Videnskabshistorisk Selskab

Friedrich Steinle,
Bergische Universitaet Wuppertal:

Mathematization with or without measurement? The case of electromagnetism

Oersted's discovery of electromagnetic action in 1820 confronted the program of a thorough mathematization of physics, as pursued in Paris in Laplacian spirit, with a serious problem. The notion of central forces, so essential for the whole enterprise, obviously did not apply to the new experimental result. Neither was the action between magnet and wire an action of attraction or repulsion nor, and even worse, did it depend only on the distance, but in a complex manner on spatial constellations. The well developed mathematical toolbox of Laplacian physics could not be put to work.

Very quickly two different and competing approaches became visible, as pursued by André-Marie Ampère on the one hand and Jean Baptiste Biot on the other. Both of the two researchers worked experimentally and theoretically at the same time, and both dealt with the more or less the same realm of effects. But significant differences were visible from the beginning, concerning the experimental approach, the mathematical methods, and the scope of the resulting claims. A detailed study of the episode well provides insight into the early history of one of the most important research fields of 19th century physics, but also into characteristic forms, conditions and implications of processes of mathematization.

tirsdag, den 24. februar 2009, kl. 17.00

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