The First Electrical Theirists
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The historical development of science often depends upon the contributions of individual scientists and researchers who being unaware of each other oftentimes work within the same field. Such phenomenon is not deductive to any of the scientists’ credit but complimentary to his or her thoughts manifestations. In other word, if knowledge of one scientist is unknown to another, his or her inventions might have been never seen the light of day. The subfield of physics, known as electrical phenomenon, is an example of such. Through and with mutual contributions of many scientists, we, today, enjoy practical applications of Coulomb law, Ohm’s law, Ampere’s relationship between electricity and magnetism, and Volta’s law of capacitance.
Charles Augustine de Coulomb (1736-1806) is known to be a discoverer of Coulomb’s law. Coulomb law defines the force of electrostatic attraction and repulsion. The SI unit of electrostatic charge was named in his honor. In his pursuit for knowledge he studied electricity and magnetism. His investigations included such famous work as Théorie des machines simples, en ayant égard au frottement de leurs parties et à la roideur des cordages (which covered the laws of friction). His contemporaries considered him the father of mathematical theory that described the laws of electrical and magnetic force. He became known due to the research he did in Richefort. That research won him the double first prize in 1781 at the academy in France. After that, he developed 25 scientific papers from 1781 to 1806. After his travel (on business) to England, he was elected to the position of the president of the Institute de France. After the Revolution, he resumed his research and was elected as member for physique experimentale in the new Institute of France. He was later appointed (1802) as the Inspector General of Public Instruction. He served in this position until his death (Michels, 1956).
Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (1745 – 1827) was an Italian physicist known primarily for inventing an electric battery. He named his invention electrophorus, which he described as the device producing a static electric charge. He was also known to work with chemistry of gases producing the effect of ignition. Later, in his life, he came up with what we know today as capacitance discovering the proportional law that is known as Volta’s Law of Capacitance. His work is most known as his development of the concept of “state saturation of bodies” (Michels, 1956,). According to Lenard (1933), in the year of 1775, he was awarded the professorship of experimental physics. Because of the influence of another scientist, Volta changed his concept of “natural saturation” to that of potential. It was Napoleon who granted him the title of Count and Senator of the Kingdom of Italy
André-Marie Ampère (1775 –1836), was a French physicist who is known to be one of the main discoverers of electromagnetism. The SI unit of measurement of electric current was named after him. His main work’s attention was on the relationship between electricity and magnetism that later led to conceptualize such relationship as electromagnetism, also known as electrodynamics (Silver, 1998, p. 88). His most breakthroughs came in the years between 1820 and 1825. During that period, he conducted a series of experiments with the result of which he arrived to the factual evidence translated by him as “magnetism is electricity in motion.” (Lenard, 1933). His famous 9 points summarized and described the law of current carried through the wires as wells as ‘circulating currents’ carried between the magnet poles. This direction of his thinking helped to connect (to relate) the fields of electricity and magnetism. Later, he had developed another scientist’s idea (Fresnel) that there are currents of electricity around each molecule. This lead to his assumption that “electrodynamic molecule” was that of an iron that decomposed the ether, the substance that filled space and matter with what he called then “electric fluids.”
George Simon Ohm (1789 -1854) was a German physicist who was working with electromechanical cell invented by Volta. Using his own equipment for measuring the current between positive and negative poles of the battery, he discovered wires’ resistance to the current thus formulating a mathematical relationship of the amount of the current to the cross sectional area (resistance) of the wire. The resultant quantity was named after him and resulted in Ohm’s law. Thus, he found the relationship between wire’s resistance and electrical current. His first paper describing this relationship was published in 1827 but understood as theory-describing variation of electromagnetic force (Coulomb’s influence?) produced by wires of different lengths. His more intense work began after he was offered a position of ‘Oberlehrer’ of mathematics and physics at the prestigious Jesuit Gymnasium at Cologne (Hart, 1923). There he began experimenting with electricity and magnetism. He first published in 1825 describing the relationship between the decrease in the electrical current and the length of wire. He came then with the idea of electrical resistance. His following papers were on galvanic electricity published a few years later. His culminating and more detailed work was described in his book Die Galvanische Kette Mathematische Bearbeit, published in 1827. For his work, he was awarded the Copley medal of the Royal Society of London (Lenard, 1933).
