William Gilbert (1544-1603)

William Gilbert, who also went by Gilbert, was an English physician, physicist and natural philosopher. He is largely remembered today for his book De Magnete (1600), and he is credited as one of the originators of the term “electricity”.

 

Born in the town of Colchester located in Essex, England on May 24, 1544. After gaining his MD from Cambridge in 1569, he left to practice medicine in London. While maintaining a successful medical practice, Gilbert conducted extensive research into electricity and magnetism. When he began his experiments, very little about these phenomena was understood.

 

Gilbert has also been regarded by some as the father of electrical engineering or electricity and magnetism. His works included a six-volume treatise that compiled all the information regarding magnetism and electricity known at the time.

 

Entitled De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure (On the Magnet, Magnetic Bodies, and the Great Magnet of the Earth), the work included descriptions of many of Gilbert’s own experiments and the conclusions he drew from them, as well as data that had been previously obtained by others. In the volumes, Gilbert established much of the basic terminology still used in the field of electromagnetics, including electricity, electric attraction and force and magnetic pole.

 

The sheer size and focus of the De Magnete made it an influential text for other scientists who are interested in electricity and magnetism. The work is believed to have greatly influenced other great minds, including Galileo and Johannes Kepler. As a result De Magnete gained Gilbert considerable fame, and in 1600, he was elected President of the Royal College of Physicians.

 

In 1600, Gilbert was elected President of the Royal College of Physicians. That following year, he became the personal physician of Queen Elizabeth I, and when she died in 1603, he continued on as the personal physician to her successor, King James I.


In 1603, Gilbert succomb to illness, which was most likely the bubonic plague and died on December 10th of that same year.

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