Michael Faraday was born near Elephant and Castle, London. At fourteen he apprenticed as a book-binder and during his seven year apprenticeship developed an interest in science.
After he sent Humphry Davy, the president of the Royal Society, a sample of notes that he had made, Davy employed Faraday as his assistant. In a class-ridden society, he was not considered to be a gentleman, and it is said that Davy's wife refused to treat him as an equal and would not associate with him socially.
His greatest work was with electricity. In 1821, soon after the Danish chemist, Ørsted;, discovered the phenomenon of electromagnetism, Davy and William Hyde Wollaston tried but failed to design an electric motor. Faraday, having discussed the problem with the two men, went on to build two devices to produce what he called electromagnetic rotation: that is a continuous circular motion from the circular magnetic force around a wire. The electric generator used a magnet to generate electricity. These experiments and inventions form the foundation of modern electromagnetic technology. Unwisely, Faraday published his results without acknowledging his debt to Wollaston and Davy, and the resulting controversy caused Faraday to withdraw from electromagnetic research for several years.
Ten years later, in 1831, he began his great series of experiments in which he discovered electromagnetic induction. His demonstrations exposed the concept that electric current produced magnetism. Faraday proposed that electromagnetic forces extended into the empty space around the conductor, but did not complete his work over this proposal. Faraday's experimental visualization, of lines of flux emanating from charged bodies, was mathematically modelled by Maxwell's equations, which has evolved into the generalization known as field theory.
In 1845 he discovered what is now called the Faraday effect and the phenomenon that he named diamagnetism. The plane of polarization of linearly polarized light propagated through a material medium can be rotated by the application of an external magnetic field aligned in the propagation direction. He wrote in his notebook, "I have at last succeeded in illuminating a magnetic curve or line of force and in magnetising a ray of light". This established that magnetic force and light were related.
In the work on static electricity, Faraday demonstrated that the charge only resided on the exterior of a charged conductor, and exterior charge had no influence on anything enclosed within a conductor; this shielding effect is used in what is now known as a Faraday cage.
He gave a successful series of lectures on the chemistry and physics of flames at the Royal Institution, entitled `The Natural History of a candle'; this was the origin of the Christmas lectures for young people that are still given there every year.
Faraday's sponsor and mentor was John 'Mad Jack' Fuller, who created the Fullerian Professorship of Chemistry at the Royal Institution. Faraday was the first, and most famous, holder of this position to which he was appointed for life.