Hans Christian Ørsted

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Hans Christian Ørsted
Hans Christian Orsted daguerreotype.jpg
Born(1777-08-14)14 August 1777
Rudkøbing, Denmark
Died9 March 1851(1851-03-09) (aged 73)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Alma mater University of Copenhagen (PhD, 1799) [1]
Known forDiscovery of electromagnetism and Aluminium [1]
Awards Copley Medal (1820)
Scientific career
Fields Physics, chemistry
Institutions University of Copenhagen
Influences Immanuel Kant
Hans Christian Orsted signature.svg

Hans Christian Ørsted ( /ˈɜːrstɛd/ ; [2] Danish:  [hans kʁæsdjan ˈɶɐ̯sdɛð] ; 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.

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter and its motion and behavior through space and time and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

Chemistry is the scientific discipline involved with elements and compounds composed of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, behavior and the changes they undergo during a reaction with other substances.

Electric current flow of electric charge

An electric current is a flow of electric charge. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).


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 Denmark from 1853 to 1854.

Danish Golden Age

The Danish Golden Age covers a period of exceptional creative production in Denmark, especially during the first half of the 19th century. Although Copenhagen had suffered from fires, bombardment and national bankruptcy, the arts took on a new period of creativity catalysed by Romanticism from Germany. The period is probably most commonly associated with the Golden Age of Danish Painting from 1800 to around 1850 which encompasses the work of Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg and his students, including Wilhelm Bendz, Christen Købke, Martinus Rørbye, Constantin Hansen and Wilhelm Marstrand, as well as the sculpture of Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Hans Christian Andersen Danish author, fairy tale writer, and poet

Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author. Although a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, Andersen is best remembered for his fairy tales. Andersen's popularity is not limited to children: his stories express themes that transcend age and nationality.

Anders Sandøe Ørsted Danish politician and jurist

Anders Sandøe Ørsted was a Danish lawyer, politician and jurist. He served as the Prime Minister of Denmark in 1853–1854.

Early life and studies

The young H. C. Orsted Hans Christian Orsted som ung.jpg
The young H. C. Ørsted

Ørsted was born in Rudkøbing in 1777. As a young boy he developed an interest in science while working for his father, who owned a pharmacy. [3] 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.

Rudkøbing human settlement in Denmark

Rudkøbing is an old market town in Denmark. It is the main settlement on the island of Langeland. It has a population of 4,671, up from 4,537.

University of Copenhagen University in Copenhagen, Denmark

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is the oldest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479 as a studium generale, it is the second oldest institution for higher education in Scandinavia after Uppsala University (1477). The university has 23,473 undergraduate students, 17,398 postgraduate students, 2,968 doctoral students and over 9,000 employees. The university has four campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the headquarters located in central Copenhagen. Most courses are taught in Danish; however, many courses are also offered in English and a few in German. The university has several thousands of foreign students, about half of whom come from Nordic countries.

Aesthetics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of art, beauty, and taste

Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of art, beauty and taste and with the creation or appreciation of beauty.

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. [4]

Alessandro Volta Italian physicist

Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was an Italian physicist, chemist, and a pioneer of electricity and power, who is credited as the inventor of the electric battery and the discoverer of methane. He invented the Voltaic pile in 1799, and reported the results of his experiments in 1800 in a two-part letter to the President of the Royal Society. With this invention Volta proved that electricity could be generated chemically and debunked the prevalent theory that electricity was generated solely by living beings. Volta's invention sparked a great amount of scientific excitement and led others to conduct similar experiments which eventually led to the development of the field of electrochemistry.

Voltaic pile first electrical battery that could continuously provide an electric current to a circuit

The voltaic pile was the first electrical battery that could continuously provide an electric current to a circuit. It was invented by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, who published his experiments in 1799. The voltaic pile then enabled a rapid series of other discoveries including the electrical decomposition (electrolysis) of water into oxygen and hydrogen by William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle (1800) and the discovery or isolation of the chemical elements sodium (1807), potassium (1807), calcium (1808), boron (1808), barium (1808), strontium (1808), and magnesium (1808) by Humphry Davy.

A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further their education. Scholarships are awarded based upon various criteria, which usually reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award. Scholarship money is not required to be repaid.

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. [3] [5] Ørsted's conversations with Ritter drew him into the study of physics. He became a professor at the University of Copenhagen in 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.

Johann Wilhelm Ritter German physicist

Johann Wilhelm Ritter was a German chemist, physicist and philosopher. He was born in Samitz (Zamienice) near Haynau (Chojnów) in Silesia, and died in Munich.

Electricity Physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge

Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of matter that has a property of electric charge. In early days, electricity was considered as being not related to magnetism. Later on, many experimental results and the development of Maxwell's equations indicated that both electricity and magnetism are from a single phenomenon: electromagnetism. Various common phenomena are related to electricity, including lightning, static electricity, electric heating, electric discharges and many others.

Magnetism class of physical phenomena

Magnetism is a class of physical phenomena that are mediated by magnetic fields. Electric currents and the magnetic moments of elementary particles give rise to a magnetic field, which acts on other currents and magnetic moments. The most familiar effects occur in ferromagnetic materials, which are strongly attracted by magnetic fields and can be magnetized to become permanent magnets, producing magnetic fields themselves. Only a few substances are ferromagnetic; the most common ones are iron, nickel and cobalt and their alloys such as steel. The prefix ferro- refers to iron, because permanent magnetism was first observed in lodestone, a form of natural iron ore called magnetite, Fe3O4.

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).

William Christopher Zeise Danish chemist

William Christopher Zeise was a Danish organic chemist. He is best known for synthesising one of the first organometallic compounds, named Zeise's salt in his honour. He also performed pioneering studies in organosulfur chemistry, discovering the xanthates in 1823.

