Michael Faraday - Royal Institution and Public Service

Royal Institution and Public Service

Faraday was the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a position to which he was appointed for life. His sponsor and mentor was John 'Mad Jack' Fuller, who created the position at the Royal Institution. Faraday was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1824, appointed director of the laboratory in 1825; and in 1833 he was appointed Fullerian Professor of Chemistry in the institution for life, without the obligation to deliver lectures.

Beyond his scientific research into areas such as chemistry, electricity, and magnetism at the Royal Institution, Faraday undertook numerous, and often time-consuming, service projects for private enterprise and the British government. This work included investigations of explosions in coal mines, being an expert witness in court, and the preparation of high-quality optical glass. In 1846, together with Charles Lyell, he produced a lengthy and detailed report on a serious explosion in the colliery at Haswell County Durham, which killed 95 miners. Their report was a meticulous forensic investigation and indicated that coal dust contributed to the severity of the explosion. The report should have warned coal owners of the hazard of coal dust explosions, but the risk was ignored for over 60 years until the Senghenydd Colliery Disaster of 1913.

As a respected scientist in a nation with strong maritime interests, Faraday spent extensive amounts of time on projects such as the construction and operation of light houses and protecting the bottoms of ships from corrosion. His workshop still stands at Trinity Buoy Wharf above the Chain and Buoy Store, next to London's only lighthouse and a school that is named after him.

Faraday was also active in what would now be called environmental science, or engineering. He investigated industrial pollution at Swansea and was consulted on air pollution at the Royal Mint. In July 1855, Faraday wrote a letter to The Times on the subject of the foul condition of the River Thames, which resulted in an oft-reprinted cartoon in Punch. (See also The Great Stink.)

Faraday assisted with the planning and judging of exhibits for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. He also advised the National Gallery on the cleaning and protection of its art collection, and served on the National Gallery Site Commission in 1857.

Education was another of Faraday's areas of service; he lectured on the topic in 1854 at the Royal Institution, and in 1862 he appeared before a Public Schools Commission to give his views on education in Great Britain. Faraday also weighed in negatively on the public's fascination with table-turning, mesmerism, and seances, and in so doing chastised both the public and the nation's educational system.

Faraday gave a successful series of lectures on the chemistry and physics of flames at the Royal Institution, entitled The Chemical History of a Candle. This was one of the earliest Christmas lectures for young people, which are still given each year. Between 1827 and 1860, Faraday gave the Christmas lectures a record nineteen times.

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