200 Years Ago, Faraday Invented the Electric Motor–After Faraday published his results, his mentor accused him of plagiarism

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      Faraday knew the power of quick publication, and in less than a month he wrote an article, “On Some New Electromagnetic Motions and the Theory of Electromagnetism,” which was published in the next issue of the Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and the Arts. Unfortunately, Faraday did not appreciate the necessity of fully acknowledging others’ contributions to the discovery.

      Faraday continued experimenting into the fall of 1831, this time with a permanent magnet. He discovered that he could produce a constant current by rotating a copper disk between the two poles of a permanent magnet. This was the first dynamo, and the direct ancestor of truly useful electric motors.

      Two hundred years after the discovery of the electric motor, Michael Faraday is rightfully remembered for all of his work in electromagnetism, as well as his skills as a chemist, lecturer, and experimentalist. But Faraday’s complex relationship with Davy also speaks to the challenges of mentoring (and being mentored), publishing, and holding (or not) personal grudges. It is sometimes said that Faraday was Davy’s greatest discovery, which is a little unfair to Davy, a worthy scientist in his own right. When Faraday’s reputation began to eclipse that of his mentor’s, Faraday made several missteps while navigating the cutthroat, time-sensitive world of academic publishing. But he continued to do his job—and do it well—creating lasting contributions to the Royal Institution. A decade after his first breakthrough in electromagnetism, he surpassed himself with another. Not bad for a self-taught man with a shaky grasp of mathematics. Within a week of publication, Humphry Davy dealt his mentee a devastating blow by accusing Faraday of plagiarism.

      Davy had a notoriously sensitive ego. He was also upset that Faraday failed to adequately credit his friend William Hyde Wollaston, who had been studying the problem of rotary motion with currents and magnets for more than a year. Faraday mentions both men in his article, as well as Ampère, Ørsted, and some others. But he doesn’t credit anyone as a collaborator, influencer, or codiscoverer. Faraday didn’t work directly with Davy and Wollaston on their experiments, but he did overhear a conversation between them and understood the direction of their work. Plus it was (and still is) a common practice to credit your adviser in early publications.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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