Michael Faraday

The hope that God rewards patience – working with electricity

Other themes: rumours, not jumping to conclusions

The Problem

Listen and think what you would do if you were in this situation.

Lucy stretched one arm out of bed. Good that today was Saturday – no school. She was tired.

Well, it had been a great birthday party, everyone said so. It was good of Mum and Dad to get all those pizzas in and not moan when they turned the volume up on the CD player.

Just a shame Helen hadn’t been able to come. They’d been friends for ages, but just recently Helen had been a bit quiet. She’d rung up just an hour before the party to say that she felt sick and she wouldn’t be coming, sorry and all that.

Lucy finally got herself out of bed and had just got downstairs when the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” she shouted. Could be Helen, she thought.

But it was Emma. “Hi, Lucy. Listen, I thought you said Helen was sick. Well, I saw her on the way home from the party last night, coming out of the cinema she was, with some other people. I only glimpsed her out of the car window, but I’m fairly sure it was her.”

Lucy felt hurt, then angry. When Emma had rung off, she began dialling Helen’s number, her fingers trembling a little. Then she banged it down. No, I’ll write her a letter, she thought. That way she can’t interrupt. My brother can take it round on his bike. Best friend – huh. Best liar, more like.

Or…perhaps…She looked at the phone again.

Now think:

What should she do? What mistake is she making? What could be the result?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Our true story is about a man who, unlike Lucy, didn’t jump to conclusions. He was born in 1791 but his inventions are still being used today. In fact you’ve used one today. All of you have.

Michael Faraday stared in puzzlement at his workbench, at his equipment, at his notes. Why wasn’t the experiment working? He really believed electricity, used together with magnetism, could make things move. But until he’d proved it, it was only a theory, an idea.

And what use was a theory? Oh yes, he could do what many scientists did and publish his ideas, and people would say, “Brilliant, brilliant. What a splendid fellow Faraday is.” But that wasn’t what he wanted. He just wanted to be sure he was right. So he had to prove it.

And he believed one day he would. He would not give up home. He felt God would reward his patience. One day.

He turned to look round his laboratory. The hundreds of little bottles lining the shelves winked at him as the sunlight fell on them. “Go on, discover our secrets,” they seemed to be challenging him. “With God’s help, I will,” he murmured. “In time. Now let’s try this one again. I’ll try it like this. Now let’s see…”

This fascination with science had begun in Mr Riebau’s bookshop where he had been an apprentice bookbinder. He loved dipping into the books customers brought in for binding. Anything on chemistry or electricity would hold him spellbound – until Mr Riebau called out, “You’re here to bind ‘em, not read ‘em, Michael.”

But Michael knew there’d be a smile on his employer’s face. Mr Riebau was like a second father to him, having hired him first as a delivery boy when he was thirteen. When he saw how hardworking he was, a year later he offered him a free apprenticeship. His future was as secure as it could be.

But for Michael the world of leather bindings was too safe. It was the world of science that excited him, its experiments and explosions, its dangers and discoveries. He went to scientific lectures and came out his head bursting with questions and ideas: “What if – this? What if – that?” Michael longed to be a scientist himself and answer all those “what if” questions himself.

The most exciting lectures were given by Sir Humphry Davy. Michael wrote up his notes after each of his lectures in beautiful handwriting, bound them into a book, then sent it to Sir Humphry asking if he could have a job working for him. It was a chance in a million, like one of you writing to a chart-topping group and asking to join.

But for Michael it worked. Just after the book arrived, one of Sir Humphry’s assistants got the sack for fighting, and he was in. Michael must have said “Wow!” a hundred times – or whatever they said in 1813.

He probably also said “Thank you”. Because Michael would have known someone was guiding and helping him. God. Michael had been a faithful member of his little church near St. Paul’s Cathedral since he was young.

And God had another surprise in store. Sir Humphry decided to take a trip abroad to meet top European scientists. He would take with him his wife – and his new assistant. A few more “Wows”.

It wasn’t two lazy weeks in the sun though. It was eighteen months and not always easy. Sir Humphry’s wife loved bossing Michael about, and he missed English food.

But he got to meet scientists like Ampere and Volta – who gave their names to ways of measuring electricity – amperes, or amps, and volts. So you can guess what subject they talked about!

Back home Michael plunged into all kinds of experiments. He knew that God had given him a real talent, and didn’t want to let him down. He experimented with sugar and seaweed, stainless steel and heatproof glass, discovering things which made life better and safer.

But it was electricity which fascinated him most. No one really used electricity in those days. Even Ampere and Volta couldn’t see how it could change the world.

Michael Faraday could. But he made a decision to say nothing about his ideas for the time being. Weeks, months, years went by. Faraday sat, thinking, experimenting, refusing to jump to conclusions, for that could just confuse people; no! – more that confuse them – wrong conclusions could hurt people: he had to make sure his ideas were safe.

And then it happened: magnets like this, batteries connected like this, and, yes, that wire was moving! Nothing had exploded, no one been electrocuted. But something had moved! Moved through the power of electricity!

He checked the results. Yes!

He rechecked. Yes again!

Faraday was sure of his ground now. Now he could speak out.

By 1862 he had recorded over 16,000 experiments. But by then he had invented his Big Three – the electric motor, the transformer and the dynamo. Dozens of inventions depend on one or more of these Big Three. Turned on a light? Been in a car? Played on a cassette? Made yourself some toast?

Be glad then for a man who didn’t jump to conclusions. He sat and thought and he checked his facts. That’s how he got it right.

Time of Reflection

Not just in science, but in our daily lives too, jumping to conclusions can get us in a mess. It can hurt other people too, if we accuse them unfairly or, perhaps worse, if we spread rumours about them. Have you ever opened your mouth before you should, before you’d really checked out the facts?

Just take a moment to think about this.

Bible Bits

The Bible tells us to play it cool:

“Good people think before they answer.” (Proverbs 15:28)

 “Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword.” (Proverbs 12:18)

“Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)

Prayer

Help us, Lord, to be slow to speak – to check on the facts before we accuse someone or before we make a decision. And help us not to be gossips or rumour spreaders – ever. Amen

Variations on a Theme

Explain the Big Three inventions (motor, transformer, dynamo), then ask children to suggest ways life would be different without them. Use an OHP to make a list.

Quiz Questions

  1. How old was Michael when Mr Riebau first employed him?
  2. How did he first get interested in science?
  3. What did he send to Sir Humphry Davy?
  4. He’d have thanked Sir Humphry for the job – who else?
  5. How long was the trip abroad?
  6. What would he have talked about with Ampere and Volta?
  7. Why did he want to check out all his ideas?
  8. Can you name one of his Big Three inventions?
  9. And another?
  10. And another?
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