This Date in Danish American History - Ørsted Medal for Physics

  • December 30, 2020
  • December 30, 2021
  • 2 sessions
  • December 30, 2020, 12:00 PM 1:00 PM (CST)
  • December 30, 2021, 12:00 PM 1:00 PM (CST)


This year (2020) it is 200 years since Denmark's H.C. Ørsted discovered electromagnetism!

The world scientific event is marked all year long with the celebration HCØ2020, for which His Royal Highness the Crown Prince is a patron of.

The Oersted Medal is named for Hans Christian Ørsted (1777-1851), a Danish physicist who, in the course of creating a demonstration for teaching his class, discovered that electric currents cause a magnetic field. This was a crucial step in establishing the theory of electromagnetism so important in building modern technology and modern physics. The award was established by AAPT (American Association of Physics Teachers) in December 1936 and is given annually to a person who has had outstanding, widespread, and lasting impact on the teaching of physics. Some previous Oersted award winners are John Winston Belcher, Karl Mamola, Dean Zollman, George F. Smoot, Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Carl Wieman, Lillian McDermott, Hans Bethe, Carl E. Sagan, Edward Purcell, and Richard Feynman.

At the December 1934 meeting in Pittsburgh, an anonymous donor offered to finance for a period of three years an annual award (a medal and a certificate) for notable contributions to the teaching of physics. To take advantage of this offer, a committee composed of Thomas Cope (University of Pennsylvania), Homer Dodge, and David W. Cornelius (University of Chattanooga), was appointed to study the proposal and make recommendations the following year. This form of recognition was to become the Oersted Medal; the donor was later revealed to be Paul Klopsteg. The idea of naming the award for Oersted came from Frederic Palmer. Permission was granted by the Danish Royal Society, but considerable time was required for the design and preparation of the medal.

The first award, announced at the annual meeting in late December 1936, was given posthumously to William S. Franklin (1867-1930). Franklin was described as a man of exuberant energy “who boasted that the teaching of physics was the greatest fun in the world.” He was known for his “frequent keen and clarifying comments” on papers presented at Physical Society meetings, and he wrote prolifically—25 volumes of textbooks, numerous research papers, many contributions on “Recent Advances in Physics” in School Science and Mathematics, and a popular volume of educational essays dealing with the beauties of nature. Much of his career had been spent at Lehigh University and MIT, and the Association placed bronze memorial tablets in the physics laboratories of both those institutions. His death had come in June 1930, the result of an automobile accident; otherwise, he surely would have taken a prominent role in the organization of AAPT.

Historical work on Oersted was carried out by J. Rud Nielsen; his article on the subject appeared in the American Journal of Physics 7, 10 (1939). President Richtmyer was able to report to the AAPT Executive Committee at the end of 1938 that for the medal designed by Dieges and Clust, “the motif suggested by F. Palmer, Jr., viz: Oersted, scientist and teacher, discovering electromagnetism in the presence of his assembled pupils, has been developed into one face. Thanks to the assistance rendered by J. Rud Nielsen, the scene is believed to be highly authentic.” The 1937 medal was accepted by the daughter of E.H. Hall. A. Wilmer Duff was the recipient of the 1938 award. The Oersted presentation was first made during an AAPT business meeting, not as part of a joint ceremonial session.

Hans Christian Ørsted often rendered Oersted in English; 14 August 1777 – 9 March 1851) was a Danish physicist and chemist who discovered that electric currents create magnetic fields, which was the first connection found between electricity and magnetism. Oersted's law and the oersted (Oe) are named after him.

A leader of the Danish Golden Age, Ørsted was a close friend of Hans Christian Andersen and the brother of politician and jurist Anders Sandøe Ørsted, who served as Prime Minister of Denmarkfrom 1853 to 1854.

Ørsted was born in Rudkøbing in 1777. As a young boy he developed an interest in science while working for his father, who owned the local pharmacy. He and his brother Anders received most of their early education through self-study at home, going to Copenhagen in 1793 to take entrance exams for the University of Copenhagen, where both brothers excelled academically. By 1796, Ørsted had been awarded honors for his papers in both aesthetics and physics. He earned his doctorate in 1799 for a dissertation based on the works of Kant entitled The Architectonics of Natural Metaphysics.

In 1800, Alessandro Volta reported his invention of the voltaic pile, which inspired Ørsted to investigate the nature of electricity and to conduct his first electrical experiments. In 1801, Ørsted received a travel scholarship and public grant which enabled him to spend three years traveling across Europe. He toured science headquarters throughout the continent, including in Berlin and Paris.

In Germany Ørsted met Johann Wilhelm Ritter, a physicist who believed there was a connection between electricity and magnetism. This idea made sense to Ørsted as he subscribed to Kantian thought regarding the unity of nature. Ørsted's conversations with Ritter drew him into the study of physics. He became a professor at the University of Copenhagenin 1806 and continued research on electric currents and acoustics. Under his guidance the university developed a comprehensive physics and chemistry program and established new laboratories.

Ørsted welcomed William Christopher Zeise to his family home in autumn 1806. He granted Zeise a position as his lecturing assistant and took the young chemist under his tutelage. In 1812, Ørsted again visited Germany and France after publishing Videnskaben om Naturens Almindelige Love and Første Indledning til den Almindelige Naturlære (1811).

Ørsted was the first modern thinker to explicitly describe and name the thought experiment. He used the Latin-German term Gedankenexperiment circa 1812 and the German term Gedankenversuch in 1820.

Ørsted died in Copenhagen in 1851, aged 73, and was buried in the Assistens Cemetery. - Wikipedia

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