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There Really Was An Ohm (1787 - 1854)

Although we take Ohm's Law for granted, it wasn't always so widely accepted. In 1827, Georg Simon Ohm finished his renowned work, The Galvanic Circuit Mathematically Treated. Scientists at first resisted Ohm's techniques. The majority of his colleagues were still holding to a non-mathematical approach. Finally the younger physicists in Germany accepted Ohm's information in the early 1830's. The turning point for this basic electrical law came in 1841 when the Royal Society of London awarded Ohm the Copley Metal.

As the oldest son of a master locksmith, Georg received a solid education in philosophy and the sciences from his father. At the age of sixteen he entered the University of Erlangen (Barvaria) and studied for three semesters. His father then forced him to withdraw because of alleged overindulgences in dancing, billiards, and ice skating. After 4 1/2, his brilliance undaunted, Ohm returned to Erlangen to earn his PhD in mathematics.

Enthusiasm ran high at that time for scientific solutions to all problems. The first book Ohm wrote reflected his highly intellectualized views about the role of mathematics in education. These opinions changed, however, during a series of teaching positions. Oersted's discovery of electromagnetism in 1820 spurred Ohm to avid experiments, since he taught Physics and had a well-equipped lab. Ohm based his work on direct scientific observation and analyses, rather than on abstract theories.

One of Ohm's goals was to be appointed to a major university. In 1825 he started doing research with the thought of publishing his results. The following year he took a leave of absence from teaching and went to Berlin.

In Berlin, Ohm made his now famous experiments. He ran wires between a zinc-copper battery and mercury-filled cups while a coulomb torsion balance (voltmeter) was across one leg of the series circuit, a variable conductor completed the loop. By measuring the loss in electromagnetic force for various lengths and sizes of wire, he had the basis for his formulas.

Because The Galvanic Circuit produced near-hostility, Ohm withdrew from the academic world for nearly six years before accepting a post in Nuremberg. English and French physicists do not seem to have been aware of the profound implications oh Ohm's work until the late 1830's and early 1840's.

Following his belated recognition, Ohm became a corresponding member of the Berlin Academy. Late in 1849 he went to the University of Munich and in 1852, only two years before his death, he achieved his lifelong dream of a full professorship at a major university.