All the above men were responsible in our understanding of the electricity, specifically in the following and particular concepts within the field studying electricity: a) electric potential, electric current, electromagnetic field, electric charge, and electric resistance. An electric current is thought to be a flow of electrons or electric charge, and it is measured in Amperes. Ampere, himself, imagined such flow as the electric field moving through conductors and considering the wires’ resistance. Later on, the concepts of the Direct Current and Alternate Current were developed. Ampere needed to describe the behavior of electric currents. Ohm and Volt greatly contributed to this need. Ohm’s law established a relationship between current’s flow and the wires’ resistance, while Volta’s contribution manifested in understanding of the voltage potential.
The voltage potential explains the difference between two poles of the Volta’s battery and can be viewed as the potential work that is stored between positive and negative poles. If the negative pole is considered to be a reference point, then the electric potential at any point can be defined in terms of potential amount of work that can be done to move the electric current from the positive to negative poles (conventional representation) of the battery. As we know today, this potential is measured in volts with one Volt equal one joule/coulomb. When voltage is applied (with a battery) to a complete circuit, the electric current will result. To understand what does potential between two charges means, one should look at the modern measurements. While a small battery has a potential between “plus” and “minus” poles of 1.5 volts, the high-powered transmission line can carry up to 700,000 volts (McCloy, 1952). The domestic electricity is wired for 110 volts, while countries in Europe for 220 volts. Volts can also be viewed as potential difference (PD) that is necessary to produce the current of electricity. Thus, the absolute volt is necessary to produce a current of one ampere with the resistance of one ohm (Hart, 1923).
Of course, because Ampere worked on the idea of a completed circuit and the current of electricity a generation later, Volta was a bit at disadvantage. Nevertheless, it did not stop him from realizing that in order to use the differential between positive and negative poles of his cell (battery), the poles have to be connected. It took the genius of Ampere to continue the thought to complete an idea of an electric circuit. In parallel, he was working on the attraction and repulsion effect of electromagnetic field created by two current conducting wires that led to the development of galvanometer. Even then, Ampere warned his followers not to think of this phenomenon as the quantity of current. Thus, to avoid the misunderstanding or inaccurate representation, the AMPS must be viewed as the units for measurement of flow rate, analogies to gallon per minute in a pipe (Michels, 1956). The quantity (or amount) of charge (or how many gallons) is measured in Coulomb – one ampere flowing for one-second moves an amount of charge equal to one Coulomb. Ampere built his discoveries on the work of Coulomb who came a generation before him.
Electric charge can also be understood (conventional physics) as a property of the relationship between subatomic particles and their attractive and repulsive affect on each other. Thus, it can be viewed as the quantity of charge, usually expressed in volts, the higher the number the bigger charge. Coulomb described the magnitude of the force of attraction or repulsion by his Coulomb law. This law is better understood when one looks at two electric charges or two magnetic poles of a magnet. Not unlike, the Newton’s law of gravitation forces, this law describes the force being directly proportional to the product of the charges between the poles and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them (Schlagel, 1996).
In thus, we see that our modern understanding of the electrical phenomena is based upon the contributions of Coulomb, Volta, Ampere, and Ohm. Their thoughts and ideas became a trigger point for mutually produced views on the studied phenomenon. Despite the fact that each of them was looking at the studied phenomenon from his unique perspective, the cumulative effect of the mutual contribution produced the interesting results that perhaps neither of them would be able to achieve those if they worked in isolation. To bring all into time perspective, it is worthy to arrange the discoveries of these great scientists in time line starting with Coulomb.
1789 Coulomb’s law discovered.
1799 Volta invents the battery.
1820 Ampere’s law discovered.
1826 Ohm’s law discovered.
The line of geniuses certainly did not exhaust itself. There were others who equally contributed to the developing of ideas, thoughts, theories, and models. Without their contributions, our progress today would be questionable. The important thought behind the thesis of this paper is the important discoveries should and usually do not belong to one and only scientists. It is usual when a scientist reads a paper of another and gets a totally different and unique perspective of the same model another was working on. In such a way, many discoveries were made. It is very rare (Tesla, Einstein, Da Vinchi, Michelangelo) when the ideas were not based on something seen or understood by others.
It is then, important to realize then forward movement in any field depends upon the cumulative work of many and thus any idea, any thought, and any perspective must be shared.
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