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James Clerk Maxwell Birthday - Namesake of Mauna Kea Telescope FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Issued by: Inge Heyer, Science Outreach Specialist
Joint Astronomy Centre
Tel: +1 808 969 6524
Fax: +1 808 961 6516

Images, notes, and contact details appear below.

13 June 2006

James Clerk Maxwell Birthday - Namesake of Mauna Kea Telescope

June 13, 2006, marks the 175th birthday of James Clerk Maxwell (1831 - 1879), the famous Scottish physicist, who discovered the theory of electromagnetism and forever changed our views on the nature of light. The James Clerk Maxwell Submillimeter Telescope (JCMT) on Mauna Kea was named after this father of modern physics.

To mark this occasion, the Joint Astronomy Centre (JAC) at the UH Hilo University Park, which operates the JCMT Telescope, held a barbeque picnic for its staff. Grinds included a large cake with images of the telescope and its namesake.

James Clerk Maxwell was born in 1831 in Edinburgh, Scotland, At the early age of 25 he became Professor of Physics at Marischal College in Aberdeen. From there he moved first to King's College, London, and then, in 1871, to become the first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge where he directed the newly created Cavendish Laboratory. It was at the Cavendish, over the next fifty years, that so much of the physics of today continued to develop from Maxwell's inspiration. Maxwell died in 1879.

The James Clerk Maxwell Submillimetre Telescope on Mauna Kea was opened in 1987. It is the largest telescope of its kind in the world. Its 50-foot dish collects submillimetre radiation, which is a form of light of wavelengths between infrared light and radio waves. This radiation is used to study the coldest material in the Universe, such as interstellar clouds, the birth places of stars, and dust rings around young stars, the birth places of planets.

In England and Scotland there will be events and lectures on Maxwell throughout the year. Members of Parliament passed a motion to have Maxwell's achievements recognized.

James Clerk Maxwell himself (in 1864) said: "We have strong reason to conclude that light itself - including radiant heat and other radiation, if any - is an electromagnetic disturbance in the form of waves propagated through the electro-magnetic field according to electro-magnetic laws."

Albert Einstein said: "The special theory of relativity owes its origins to Maxwell's equations of the electromagnetic field."


James Clerk Maxwell in his 40s. Courtesy of the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, and the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation.

The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

The Joint Astronomy Centre at Hilo University Park, Hilo, Hawaii.

The Joint Astronomy Centre at Hilo University Park, Hilo, Hawaii.


The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) is the world's largest single-dish submillimetre-wave telescope. It collects faint submillimetre-wavelength signals with its 15 metre diameter dish. It is situated near the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, at an altitude of approximately 4000 metres (14000 feet) above sea level. It is operated by the Joint Astronomy Centre, on behalf of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Canadian National Research Council, and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. More about the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope:


The UK Astronomy Technology Centre is located at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (ROE). It is a scientific site belonging to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). The mission of the UK ATC is to support the mission and strategic aims of PPARC and to help keep the UK at the forefront of world astronomy by providing a UK focus for the design, production and promotion of state of the art astronomical technology.

Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Office of Science and Innovation which itself is part of the Department of Trade and Industry. It was formed as a new Research Council on 1 April 2007 through a merger of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and the transfer of responsibility for nuclear physics from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). We are one of seven national research councils in the UK. The Science and Technology Facilities Council is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.

National Research Council Canada

The National Research Council (NRC) is the Government of Canada's premier organization for research and development. It reports to Parliament through the Minister of Industry. It is governed by a council of 22 appointees drawn from its client community. NRC is responsible for, among other things, undertaking, assisting or promoting scientific and industrial research in different fields of importance to Canada, operating and administering any astronomical observatories established or maintained by the Government of Canada, administering NRC's research and development activities, including grants and contributions used to support a number of international activities, and providing vital scientific and technological services to the research and industrial communities. This mandate is discharged to a great extent through the operation of the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program, the NRC Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information and the Canadian Technology Network.

Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) funds thousands of top researchers at universities and institutes and steers the course of Dutch science by means of subsidies and research programmes. NWO is responsible for enhancing the quality and innovative nature of scientific research as equally initiating and stimulating new developments in scientific research, mainly fulfils its task by allocating resources, facilitates, for the benefit of society, the dissemination of knowledge from the results of research that it has initiated and stimulated, and mainly focuses on university research in performing its task. In fulfilling its responsibilities NWO pays due attention to the aspect of coordination and facilitates this where necessary. NWO wants to ensure that Dutch science continues to be amongst the best in the world and that the currently strong position is further strengthened.


Please note that it is best to contact these individuals by email.
  • Inge Heyer, Science Outreach Specialist
    Joint Astronomy Centre
    Tel: +1 808 969 6524
    Fax: +1 808 961 6516

Web links

Joint Astronomy Centre
Joint Astronomy Centre Public Outreach Site
United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre
Science and Technology Facilities Council
The James Clerk Maxwell Year 2006
The Clerk Maxwell Foundation
This press release
Contact: JAC outreach. Updated: Tue Mar 24 13:26:00 HST 2009

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