- Some content on this page may previously have appeared on Wikipedia.
History remembers William Gilbert (1544-1603), an English physician and experimental and theoretical physics-oriented natural philosopher, mostly for his book on new discoveries in magnetism and electricity, De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure (On the Magnet, Magnetic Bodies, and the Great Magnet of the Earth) (1600), the first systematic study of those phenomena—pioneering experiments and novel interpretations. Joseph Priestley referred to him as 'the father of electricity'.
Life and work
Gilbert was born in Colchester, UK, a town about 60 miles northeast of London, on...
to Jerome Gilberd, a borough recorder. He was educated at St John's College, Cambridge. After gaining his MD from Cambridge in 1569, and a short spell as bursar of St John's College, he left to practice medicine in London and travelled on the continent. In 1573, he was elected a Fellow of the College of Physicians (not by that point granted a royal charter). In 1600 he was elected President of the College. From 1601 until his death in 1603, he was Elizabeth I's own physician, and James VI and I renewed his appointment.
His primary scientific work—much inspired by earlier works of Robert Norman—was De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure (On the Magnet and Magnetic Bodies, and on the Great Magnet the Earth) published in 1600. In this work, he describes many of his experiments with his model earth called the terrella. From these experiments, he concluded that the Earth was itself magnetic and that this was the reason compasses point north (previously, some believed that it was the pole star (Polaris) or a large magnetic island on the north pole that attracted the compass). He was the first to argue, correctly, that the centre of the Earth was iron, and he considered an important and related property of magnets was that they can be cut, each forming a new magnet with north and south poles.
In Book 6, Chapter 3 he argues in support of diurnal rotation but not for heliocentrism, stating that it is an absurdity to think that the immense celestial spheres (doubting even that they exist) rotate daily, as opposed to the diurnal rotation of the much smaller earth. He also posits that the "fixed" stars are at remote variable distances rather than fixed to an imaginary sphere. He states that situated "in thinnest aether, or in the most subtle fifth essence, or in vacuity - how shall the stars keep their places in the mighty swirl of these enormous spheres composed of a substance of which no one knows aught?"
The English word electricity was first used in 1646 by Sir Thomas Browne, derived from Gilbert's 1600 New Latin electricus, meaning "like amber". The term had been in use since the 13th century, but Gilbert was the first to use it to mean "like amber in its attractive properties". He recognized that friction with these objects removed a so-called effluvium, which would cause the attraction effect in returning to the object, though he did not realize that this substance (electric charge) was universal to all materials.
The electric effluvia differ much from air, and as air is the earth's effluvium, so electric bodies have their own distinctive effluvia; and each peculiar effluvium has its own individual power of leading to union, its own movement to its origin, to its fount, and to the body emitting the effluvium. — De Magnete, English translation by Paul Fleury Mottelay, 1893
In his book, he also studied static electricity using amber; amber is called elektron in Greek, so Gilbert decided to call its effect the electric force. He invented the first electrical measuring instrument, the electroscope, in the form of a pivoted needle he called the versorium.
Lucid gems are made of water; just as Crystal, which has been concreted from clear water, not always by a very great cold, as some used to judge, and by very hard frost, but sometimes by a less severe one, the nature of the soil fashioning it, the humour or juices being shut up in definite cavities, in the way in which spars are produced in mines. — De Magnete, English translation by Silvanus Phillips Thompson, 1900
Gilbert argued that electricity and magnetism were not the same thing. For evidence, he (incorrectly) pointed out that, while electrical attraction disappeared with heat, magnetic attraction did not (although it is proven that magnetism does in fact become damaged and weakened with heat). Hans Christian Ørsted and James Clerk Maxwell showed that both effects were aspects of a single force: electromagnetism. Maxwell surmised this in his A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism after much analysis.
Gilbert's magnetism was the invisible force that many other natural philosophers, such as Kepler, seized upon, incorrectly, as governing the motions that they observed. While not attributing magnetism to attraction among the stars, Gilbert pointed out the motion of the skies was due to earth's rotation, and not the rotation of the spheres, 20 years before Galileo (but 57 years after Copernicus who stated it openly in his work "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" published in 1543 ) (see external reference below). Gilbert made the first attempt to map the surface markings on the Moon in the 1590s. His chart, made without the use of a telescope, showed outlines of dark and light patches on the moon's face. Contrary to most of his contemporaries, Gilbert believed that the light spots on the Moon were water, and the dark spots land.
