The History of the Man Behind the Friendly Little Demon

James Clerk Maxwell was born in Edinburgh Scotland on June 13, 1831 and from the age of three years old he was described as have an innate sense of inquisitiveness. In 1839 at the young age of 8 years old James’ mother passed away from abdominal cancer which put the boy’s father and father’s sister-in-law in charge of his schooling. In February of 1842 James’ father took him to see Robert Davidson’s demonstration of electric propulsion and magnetic force; little did he know that this event would strongly impact on his future.

Fascinated with geometry from an early age James would go on to rediscover the regular polyhedron before he was instructed. At the age of 13 James’ would go on to win the schools mathematical medal and first prize in both English and Poetry.

Later in his life James would go on to calculate and discover the relationship between light, electricity, and magnetism. This discovery would lay the ground work for Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Einstein later credit Maxwell for laying the ground work and said his work was “the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.”. James Maxwell’s work would literally lay the ground work for launching the world into the nuclear age.

Starting in the year 1859 Maxwell would begin developing the theory of the distribution of velocities in particles of gas, which was later generalized by Ludwig Boltzmann in the formula called the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution. In his kinetic theory, it is stated that temperature and heat involve only molecular movement. Eventually his work in thermodynamics would lead him to a though experiment that would hypothetically violate the second law of thermodynamics, because the total entropy of the two gases would decrease without applying any work. His description of the experiment is as follows:

…if we conceive of a being whose faculties are so sharpened that he can follow every molecule in its course, such a being, whose attributes are as essentially finite as our own, would be able to do what is impossible to us. For we have seen that molecules in a vessel full of air at uniform temperature are moving with velocities by no means uniform, though the mean velocity of any great number of them, arbitrarily selected, is almost exactly uniform. Now let us suppose that such a vessel is divided into two portions, A and B, by a division in which there is a small hole, and that a being, who can see the individual molecules, opens and closes this hole, so as to allow only the swifter molecules to pass from A to B, and only the slower molecules to pass from B to A. He will thus, without expenditure of work, raise the temperature of B and lower that of A, in contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics.

Here at EXAIR we are very familiar with Maxwell’s “friendly little demon” that can separate gases into a cold and hot stream. His thought experiment, although unproven in his life time, did come to fruition with the introduction of the Vortex Tube.

Vortex Tube a.k.a Maxwell’s Demon

With his birthday being last weekend I propose that we raise a glass and tip our hats to a brilliant man and strive to remember the brilliant ideas that he gave us.

If you have any questions or want more information on EXAIR’s Cabinet Coolers or like products. Give us a call, we have a team of application engineers ready to answer your questions and recommend a solution for your applications.

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook


People of Interest: Daniel Bernoulli – 2/8/1700 to 3/17/1782

Daniel Bernoulli was born in Groningen, Netherlands on February 8, 1700  and was part of a large family heritage of famous mathematicians – His father Johann Bernoulli, one of the first founders of calculus, his uncle Jacob Bernoulli and his older brother Nicolous. When he was only 7 years old, Daniel began to take an interest in mathematics but his father convinced him that there was no financial gain to be had in mathematics and recommended he focus his studies in business instead. Reluctant at first, Daniel would take his father’s advice under the one condition, that his father would tutor him in calculus and his theories of kinetic energy.

At 13 years old, Daniel attended Basel University where he studied logic and philosophy completing his bachelor’s degree by the age of 15 and earning his master’s degree just 1 year later. Over the years, Daniel’s relationship with his father was strained as a result of him plagiarizing his father’s findings. Eventually, his father passed without reconciling with Daniel. At 24, Daniel became a Professor of Mathematics  at a University in Venice but resigned from the position just 9 years later in 1733.

His most recognized mathematical contribution, Bernoulli’s principle, came in 1938 while performing energy conservation experiments, and he published the results in his book entitled Hydrodynamica . He discovered that when fluid travels through a wide pipe into a smaller, more narrow pipe, the fluid begins to move  faster. He determined that the volume or amount of fluid moving through the pipe remains unchanged but will conform to the shape of the pipe or container as it flows. He concluded that the higher the pressure, the slower the flow of the liquid and the lower the pressure, the faster the liquid flow.

The same principle can be applied to air. As air moves around an obstruction or object, it follows the profile of the part and begins to speed up.

Take for example our Super Air Nozzles. The compressed air exits the nozzle through a series of jets which induces a low pressure around the profile of the nozzle, drawing in ambient air. This entrainment of air, up to 25 times or more, results in a high outlet flow at minimal compressed air consumption.

Super Air Nozzle air entrainment

Many of the products offered by EXAIR incorporate this science which can lead to a more efficient operation by lowering compressed air demand ultimately reducing operating costs. To see how our products can help you save money while increasing process performance, contact an Application Engineer for assistance.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer


Bildnis des Daniel Bernoullius image courtesy of Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig via creative commons license