Author: ndalton

1629 – Repulsion of like charges

1629 – Repulsion of like charges – Niccolò Cabeo

Niccolò Cabeo May have been the first to notice that object with the same charged are repelled from each other.  He wrote a book on magnetic philosophy (“Philosophia magnetica”).  Where he descibe metal filing being attracted to a charged object, but once they touched the charged object they are repelled by it.

Experiment – Repulsion

1600 – Versorium Electroscope

1600 – Versorium Electroscope – William Gilbert

In 1600 William Gilbert, the queen physician, published a book called De Magnete (Latin for “On the Magnet”) . It became the standard for magnetism and electricity. He developed a tool to detect electric charges (electroscope), which he called a versorium. It consisted of a needle on a pivot. He was also to use the term, in Latin, for electric force. He was also the first to realize that the earth was a giant magnet.

Experiment – Versorium

1748 – early electroscope

1748 – Jean-Antoine Nollet – Early electroscope

In 1748 Jean-Antoine Nollet built an early electroscope, an electrometer comprised of a suspended pith ball that moves in response to the electrostatic attraction and repulsion of a charged body.

It was a metal box with  isolated wire hung down and a piece of metal foil hanging down.  With a special lense  they amount of movement of the foil could be measured.


Experiment – Early electroscope

1742 – Electrostatic Bells

1742 – Electrostatic Bells – Andrew Gordon

About 1742 Andrew Gordon, a Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University at Erfurt in Germany, invented the Electrostatic Bells. It was the first invention to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy. Benjamin Franklin later used this invention to detect lighting storms and they became more commonly known as “Franklin Bells”.

Experiment – Electrostatic Bells

4 BC – The Compass – China

Chinese South Pointing Device

In the Chinese book “Book of the Devil Valley Master” (鬼谷子) is mentioned a “south pointing device” or compass. It was used at the time for fortune telling1.

Magnetized needle compass

The first reference to using a magnetized need a magnetized needle happens around around 1088, in the Dream Pool Essays by Shen Kuo. It isn’t until 1119 that the use of a magnetized needle compass was used for navigational purposes in Zhu Yu‘s book Pingzhou Table Talks (萍洲可談).

A magnetized needle compass was first mentioned in western literature written about 1180 by Alexander Neckam in De Utensilibus (On Instruments).

Experiment – make a compass

600 BC – Attraction of static electricity

600 BC – Attraction of static electricity – Thales of Miletos

(624 BC -546 BC)

Thales also observed that after rubbing amber with certain items it attracts small objects.

Amber is fossilized tree resin. It is hard transparent yellowish (amber) colored substance that was used for jewelery and buttons. We can reproduce Thales observations with other objects too.

The word electricity came from the latin word electrious which means to “produce from amber by friction”. Electrious has is root in the greek word for amberηλεκτρονelectron)ew,monospace;”>


Experiment – attraction of small objects I

600 BC -Early magnetism

Thales of Miletos (624 BC -546 BC)

Thales of Miletos was greek philosopher, mathematician and natural scientist in the 6th century BC. He observed that loadstones attracted iron.

A loadstone is a naturally occurring magnet. It is a form of iron ore that keeps it’s magnetic properties, perhaps after being struck by lighting. If iron is struck by lighting it will become magnetic for a short time. We can simulate Thales observations.

Experiment – what is attracted to a magnet:


Magnetism and Electricity experiments

Exploring Magnetism and Electricity Through Time
Through experiments you can do at home.

This section take you through the discoveries in magnetism and electicity through time, in the order they where discovered. With experiments you can do at home to replicate the discoveries.

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