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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Meeting Maxwell - Celebrating Science through Dance

A new campaign to highlight Scotland’s greatest scientist is to be launched in his home region of Galloway.

James Clerk Maxwell laid the foundations for the electronic communications so vital to today’s world with his electromagnetic theory of light and radio waves. Many regard him as one of the three greatest physicists of all time – along with Newton and Einstein.

The aim of the new campaign, Meeting Maxwell, is to bring the story of Maxwell to the people of Scotland, commemorating him in music, song and dance. The campaign will be launched with a unique ceilidh in Dumfries on the evening of Saturday 27 April. The ceilidh will feature a new dance, Maxwell’s Waves, created by traditional Scottish dancing teacher from Dufftown, Jessie Stuart. The dance is unusual, with four lines of four dancers forming first a square and then a wheel, and the steps build up a wavelike
pattern. The dance also features a person carrying a light.

“It’s a beautiful dance,” says Rebecca, “and the music for it was composed by Freeland Barbour, who will be playing at the ceilidh with his band, The Occasionals. The tunes for the dance are called Glenlair and Maxwell’s Waves. The dance is on YouTube, and the band will also have a dance caller with them.”

Also at the ceilidh will be singer Andy Munro, who with his daughter Flora has recorded the song ‘James Clerk Maxwell’ written by Howie Firth.

The ceilidh, to be held in Easterbrook Hall on Saturday 27 April, will start at 7 pm. Tickets are available online from and at the door.

Maxwell’s achievements were dazzling, and include the production of the world’s first colour photograph; the foundation of the modern theory of gases; and the proof by mathematics that the rings of Saturn are made of rock fragments. The American physicist Richard Feynman said that in ten thousand years from now Maxwell’s work on light would be seen as the most significant event of the whole of the 19th century.

Yet in his native land of Scotland, Maxwell’s name is far from being as familiar as that of Newton and Einstein. Determined activity to raise awareness of him has been carried out by Scotland’s leading scientific organisations and there is now a statue of him in George Street in Edinburgh. But no British postal stamp has yet honoured his work – although many other countries around the world have done so, from Mali to Mexico, and from the US to Germany.

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