(1777 - 1851)

Hans Christian Oersted was a Danish scientist who discovered the principle of electromagnetism. When he was 43, he noticed that whenever a compass was placed near a wire carrying electric current, the needle of a compass jumped. Based on this observation, Oersted concluded that an electric current produces a magnetic field. His discovery sparked numerous discoveries in the fields of magnetism and electricity within a few years. Michael Faraday, Joseph Henry, and André-Marie Ampère stood on his shoulders.

Oersted was the first scientist to isolate Aluminum from Aluminum ore in 1825. He also studied the compressibility of fluids and gases, wanting to prove that changes in the volume of a liquid are proportional to changes in pressure.

Oersted was deeply interested in philosophy, particularly that of Immanuel Kant, and applied his philosophy to science. Oersted supported Kant in the belief that science was not just the discovery of nature. They believed that the scientist did not merely record empirical facts and sum them up in mathematical formulas. They thought that the human mind imposed patterns upon observations and that these patterns were scientific laws.

Hans Christian Oersted was born to Søren Christian Oersted, an apothecary, and Karen Hermansen in Rudkøbing, Denmark on August 14, 1777. As a child, Oersted and his brother were put in the care of a German wigmaker and his wife, by their parents since they had no time to raise their sons properly with their demanding jobs. At 11, Oersted went to work at his father's pharmacy where he learned methods of chemistry.

Oersted and his brother never went to school but they passed the entrance exams at the University of Copenhagen with honors in 1794. At the university, Oersted studied pharmacy, philosophy, astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics. In 1797 he earned a pharmaceutical degree in 1797 with honors. He taught chemistry and physics at the university for several years. After Oersted died in 1851, he was honored by having a standard unit of measurement named for him. The oersted is a measure of the strength of a magnetic field caused by electric current flowing through a wire.

To make an electromagnet, take a foot long of wire and wrap it multiple times around a nail in a neat coil. Attach both ends of the wire to the ends of a dry cell battery and the nail acts like a magnet. When one wire is removed from an end, the nail ceases acting like a magnet. This shows that electricity and magnets are related. Props to Oersted!