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Hans Christian Ørsted
Hans Christian Ørsted.
1777 - 1851.

The proper spelling is Ørsted but the 'Ø' can be, and often is, replaced by 'Oe'.

Hans Christian Ørsted was born on August 14 1777 in Rudkøbing, on the Danish island of Langeland.

His father was Søren Christian Ørsted, an apothecary, and his mother was Karen Hermansen.

While he was a young boy, Ørsted's parents put him and his younger brother, Anders, in the care of a German wigmaker and his wife. This was because his parents did not have the time to raise the boys properly what with the demands of their jobs.

While in Germany, the boys learned German and the basics of Latin and French. They also learned some math.

When Hans was 11 he went to work at his fathers pharmacy. It was there that he started to learn chemistry. Niether of the two boys went to school but in 1794 they both passed the entrance exam at the University of Copenhagen with honours.

At the University Hans Christian studied a career in natural philosophy. This was the start of his enthusiasm with philosophy. He also studied pharmacy, astronomy, chemistry, and math. By 1796 Hans Christian received honours for his papers in both aesthetics and physics followed by first prize for an essay on "Limits of Poetry and Prose." and a pharmaceutical degree with high honors, both in 1797.

In 1801 he received a travel scholarship and public grant that enabled him to spend three years traveling in Europe. He visited Holland, the greater part of Germany, and Paris. While in Germany he met Johann Ritter, a physicist who believed there was a connection between electricity and magnetism. The connection made sense to Hans since he believed in the unity of nature and that a relationship therefore must exist between most natural phenomena. Their conversations drew Hans into the study of physics. He became a professor at Copenhagen University in 1806 and continued his research with electric currents and acoustics. Under his guidance the University developed a comprehensive physics and chemistry program and established new laboratories. He was a member of the faculty at Copenhagen from 1806 until he died.

During preparing for an evening lecture on 21 April 1820, he planned to demonstrate the heating of a wire by an electric current, and also to carry out demonstrations of magnetism, for which he provided a compass needle mounted on a wooden stand, he noted, to his surprise, that every time the electric current was switched on, the compass needle moved and aligned itself perpendicularly to a current-carrying wire, definite experimental evidence of the relationship between electricity and magnetism. This phenomenon had been first discovered by Italian Gian Domenico Romagnosi, an Italian legal scholar. An account of Romagnosi's discovery was published in 1802 in an Italian newspaper, but it was overlooked by the scientific community.

At the time of his discovery Hans did not suggest any satisfactory explanation of the phenomenon, nor did he try to represent the phenomenon in a mathematical framework. However, three months later he began more intensive investigations. Soon thereafter he published his findings, proving that an electric current produces a magnetic field as it flows through a wire. His findings resulted in intensive research throughout the scientific community in electrodynamics. They influenced Ampère's developments of a single mathematical form to represent the magnetic forces between current-carrying conductors. Ørsted's discovery also represented a major step toward a unified concept of energy.

In 1820 he discovered piperine, one of the pungent components of pepper, which was an important contribution to chemistry, as was his 1825 contribution of producing aluminium for the first time.

He was also a published writer and poet. His poetry series Luftskibet (Airship) was inspired by the balloon flights of fellow physicist Étienne-Gaspard Robert

In 1824 he founded a society devoted to the spread of scientific knowledge among the general public. Since 1908 this society has awarded an Ørsted Medal for outstanding contributions by Danish physical scientists.

At the end of 1850 a national jubilee was held in honor of the 50th anniversary of his connection with the University of Copenhagen by the declaration of a national holiday, a festival which he did not long survive as he died in Copenhagen on 9th March 1851.

A public funeral, attended by all persons distinguished by rank or learning in the Danish capital, bore testimony to the respect and esteem with which he was regarded by his fellow citizens, among whom his memory is cherished, not only as one of the greatest scientific benefactors of his times, but as a man who contributed largely, by his eloquent and earnest advocacy of liberal principles, to the attainment of the high degree of constitutional freedom which Denmark now enjoys. He was buried in the Assistens Cemetery, Copenhagen.
100 kroner note

Today the buildings which are home to the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, are named The H.C. Ørsted Institute in his honor.

In 1932 the name oersted was adopted for the physical unit of magnetic field strength.

In 1936 the Danish banknote series had Ørsted appearing on the 100 danske kroner note.

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