Andre-Marie Ampere. January 20, 1775 – June 10, 1836. Great French physicist, mathematician and naturalist, member of the Paris Academy of Sciences. “The man and the current force.”


Life and Work:

1. “A poet with a few verses no longer dies for posterity... A scientist, who is barely known during the course of his life, will be completely forgotten on the next day after his death...” The French writer and politician Chateaubriand was wrong: the poet Jean-Jacques Ampere is almost forgotten, while his father, Andre-Marie is known to every schoolboy.


2. Everyone knows that Ampere is one of the greatest French scientists, one of the founders of electrodynamics, the creator of the electrodynamic theory and the theory of magnetism, as well as the person who discovered the law named after him.


3. The base unit of electric current – one of the seven basic units of the International System of Units (SI) – is named after Ampere. In case, anyone has forgotten, the ampere is that constant current which, if maintained in two straight parallel conductors of infinite length, of negligible circular cross-section, and placed one metre apart in vacuum, would produce between these conductors a force equal to 2·10−7 newtons per metre of length. This definition was adopted at the 9th General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1948.


4. “Newton of electricity,” as James Maxwell aptly called Ampere, was born in Lyon in a wealthy silk merchant’s family. The merchant, however, was fascinated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas, and as a child, Andre-Marie spent much time in his father’s library.


5. The future scientist considered the French Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert and Buffon’s Natural History to be the pillars of his home education. At the age of thirteen, Ampere opened a math textbook, and fell in love with algebra and geometry forever. He knew Latin, which enabled him to study the works of Euler and Bernoulli.


6. His parents hired a math teacher for Andre-Marie, but he had to decline: it turned out that the student knew more than the teacher.


7. Commitment to Rousseau’s ideas did not save the future scientist’s father from the guillotine during the French Revolution. The 18-year-old Ampere was so shocked that he almost lost his mind.


8. Ampere married quite early. In the house where the young family lived, Ampere set up a small laboratory and gave private lessons in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. In the first year of the 19th century, the self-taught young man was appointed teacher of physics and chemistry in the town of Bourg-en-Bresse.


9. His work Considerations on the Mathematical Theory of Games brought Ampere fame in scientific circles and an offer to become a teacher at the lyceum in Lyon.


10. The loss of his beloved wife drove Ampere to despair, but it did not interrupt his scientific work. The scientist moved to Paris and got a job at Ecole Politechnique – at first, as a tutor, and then as a professor of mathematical analysis. Just a few years later, in 1814, Ampere was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences, mainly for his contribution to mathematics.


11. The difficult financial situation forced Ampere to simultaneously work as the chief inspector of the newly created French Imperial University. The position consumed a lot of time and effort and required constant travel. But Ampere performed his duties diligently for almost three decades and died on another work trip, on the way to Marseille.


12. Ampere was an academician when he made all his main and most famous discoveries. In 1820, he learned that the Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted experimentally discovered that the current flowing through the wire affects the magnetic needle located near it. Ampere improved on Oersted’s experiment by placing sections of the conductors in parallel. “I observed that by passing current through both parts at the same time, they were mutually attracted when both currents were in the same direction, and that they were repelled when the currents were in opposite directions,” Ampere wrote.


13. After the public lecture, where Ampere demonstrated his discovery to the academicians, Laplace decided to test the speaker in his own way. He suddenly slapped the assistant’s shoulder and quickly asked, “Wasn’t it you, young man, who pushed the wire?”


14. Ampere’s contribution to chemistry is also great: independently of Amedeo Avogadro, he discovered the law of equality of molar volumes of different gases. It could be rightfully called the Avogadro-Ampere law.


15. Among his other achievements, Ampere came up with the term “kinematics” and in 1830 (just imagine!), he introduced the term “cybernetics,” although it meant a different thing back then. According to Ampere, cybernetics is the science of governing a state, which should provide citizens with a variety of benefits.


16. In 1824, already being a famous scientist, Ampere took the position of professor of general and experimental physics at Collège de France.


17. Towards the end of his life, Ampere became interested in geology and biology. He was an active participant of the famous scientific debate between Georges Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, the forerunners of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and published two papers, where he presented his point of view on the process of evolution. 18. Once, opponents of the idea of the evolution of living nature asked Ampere whether he really believed that man descended from a snail. Ampere replied, “I am convinced that man emerged according to the law common for all animals.”


19. Numerous foreign academies, including the Royal Society of London and the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences elected Ampere as their foreign honorary member.


20. Like all major scientists, Andre-Marie Ampere was completely absorbed in his thoughts and always carried a piece of chalk with him in case he needed to perform a calculation. It is said that Ampere once performed a calculation on the back of a horse-drawn carriage, which left bearing the formula.


21. Here is another anecdote about Ampere’s absent-mindedness: once he boiled his watch for three minutes with a concentrated look, holding the egg in his hand.


22. In his native Lyon, a monument to Ampere is erected in the center of a fountain. This also engendered a joke: “Is it dangerous to climb into this fountain?” “Of course, there is one ampere in it.”


23. Ampere’s name is on the list of 72 greatest French scientists, which is placed on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.


24. Apart from many streets and schools in France, an electric ferry in Norway is also named after Ampere.