Gilbert, William (1544–1603)
Born into a wealthy family in Colchester, Essex, Gilbert studied at, and subsequently became a fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1573 in settled in London to practice as a physician. Eventually Elizabeth I made him her court physician, and the same office was confirmed in him by James I on his succession to the throne. After holding various offices in the College of Physicians, he was finally elected its president in 1600. He studied magnetism and chemistry in his leisure time.
Gilbert made for himself a model of the Earth, a tiny replica shaped out of the magnetic rock known as lodestone. He called this model a terrella, or 'little Earth', and on it he placed a series of small iron needles. Then he made his great discovery. The needles behaved exactly like compasses. Not only did they point to the lodestone's north pole, they diped at various angles at different places, just as the compass needles do on the ERarth's surface. His conjecture that terrestrial magnetism and electricity were related was only confirmed experimentally much later, by Oersted and Faraday.
Related entry• history of electricity
Related categories• PHYSICIANS, SURGEONS, AND ANATOMISTS
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