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Discovery of Electromagnetism

History of magnetism produced by electricity.

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Lucky Discovery

Lucky Discovery

Credit: unknown
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PSM_V88_D055_Use_of_electromagnets_to_remove_shrapnel_near_surface_of_body.png
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

This photo from 1916 shows an unusual use for an electromagnet. It’s being used to remove metal shrapnel from just below the surface of a soldier’s body. Today we use electromagnets for a wide range of purposes. In fact, just about everyone uses electromagnets almost every day.

Why It Matters

  • It’s been said that the discovery of electromagnetism made much of the modern age possible. It allowed us to harness electricity as a practical force in the same way that the invention of windmills and dams allowed us to harness wind and water. For example, the discovery of the electromagnetism made possible the invention of electric motors.
  • Credit: Alex Garcia
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11872189@N00/4848264369/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    The glowing ring in Ironman's chest is a powerful electromagnet that powers the suit [Figure2]

  • Electromagnetism was discovered by Hans Christian Oersted in 1820. It was an accidental discovery, but it revolutionized how scientists think about electricity and magnetism. Watch this very short video to see the type of simple evidence that led Oersted to his discovery: 


What Do You Think?

Learn more about Oersted and electromagnetism at the links below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. How did Oersted discover electromagnetism?
  2. How does the demonstration in the video above relate to Oersted’s discovery?
  3. How did Oersted’s discovery influence the history of science?
  4. What are three useful characteristics of electromagnets that permanent magnets do not have?
  5. Give an example of a device that makes use of each of the characteristics you identified in your answer to question 2.
  6. What do you think? How might your life be different without Oersted’s lucky discovery?

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