- Mottelay PF (1893) On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies, and on the Great Magnet the Earth. a New Physiology, Demonstrated with Many Arguments and Experiments (full-text). A translation by P. Fleury Mottelay, author of "The Chronological History of Electricity, Magnetism, etc".New York: John Wiley & Sons.
- Gilbert, William and Paul Fleury Mottelay. William Gilbert of Colchester, physician of London. John Wiley and Sons, 1893, accessed 12 March 2010
- Edgar Zilsel, "The Origin of William Gilbert’s Scientific Method", Journal of the History of Ideas 2:1-32, 1941
- Duane H D Roller, The De Magnete of William Gilbert, Amsterdam 1959
- Niels H. de V. Heathcote (December 1967). "The early meaning of electricity: Some Pseudodoxia Epidemica - I". Annals of Science 23 (4): 261. DOI:10.1080/00033796700203316. Retrieved on 2007-07-16. Research Blogging.
- Gilbert, William; P. Fleury Mottelay (1893). On the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 79. a translation of William Gilbert (1600) Die Magnete, London
- Bochenski, Leslie "A Short History of Lunar Cartography" (April 1996) University of Illinois Astronomical Society
- William Gilbert, brief biography at National High Magnetic Field Laboratory
- William Gilbert brief biography at bbc.co.uk
References 1. ^ Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 2000, CD-ROM, version 2.5. 2. ^ Venn, J.; Venn, J. A., eds. (1922–1958). "William Gilbert (astronomer)". Alumni Cantabrigienses (10 vols) (online ed.). Cambridge University Press. 3. ^ Gilbert, William and Paul Fleury Mottelay. William Gilbert of Colchester, physician of London. John Wiley and Sons, 1893, accessed 12 March 2010 4. ^ Edgar Zilsel, "The Origin of William Gilbert’s Scientific Method", Journal of the History of Ideas 2:1-32, 1941 5. ^ Duane H D Roller, The De Magnete of William Gilbert, Amsterdam 1959 6. ^ Niels H. de V. Heathcote (December 1967). "The early meaning of electricity: Some Pseudodoxia Epidemica - I". Annals of Science 23 (4): 261. doi:10.1080/00033796700203316. 7. ^ Gilbert, William; P. Fleury Mottelay (1893). On the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 79. a translation of William Gilbert (1600) Die Magnete, London 8. ^ Bochenski, Leslie "A Short History of Lunar Cartography" (April 1996) University of Illinois Astronomical Society 9. ^ William Gilbert, brief biography at National High Magnetic Field Laboratory 10. ^ William Gilbert brief biography at bbc.co.uk
- Gilbert, William. (1600), De Magnete (About the Magnet). Translated 1893 from Latin to English by Paul Fleury Mottelay, Dover Books, paperback.
- Ugaglia, Monica. The Science of Magnetism before Gilbert. Leonardo Garzoni's Treatise on the Loadstone, Annals of Science 63 (2006), 59-84.
- Leary, Warren E.. Celebrating the Book That Ushered In the Age of Sciences …, The New York Times, 13 June 2000. Retrieved on 2009-03-27.
- Pumfrey, Stephen; Tilley, David (November 2003). "William Gilbert: Forgotten Genius". Physics World.
- Pumfrey, Stephen (2002). Latitude & the Magnetic Earth. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-486-0
- Shipley, Brian C. (August 2003). "Gilbert, Translated: Silvanus P. Thompson, the Gilbert Club, and the Tercentenary Edition of De Magnete". Canadian Journal of History.
- Works by William Gilbert at Project Gutenberg
- The Galileo Project — biography of William Gilbert.
- On the Magnet — Translation of De Magnete by Silvanus Thompson for the Gilbert Club, London 1900. Full text, free to read and search. Go to page 9 and read Gilbert saying the earth revolves leading to the motion of the skies.
- The Great Magnet, the Earth — website hosted by NASA — Commemorating the 400th anniversary of "De Magnete" by William Gilbert of Colchester.
- The Natural Philosophy of William Gilbert and His Predecessors
- Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries High resolution images of works by and/or portraits of William Gilbert in .jpg and .tiff format.
One search strategy:
William Gilbert site:britannica.com OR site:gov OR site:edu OR site:ac.uk OR site:edu.au
William Gilbert (1544-1603). The Galileo Project.