Michael Faraday is one of the most influential scientists in history. His groundbreaking discoveries in electromagnetism and electrochemistry laid the foundation for modern electronics and our understanding of subatomic particles. But Faraday’s origins were humble, and he had little formal education. So where did this seminal scientist get his training?
Quick Facts About Michael Faraday
- Born in 1791 in London, England
- Received extremely limited formal education as a child
- Apprenticed to a local bookbinder at age 14
- Attended lectures by Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution
- Became an assistant to Davy in 1813 at the Royal Institution
- Appointed Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution in 1833
Who Was Michael Faraday?
Michael Faraday was born in 1791 in the area of London known as Newington Butts. His family was poor, and young Michael received only a basic education. At age 14, he began an apprenticeship with a local bookbinder. During his free time, Faraday voraciously read the books he bound, teaching himself a wide range of scientific subjects.
Faraday developed a fascination with electricity after reading an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica. He performed simple experiments using batteries he constructed from copper coins and zinc discs. Faraday also began attending public lectures by leading chemist Humphry Davy at the prestigious Royal Institution in London.
Humphry Davy and the Royal Institution
In 1812, Faraday wrote to Davy asking for a job at the Royal Institution. He included notes from the lectures he had attended. Impressed by Faraday’s initiative, Davy hired him as a chemical assistant. Faraday quickly rose through the ranks, helping Davy with his noted experiments on gases and discoveries like nitrous oxide.
The Royal Institution, founded in 1799, was (and still is) an important scientific organization dedicated to pioneering research and public education. Davy was the Institution’s star scientist, and Faraday benefited enormously from working closely with him.
Though Faraday had no formal credentials, the Royal Institution provided the incubator for his blossoming genius. Davy encouraged Faraday’s independent scientific investigations using the Institution’s equipment and facilities. This institutional support was key in Faraday’s development into one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century.
Farady’s Appointment as Fullerian Professor
After Davy’s death in 1829, Faraday continued his prolific research output at the Royal Institution. This cemented his reputation as one of the leading scientists in Britain.
In 1833, Faraday was appointed as the Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution. This position was created through an endowment by John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller, who sought to support chemical research and education.
As Fullerian Professor, Faraday received an annual salary along with a house on the premises at the Royal Institution. This enabled him to focus his full energies on scientific discovery. Faraday went on to make pioneering contributions in the new fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry.
Notable Discoveries at the Royal Institution
Faraday made his major discoveries at the Royal Institution as both an assistant to Davy and later as Fullerian Professor. Some of his key breakthroughs included:
- Electromagnetic Rotations (1821) – Showed that flowing electricity could make magnets rotate, creating the first electric motor.
- Electromagnetic Induction (1831) – Demonstrated that moving a magnet near a coil of wire induced an electric current, laying the foundation for generators.
- Faraday’s Laws of Electrolysis (1834) – Established the laws governing electrical stimulation of chemical reactions.
- Discovery of Benzene (1825) – Isolated and identified benzene, an important chemical building block.
- Invention of an Early Bunson Burner (1855) – Created a convenient gas-air burner that became a ubiquitous chemistry lab tool.
Faraday’s brilliant mind thrived in the supportive environment of the Royal Institution. Though he lacked formal credentials, the Institution nurtured his talents and enabled his extraordinary contributions.
Where Did Faraday Go to School?
Given his humble origins and lack of systematic education, where did Faraday gain the scientific grounding to make such significant breakthroughs?
Faraday was almost entirely self-taught. Books, lectures, and hands-on experimentation were his only teachers. But the Royal Institution provided the fertile training ground to develop his skills and creativity.
Faraday’s thirst for knowledge led him to absorb everything he could from the Royal Institution’s facilities, equipment, and staff. Colleagues like Davy, access to scientific instruments, and the Institution’s multidisciplinary ethos all contributed to Faraday’s scientific development.
The Royal Institution was the closest thing Faraday had to a real college education. Its learning environment challenged but supported him. Faraday also honed his ability to communicate complex science by lecturing at the Royal Institution.
So while Faraday had no formal college, the Royal Institution played that role in his storied career.
Follow Michael Faraday on Social Media
As Michael Faraday lived from 1791 to 1867, long before the advent of social media, he does not have any official social media accounts. However, there are several museums and scientific institutions that post regularly about Faraday’s life and scientific discoveries on their social channels.
- Royal Institution on Instagram and Twitter
- Science Museum, London on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
- Faraday Museum on Twitter and Facebook
Frequently Asked Questions About Michael Faraday’s Education
Where was Michael Faraday born?
Faraday was born in 1791 in Newington Butts, a poor district in London, England.
What formal education did Michael Faraday receive?
Faraday had extremely limited formal education as a child. He only attended school intermittently until age 13. At 14, he began a 7-year apprenticeship with a bookbinder where he continued learning on his own by reading the books he bound.
How did Faraday get his scientific education?
Faraday was almost entirely self-taught. He voraciously read scientific books and articles during his apprenticeship. Faraday also attended public lectures on science, particularly by Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution.
When did Michael Faraday work at the Royal Institution?
In 1813, Faraday began working as an assistant to Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution. He was appointed Fullerian Professor of Chemistry in 1833 and remained at the Institution until his death in 1867.
What discoveries did Michael Faraday make at the Royal Institution?
Some of Faraday’s major discoveries at the Royal Institution include electromagnetic rotations (1821), electromagnetic induction (1831), laws of electrolysis (1834), isolation of benzene (1825), and an early Bunsen burner design (1855).
Where is the Royal Institution located?
The Royal Institution is located in Mayfair, London. It was founded in 1799 and is still an active scientific research and education institution today.