Hans Christian Oersted

Hans Christian Oersted's contribution to the field of science is immense. This article tells you about his life and his achievements in various fields.
| Saturday, June 12, 2010
Hans Christian Oersted was a Danish physicist and philosopher who was born on August 14, 1777 in Rudkjöbing, Langeland, Denmark. In his youth, Oersted began to follow in his father’s footsteps and took up Chemistry; however later he chose to become a physicist instead of a pharmacist. The University of Copenhagen conferred a Ph.D. on Hans Christian Oersted for his dissertation on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. This was in the year 1799. Oersted traveled around Europe only to come back to the University in 1806. It was at this University that he was appointed of professor of chemistry and physics.

Oersted became interested in electrical phenomena in the year 1800 when he came to know about the invention of the electric battery by Alessandro Volta. It was at this time that various scientists were busy trying to find a connection between magnetism and electricity. Oersted predicted a connection between the two in the year 1813; unfortunately his prediction was only based on philosophical grounds which were not enough. It was during a class demonstration in the year 1819 that Oersted found definite proof of the theory that electricity had a magnetic field. He did not publish his discovery stating that he wanted to investigate the matter thoroughly. Further investigation into the subject led to the knowledge of the magnetic field being circular and the needle always pointing at a right angle. Oersted also discovered that if the flow of the electric current was reversed then the opposite side of the needle was attracted. It was in July 1820 that Oersted finally published his discovery.

Oersted’s published work created an interest in the subject with names like Michael Faraday, Joseph Henry and others trying to gather more information on the subject. It was when this happened that Oersted detached himself from this subject. The only work that he did after was to show that the magnetic influence of the electric current was enough to penetrate nonmagnetic substances as well as glass. After this discovery Oersted began to study gases and liquids ultimately inventing a device that could determine the compressibility of the above. Thermoelectricity was another area that he was interested in and this interest led to the creation of metallic aluminum as well as isolated piperidine which is an organic compound.

It was in the year 1829 that Oersted founded Den Polytekniske Læreanstalt, i.e. the College of Advanced Technology. This university was later renamed the Technical University of Denmark. Apart from his valuable contribution to the above fields, Oersted also wrote a poetry series called Luftskibet which means “The Airship.” He derived inspiration for this series from the balloon flights of fellow physicist and stage magician Étienne-Gaspard Robert. A collection of articles named “The Soul of Nature” was also submitted by him before his death. Oersted breathed his last on March 9, 1851 in Copenhagen. This great physicist was honored for his contribution in the year 1934 when a unit for the strength of a magnetic field was named after him.