Gilbert was an English physician and scientist, the first man to research the properties of the lodestone (magnetic iron ore), publishing his findings in the influential 'De Magnete' ('The Magnet'). He also invented the term 'electricity'.
William Gilbert (also Gilberd) was born on 24 May 1544 into a prosperous family in Colchester, Essex. He was educated at Cambridge University, where he received a BA, MA and MD, after which he became a senior fellow. He practised as a doctor in London for many years and in 1600 became president of the Royal College of Physicians. He served as physician to Elizabeth I in the last few years of her reign.
'De Magnete' was published in 1600 and was quickly accepted as the standard work on electrical and magnetic phenomena throughout Europe. In it, Gilbert distinguished between magnetism and static (known as the amber effect). He also compared the magnet's polarity to the polarity of the Earth, and developed an entire magnetic philosophy on this analogy.
Gilbert's findings suggested that magnetism was the soul of the Earth, and that a perfectly spherical lodestone, when aligned with the Earth's poles, would spin on its axis, just as the Earth spins on its axis over a period of 24 hours. Gilbert was in fact debunking the traditional cosmologists' belief that the Earth was fixed at the centre of the universe, and he provided food for thought for Galileo, who eventually came up with the proposition that the Earth revolves around the Sun.
Gilbert died on 30 November 1602, probably of the plague.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.