Otto von Guericke
(November 30, 1602 – May 21, 1686) was a German scientist, inventor, and politician. His major scientific achievements were the establishment of the physics of vacuums, the discovery of an experimental method for clearly demonstrating electrostatic repulsion, and his advocacy for the reality of “action at a distance” and of “absolute space”.
His scientific and diplomatic pursuits finally intersected when, at the Reichstag in Ratisbon in 1654, he was invited to demonstrate his experiments on the vacuum before the highest dignitaries of the Holy Roman Empire. One of them, the Archbishop Elector Johann Philip von Schonborn, bought von Guericke’s apparatus from him and had it sent to his Jesuit College at Wurzburg. One of the professors at the College, Fr. Gaspar Schott, entered into friendly correspondence with von Guericke and thus it was that, at the age of 55, von Guericke’s work was first published as an Appendix to a book by Fr. Schott – Mechanica Hydraulico-pneumatica – published in 1657. This book came to the attention of Robert Boyle who, stimulated by it, embarked on his own experiments on air pressure and the vacuum, and in 1660 published New Experiments Physico-Mechanical touching the Spring of Air and its Effects.
In the decade following the first publication of his own work von Guericke, in addition to his diplomatic and administrative commitments, was scientifically very active. He embarked upon his magnum opus — Ottonis de Guericke Experimenta Nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de Vacuo Spatio — which as well as a detailed account of his experiments on the vacuum, contains his pioneering electrostatic experiments in which electrostatic repulsion was demonstrated for the first time and sets out his theologically based view of the nature of space, but there are also contemporary arguments that he did not conceptualize these demonstrations as electrical.
Charles François de Cisternay du Fay
(14 September, 1698 – 16 July, 1739) was a French chemist and superintendent of the Jardin du Roi.
He discovered the existence of two types of electricity and named them “vitreous” and “resinous” (later known as positive and negative charge respectively). He noted the difference between conductors and insulators, calling them ‘electrics’ and ‘non-electrics’ for their ability to produce contact electrification. He also discovered that alike-charged objects would repel each other and that unlike-charged objects attract. He also disproved certain misconceptions regarding electric charge, such as that of Dr. Stephen Gray who believed that electric properties of a body depended on its colour.
Du Fay’s observations on electricity were reported in a paper written in December 1733 and printed in Volume 38 of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1734. He became a member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1723.
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