Footprints of Faith

Walks for schools through culture, history and belief in Cambridge

Science Walk (KS2) – Stop 4: Old Cavendish Laboratory

At each stop on the walk there will be a story and an activity. Resources for these can be picked up at the Round Church at the start of the walk. These will include a teacher’s booklet (containing a set of maps, useful phone numbers and contact details, information about loos and picnic/snack points); instructions for the stories and activities; a set of resource cards displaying relevant images; a set of artefacts. However, copies of worksheets for children to use during the walk need to be downloaded and printed off at school and brought with you.

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3 | Stop 4 | Stop 5 

Story Four:
James Clerk Maxwell (1832–1879)


• Stand outside the gates to the Old Cavendish Laboratory on Free School Lane

This is a photograph of a statue which was made to remember James Clerk Maxwell.

• Show the photograph – Resource Card J

Can you see what is just beside his feet?

It’s his dog Toby. He really loved animals, and especially dogs.

Hasn’t he got a great beard?

• Hold up false beard – Artefact 10

Would anyone like to try it on?

He was alive at the same time as Queen Victoria.

• Show the pocket watch – Artefact 11

In those days men usually wore a pocket watch a bit like this one. Time was important to James. He was always in a hurry. He died when he was quite young, but he fitted so much into his short life that he helped science to take a big leap forward.

He was interested in science even as a young boy. He was taught at home by his mother when he was young. She really got him interested in the beauty of the world, and the harmony in nature. His mother died when he was nine, but she had got him started on a great voyage of discovery. He wanted to know how everything worked. He also had an amazing memory. When he was 8 years old he could recite Psalm 119 – all 176 verses! He was really inspired by verse 18:

• Hold up a copy of the Psalms p. 195 – Artefact 12

Who would like to read it for us?

“Open my eyes, so I may see the wonders of your law”. (Grail Translation)

[A more modern translation reads: “Open my eyes, to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” (New Living Translation)]

James Clerk Maxwell loved seeing how God’s creation and science worked together in harmony.

He grew up and became such an important scientist that the great Albert Einstein even had a picture of him on his study wall, and said he was the best physicist since Isaac Newton!

James was the first Cavendish professor of physics here in Cambridge, and was in charge of getting this new Cavendish laboratory built. It was the most advanced scientific laboratory in the world when it was built! It was kitted out with all the latest equipment. But when it came to decorating the gateway, James turned back to the Psalms.

I wonder what language the carving on the gate it is written in?

The carving is in Latin, this is the English version of Psalm 111, verse 2:

• Show the copy of the Psalms again, this time p. 184 – Artefact 12

Would anyone like to read it for us?

“Great are the works of the Lord, to be pondered by all who love them.” (Grail Translation)

[A more modern translation reads: “The Lord’s deeds are spectacular! They should be studied by all who enjoy them.” (God’s Word Translation)]

• Go to St Bene’t’s church to tell the rest of the story

James Clerk Maxwell spent his whole life discovering how wonderful the world was. He loved doing experiments, and continued William Gilbert’s work on magnets.

• If you did not do stop 1 explain that William Gilbert lived in the time of Elizabeth I, and wrote a book on magnetism which had ideas that were still being used in Clerk Maxwell’s time.

He wrote some equations, which explain electromagnetism. These equations are famous for being very beautiful to look at. He explains something very complicated in a very simple and clear way. He gathered all the ideas, experiments and equations from other scientists about electricity, magnetism and light. To show that they could work together, he created set of equations. This area of science is now called quantum electrodynamics – how electric and magnetic fields travel through space in the form of waves and at the speed of light. Maxwell’s Equations are so famous, they have even been made into a T-shirt.

• Show the T-shirt – Artefact 13

Would anyone like to try it on?

Maxwell also continued the work of Isaac Newton.

• If you didn’t do stop 2, explain about Newton using a prism to identify colours in white light

He was interested in light and colour. He discovered that white light has three primary colours of red, green and blue, and that all colours could be made from these 3 colours. He also took the first permanent colour photograph

• Show the copy of Clerk Maxwell’s photograph – Resource Card K

What do you think it is of?

A piece of tartan ribbon!

It doesn’t look much, but it was a big advance in photography. Now we can take photos which capture the beauty of the world.

• Show a beautiful nature photograph – Resource card L

What do you think it is of?

Now we can even capture the Northern Lights in a photograph!

James Clerk Maxwell’s delight in what he saw as a wonderful world created by a loving God has helped us to enjoy it too.

It has been said that James Clerk Maxwell was the second person, after Isaac Newton, to look at what was happening in the world and see how it related to what was happening throughout the universe.

James Clerk Maxwell used every minute of his life to share his experience of God’s love with others. As well as working hard to explain the wonders of creation, James used to spend time visiting the sick, to read to them and pray with them. He also cared for his sick wife. He even found time to write funny poems about other scientists. He died of cancer when he was 48 years old. His doctor said that despite being in great pain he was cheerful to the end. James died at exactly the same age and of the same kind of cancer as his mother.

In 1953, 74 years after Clerk Maxwell died, another important discovery was made in this laboratory that he had designed so carefully. James Watson and Francis Crick made a model to show the structure of DNA – the genetic code. Now scientists can decode the genome, and identify the genes which are passed on from parent to child and can cause cancers. One day they may be able to design therapies which cure the cancers, or even change the genes so that people never get ill.

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Activity Four:
Match the Pairs

James Clerk Maxwell took great joy in looking at the world around him, and delighting in the beauty of creation. When he took the first permanent colour photograph, he opened up the opportunity for people to see things as they really were in places they would never be able to visit.

Among the many fields of science that Clerk Maxwell worked in, he made great contributions to optics and electromagnetism. Scientists used his discoveries to develop the electron microscope. Now we can use electron microscopes to see things in minute detail, and take colour photographs of them.

Here is a set of pictures. The pictures on the right hand side of the page show some objects as we see them. The pictures on the left hand side show them magnified through a special lens or microscope.

Your task is to work out which magnified picture matches which object.

Take your time to think about it, then draw lines on your worksheet matching up the pairs.


1 = D – water droplet/fountain

2 = F – skin/elephant

3 = E – stone/cliff

4 = A – fur/cat

5 = B – grain of sand/desert

6 = G – plant cell wall/leaf

7 = C – compound eye/insect

When you have done that, you might have time to write a poem about one of the pictures.

You could write an acrostic poem – using a letter from the name of the object to start each line of the poem, e.g. KITTEN, ELEPHANT, FOUNTAIN.

Background information for teachers

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3 | Stop 4 | Stop 5 


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