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. [6]


A compass needle with a wire, showing the effect Ørsted discovered. Demonstrated by Prof. Oliver Zajkov, Physics Institute at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje, Macedonia.

On 21 April 1820, during a lecture, Ørsted noticed a compass needle deflected from magnetic north when an electric current from a battery was switched on and off, confirming a direct relationship between electricity and magnetism. [7]

His initial interpretation was that magnetic effects radiate from all sides of a wire carrying an electric current, as do light and heat. Three months later he began more intensive investigations and soon thereafter published his findings, showing that an electric current produces a circular magnetic field as it flows through a wire. [8] For his discovery, the Royal Society of London awarded Ørsted the Copley Medal in 1820 and the French Academy granted him 3,000 francs.

Ørsted's findings stirred much research into electrodynamics throughout the scientific community, influencing French physicist André-Marie Ampère's developments of a single mathematical formula to represent the magnetic forces between current-carrying conductors. Ørsted's work also represented a major step toward a unified concept of energy.

Later years

Gravestone Assistens Kirkegard - Hans Christian Orsted.jpg

Ørsted was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1822 and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1849. [9]

He founded Selskabet for Naturlærens Udbredelse (SNU), a society to disseminate knowledge of the natural sciences, in 1824. He was also the founder of predecessor organizations which eventually became the Danish Meteorological Institute and the Danish Patent and Trademark Office. In 1829, Ørsted founded Den Polytekniske Læreanstalt ('College of Advanced Technology') which was later renamed the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). [10]

In 1825, Ørsted made a significant contribution to chemistry by producing aluminium for the first time. While an aluminium-iron alloy had previously been developed by Humphry Davy, Ørsted was the first to isolate the element via a reduction of aluminium chloride.

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


The centimetre-gram-second system (CGS) unit of magnetic induction (oersted) is named for his contributions to the field of electromagnetism.


The Ørsted Park in Copenhagen was named after Ørsted in 1879. The streets H.C. Ørsteds Vej in Frederiksberg and H. C. Ørsteds Allé in Galten are also named after him.

The buildings that are home to the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen's North Campus are named the H.C. Ørsted Institute , after him. A dormitory named H. C. Ørsted Kollegiet is located in Odense.

The first Danish satellite, launched 1999, was named after Ørsted.

Monuments and memorials

Statue of Orsted in Orstedsparken, in Copenhagen. Statue of Hans Christian Oersted, Oerstedsparken, Copenhagen.jpg
Statue of Ørsted in Ørstedsparken, in Copenhagen.

A statue of Hans Christian Ørsted was installed in the Ørsted Park in 1880. A commemorative plaque is located above the gate on the building in Studiestræde where he lived and worked. The 100 danske kroner note issued from 1950 to 1970 carried an engraving of Ørsted.

Awards and lectures

Two medals are awarded in Ørsted's name: the Oersted Medal for notable contributions in the teaching of physics in America, awarded by American Association of Physics Teachers, along with the H. C. Ørsted Medal for Danish scientists, awarded by the Danish Selskabet for Naturlærens Udbredelse (Society for the Dissemination of Natural Science), founded by Ørsted.

The H.C. Ørsted Lectureship is awarded to two prominent researchers annually.[ citation needed ]

Here is a list of some of the previous H.C. Ørsted lecturers:


Ørsted was a published writer and poet. His poetry series Luftskibet ("The Airship") was inspired by the balloon flights of fellow physicist and stage magician Étienne-Gaspard Robert. [14] Shortly before his death, he submitted a collection of articles for publication under the title "The Soul in Nature". The book presents Ørsted's life philosophy and views on a wide variety of issues. [15]

See also

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<i>Hans Christian Ørsted Monument</i>

The Physicist Hans Christian Ørsted is a monument to Hans Christian Ørsted located in Ørsted Park in central Copenhagen, Denmark.


  1. 1 2 rare-earth-magnets.com
  2. "Oersted". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary .
  3. 1 2 "Hans Christian Ørsted". Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
  4. Inspiration fra Europa - planer i København Niels Bohr Institute
  5. Brian, R.M. & Cohen, R.S. (2007). Hans Christian Ørsted and the Romantic Legacy in Science, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 241.
  6. Witt-Hansen, J., "H.C. Ørsted, Immanuel Kant and the Thought Experiment", Danish Yearbook of Philosophy, Vol.13, (1976), pp. 48–65.
  7. Hans Christian Ørsted (1997). Karen Jelved, Andrew D. Jackson, and Ole Knudsen, translators from Danish to English. Selected Scientific Works of Hans Christian Ørsted, ISBN   0-691-04334-5, pp.421-445
  8. Martins, Roberto de Andrade, "Resistance to the discovery of electromagnetism : Ørsted and the symmetry of the magnetic field", in: Fabio Bevilacqua & Enrico Giannetto (eds.), Volta and the History of Electricity, Pavia / Milano, Università degli Studi di Pavia / Editore Ulrico Hoepli, 2003, pp. 245-265. (Collana di Storia della Scienza) ISBN   88-203-3284-1
  9. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter O" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  10. "History of DTU". Technical University of Denmark. Archived from the original on 2009-09-02. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
  11. Hugo de Man
  12. Juan de Pablo
  13. The H.C. Ørsted Lectures Archived 2013-03-18 at the Wayback Machine
  14. National Museum of Denmark. "The Soul in Nature: 1802 Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine ". Accessed 30 July 2007.
  15. Hans Christian, Ørsted (1852). The soul in nature: with supplementary contributions. H. G. Bohn.

Further reading