Genius: Living Through Adversity

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Humans are creatures of comfort. We wired our houses to regulate temperature. At the height of the pandemic, our children took online classes. We could not see ourselves without our gadgets. Life has gone a long way since the Middle Ages.

These ideas and inventions made our life so much more comfortable. But remember that our world would have been very different if not for geniuses who break the status quo. With that said, we must celebrate their achievements. Let us travel back through time to meet the brains that made the modern world.

Michael Faraday

We now hail him as the father of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. What is even more fascinating is that he did not undergo rigid formal training. He inspired other brilliant minds, so much so that Einstein kept his picture on his wall.

Michael Faraday was born to an impoverished family. His father worked as an apprentice to a neighboring blacksmith. At a young age, Michael had to work at a local bookseller. The working arrangements of both father and son are akin to our contemporary HUBzone business.

At the age of 20, Michael Faraday attended the lectures of notable scientists, such as Sir Humphry Davy. The latter eventually hired him as an assistant. His new position paved the way for his discovery of chlorine and carbon. It also gave him the chance to experiment with gas diffusion.

Faraday created a new glass, which he designed to improve optics. One of these helped him observe the rotation of the plane of light polarization. This same invention is the first known substance to repel the poles of a magnet. He also built a crude version of the Bunsen burner.

His extensive work in chemistry led to the discovery of benzene and the liquefication of several gases such as chlorine. He recorded his experiment involving seven coins, seven disks of zinc sheets, and six sheets of moist paper. Taking cues from the failed attempts of Davy and Wollaston to create an electric motor, Faraday built two machines, which he later called electromagnetic rotation. These became the framework of electromagnetic technology.

Antoine Lavoisier

He was one of the victims of the Reign of Terror. Ironically, the same government who had him executed also found him innocent of the crimes. They returned his possessions to his widow with a note that they acquitted him.

Antoine Lavoisier came from an aristocratic family. Upon the death of his mother, he inherited substantial wealth. At 11, Lavoisier joined the University of Paris, studying astronomy, botany, chemistry, math, and philosophy. He took up law and received his license in 1764. But he did not practice law.

Like any student during the Age of Enlightenment, he carried out experiments to benefit the majority. Lavoisier even gave a substantial amount of his wealth to the betterment of his countrymen. His first notable humanitarian work was an essay on how to improve urban street lighting.  In 1768, he diverted his attention to the creation of an aqueduct. The project’s goal was to bring clean drinking water to the Parisians.

Sadly, this endeavor never came to fruition. Lavoisier diverted his energy to purify the waters of the River Seine. This project made him enthusiastic about water chemistry and public sanitation. He also improved air quality by studying the effect of gunpowder in the air on health.

His most enduring contribution was about combustion. He published his conclusion about his experiments on this subject in 1772. In 1774, he studied the calcination of tin and lead. Later that year, Lavoisier met with Joseph Priestly to talk about gases.

Max Planck

Max Planck was another brilliant mind whose personal grief mired his accomplishments. The world recognized his work by giving him a Nobel Price in Physics. But such triumph eclipsed the tragic death of two of his children.

He came from an intellectual family as he was a direct descendant of two theology professors. His father was a law professor, while one uncle was a judge. At nine years old, he enrolled in a gymnasium. Even at a young age, he caught the attention of a prominent German mathematician, who taught him astronomy, mechanics, and math.

Max also had musical talent. He played several musical instruments and composed operas. But Max chose to pursue physics even after a physics professor tried to dissuade him. Max Planck studied by himself because he found one of his teachers boring, and the other one came to class unprepared. This teaching dynamics led him to study thermodynamics.

He became a lecturer in Munich while he continued working on his heat theory. In 1892, through the intercession of his old teachers, he became a full professor. In 1894, he took an interest in the black body radiation problem. In 1899, Max Planck released several assumptions that were later called the Wien-Planck Law.

Other than his successful career, Planck happily settled with Marie Merck in 1887. They had four children. Unfortunately, Marie died in 1909. He took another personal hit during WWI when his oldest son died in the field of Verdun while the French captured his other son. He later lost his second son during WWII when the Nazis executed him.

These men showed that humanity could survive adversity. In this crisis, knowing how they overcame their pain will help us go through our suffering.

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