Two Hundred Years of Electromagnetism
In July 1820, Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851) of the University of Copenhagen published a four-page text “Experiments on the effect of the electric conflict on the magnetic needle”. He had discovered that a wire carrying an electric current generated by a Voltaic pile affected the orientation of a nearby compass needle and in particular that the effect circulated outside the wire in the plane perpendicular to it. Within months, André-Marie Ampère (1775-1836) had extended Oersted’s work by experiment and mathematics. Ampère published his magnum opus on electrodynamics in 1826/1827, establishing himself, according to James Clerk Maxwell, as the “Newton of electricity”. In 1831, Michael Faraday (1791-1867) discovered the generation of an electric current by moving or changing magnetic fields. This basic physics, discovered between 1820 and 1831, was to underpin a technological revolution and also to pose intellectual problems that fascinated scientists up to and including Albert Einstein.
The early giants – Oersted, Ampère, and Faraday – generated sensations and disputes among a large cast of scientists, some of whom are memorialised in the in the names of units or laws but others of whom are better known today for their contributions to other fields of science, or else have fallen into undeserved obscurity.
This one-day meeting will be of interest to scientists who wish to know how familiar concepts originated, and also to professional historians of science.
Speakers will include –
Isobel Falconer (University of St Andrews)
Peter Ford (University of Bath)
Jim Grozier (UCL)
Anja Skaar Jacobsen (University of Copenhagen)
Frank James (UCL)
Michael Jewess (History of Physics Group Committee).
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