James Clerk Maxwell (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish mathematical physicist. His most prominent achievement was to formulate a set of equations that describe electricity, magnetism, and optics as manifestations of the same phenomenon, namely the electromagnetic field. Maxwell's achievements concerning electromagnetism have been called the "second great unification in physics", after the first one realised by Isaac Newton.
With the publication of A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field in 1865, Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. Maxwell proposed that light is in fact undulations in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena. The unification of light and electrical phenomena led to the prediction of the existence of radio waves.
Maxwell helped develop the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution, which is a statistical means of describing aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. He is also known for presenting the first durable colour photograph in 1861 and for his foundational work on analysing the rigidity of rod-and-joint frameworks (trusses) like those in many bridges.
His discoveries helped usher in the era of modern physics, laying the foundation for such fields as special relativity and quantum mechanics. Many physicists regard Maxwell as the 19th-century scientist having the greatest influence on 20th-century physics, and his contributions to the science are considered by many to be of the same magnitude as those of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. In the millennium poll—a survey of the 100 most prominent physicists—Maxwell was voted the third greatest physicist of all time, behind only Newton and Einstein. On the centenary of Maxwell's birthday, Einstein himself described Maxwell's work as the "most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton."