University of Cambridge
St. John's College
William Gilbert, also known as ‘Gilberd’, was a famous researcher in magnetism. He was famous during the time of Queen Elizabeth I and is best known for his publication, ‘De Magnete’. Credited as one of the originators of the term of electricity, William Gilbert is also known as the father of electricity, magnetism and electrical engineering. He travelled extensively and wrote many publications such as ‘Magnetisque Corporibus’ and ‘ET de Magno Magnete Tellure’ during his lifetime. Apart from being a scientist, Gilbert led a parallel career as an astronomer. He studied the moon’s surface without a telescope and concluded that the craters were in fact land, and the white patches on the moon’s surface were water bodies. One of his other significant contributions was when he pointed out that the motion of the skies occurred due to the rotation of the earth. One of the first people to try to map the markings of the moon’s surface, Gilbert was a celebrated astronomer and scientist. His theories on magnetism and electricity had also been the subject of controversy for many of his successors. Scroll down to know more about this interesting personality.
The accredited father of the science of electricity, William Gilbert, started his career as a physician practicing medicine in London in 1573. His principal work, ‘De Magnete’, ‘Magnetisque Corporibus’ and ‘Magno Magnete Tellure’ were all written and published in 1600, giving a full account of his research on electrical attractions and magnetic bodies. Much of these works were inspired by his predecessor, Robert Norman. During the years of his astronomical study, Gilbert used a model earth called ‘terrella’ to describe most of his experiments and observations.
From one of these experiments, Gilbert concluded that the earth was infact ‘magnetic’ in the core and this was one of the reasons as to why the pins of compasses pointed towards the north. He refuted the theories of his predecessors wherein they believed the pole star (North Pole) was a large magnetic island, which is why the arrows pointed towards the north. Gilbert was the first to argue correctly that the center of the Earth, in fact, comprised of iron and there were two distinct hemispheres in the Earth, the north and south poles. Some of his other astronomical works focused on the diurnal rotation of celestial objects. Through some of his observations, Gilbert concluded that the stars were also located at remote variable distances rather than fixed spots in an imaginary sphere.
William Gilbert died on November 30, 1603, aged 59, in London. Though there have been various discussions on the causes behind his death, it is often said that Gilbert could have possibly died due to the bubonic plague. Known as the father of the science of ‘electricity’, Gilbert’s works became extremely popular following his death and his unfinished publication, ‘De Mundo Nostro Sublunari Philosophia Nova’ was also published posthumously. ‘The Gilberd School’ in Colchester was also named after him.
WILLIAM GILBERT TIMELINE
Dr. William Gilbert was born on 24 May in Colchester.
Gained his MD.
Elected a Fellow of the College of Physicians.
Made the first attempt to map the surface markings of the Moon.
Published his major works—‘De Magnete’, ‘Magnetisque Corporibus’ and ‘Magno Magnete Tellure’.
Passed away on 30 November.
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