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Charles-Augustin de Coulomb: Defined Electrostatic Force of Attraction and Repulsion

Posted May 28, 2012 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb was a French physicist born on June 14, 1736. He developed the definition of the electrostatic force of attraction and repulsion which became known as Coulomb's law. The coulomb, the SI unit of charge, was also named for him.

His father lost the family's money through bad financial speculations and they consequently moved from Paris to Montpellier, France. Coulomb followed his interests of mathematics and astronomy. He returned to Paris for tutoring in order to pass the entrance exams for the École du Génie at Mézières. He graduated from the school in 1761 as an engineer and ranked as a lieutenant in the Corps du Génie.

Coulomb was assigned to Martinique; the island was damaged by the Dutch and the English over the years. He was tasked with building the new Fort Bourbon. It was completed in 1772. He would later write about his experiences with the construction in his theoretical memoirs about mechanics.

The stay in Martinique took a toll on his health and he returned to France. Coulomb resigned from his military appointment when the French Revolution began in 1789.

The Revolutionary government decreed a new determination in weights and measures and Coulomb returned to Paris to help create them. Many of his major accomplishments took place from 1779-1802; he submitted over 25 memoirs to the Academie des Sciences during this time:

  • Published an investigation of the laws of friction (Théorie des machines simples, en ayant regard au frottement de leurs parties et à la roideur des cordages)
  • Published a memoir on fluid resistance describing his torsion balance (Recherches théoriques et expérimentales sur la force de torsion eti sur lélasticité des fils de metal)
  • Appointed inspector of public instruction

Coulomb was known for using the calculus of variations to solve engineering problems. He was best known, however, for his theory of attraction and repulsion of bodies with electrical charges. He demonstrated an inverse square for the forces. Coulomb's explanation is used today; however, he thought the attraction and repulsion were caused by different types of fluids.

In addition to leaving the legacies of Coulomb's law and the coulomb unit of measure, his name is one of 72 inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.

Resources:

NNDB - Charles-Augustin de Coulomb [image]

University of St Andrews School of Mathematics and Statistics - Charles Augustin de Coulomb

Wikipedia - Charles-Augustin de Coulomb

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