Noteworthy experiments with magnetism include those conducted by William Gilbert, Michael Faraday and Hans Christian Orsted. Humans have been experimenting with magnetism since at least 600 B.C., when the Greek natural philosopher Thales discussed magnetic substances. However, modern scientific experimentation with magnets began with Gilbert's experiments around 1600.Continue Reading
William Gilbert, the royal physician to Queen Elizabeth I, experimented with a scale model of the planet Earth made from a lodestone. He was curious about why a compass needle pointed north, and he hypothesized that the Earth itself was a giant magnet. Passing a compass over his scale model, he demonstrated that the compass pointed towards the magnetic pole of the model, just like it did with the Earth.
Danish physicist Hans Christian Orsted was the first scientist to discover a link between magnetism and electricity. During a lecture in 1820, Orsted noticed that a compass needle deflected from magnetic north when a nearby electric current from a battery was switched on and off. He later performed more rigorous experiments that demonstrated that an electric current produces circular magnetic fields as it passes through a wire.
English scientist Michael Faraday further explored the relationship between magnetism and electricity. In 1831, he conducted an experiment that demonstrated that passing a magnet through a loop of wire produced an electric current in that wire. Faraday's experiment, along with several others, laid the groundwork for the contemporary scientific understanding of magnetism and electricity as being one and the same force, namely the electromagnetic force.Learn more about Magnetism