations. Through these equations, Maxwell described scientifically the propagation of light and electromagnetic waves travelling through space at the speed of light. His equations have been called the “second great unification in physics,” following Isaac Newton’s formulation of the laws of motion and gravity, and his contributions to science and impact on society have been likened to those of Albert Einstein. He is considered the founder of the field of electromagnetic theory.

This event was sponsored by IEEE, Optical Society of America, International Society for Optics and Photonics, Electron Devices Society, Antennas and Propagation Society, Microwave Theory and Techniques Society, the National Science Foundation, IEEE Photonics Society, Optics Society at the University of Michigan, the Student Chapter of IEEE/Eta Kappa Nu, and ECE@Michigan.

Watch the Talks

James Rautio talk
Talk by James C. Rautio


Available on Flickr