Andre Marie Ampere


Andre-Marie Ampere was a French Physicist, Mathematician, Chemist and Philosopher, best known for his work in Electrodynamics. The unit of electric current, Ampere, bears his name. He was born on the 20th of January,1775 at Poleymieux in France, sixteen miles away from the city of Lyon. Andre-Marie's father was a successful businessman in Lyon. In 1782, he decided to spend more time on Ampere’s education by taking some time off from his business. It was during this time that his father inspired in him a thirst for knowledge. He mentions in his autobiographical writings, that his father, instead of forcing him to stick to a specific curriculum “knew how to inspire in him a desire to know." At an early age Ampere completed reading all the articles in the L’Encyclopedie in alphabetical order, and there are reports that even much later in life he was capable of recalling them from memory successfully.   Ampere's interest in Mathematics grew from a very tender age. At  thirteen, he was writing a treatise on conic sections, and had already submitted a paper to the Academie de Lyon. However, due to his lack of exposure to other contemporary mathematicians and advancements made in research,  Ampere’s work was rejected. This inspired him to study Calculus and further his knowledge in the field of mathematics.

Ampere’s Contributions to Mathematics

Starting in 1797 till 1802, Ampere tutored in mathematics. In 1802, Ampere was appointed professor of Physics and Chemistry at the Bourge Ecole Centrale. Even though he spent most of his time instructing Physics and Chemistry, his research interests lay in the field of Mathematics. In 1803, the Paris Academy published work from his preliminary research efforts the Mathematical Theory of Games. There were several editions of this work, each with a set of corrections. His next publication dealt with the Calculus of Variations, and was published in the same year. By then Ampere had got a fairly good reputation for his contributions to the field of Mathematics and in 1804, he was appointed a repetiteur, in analysis at the Ecole Polytechnique. Considering his lack of formal education, this indeed a great achievement. He was appointed Professor at the Ecole Polytechnique in 1809. In 1826 he was appointed chair at the Universite de France, a post he retained till his death in 1828. Meanwhile his achievements had also been noticed by Napoleon, who appointed him Inspector-General of the newly created university system. During his stay at the Ecole Polytechnique he worked in close contact with Augustin-Louis Cauchy. Ampere shared the load of teaching the topics of mechanics and analysis with him. Ampere's conceptual approach to dealing with these topics was in sharp comparison to Cauchy’s rather rigorous approach and made him more popular with the students. While at Paris, Ampere worked in developing a classification of partial differential equations, that he presented to the Instut des Sciences in 1814. The success of this work was crucial in his election over Cauchy, in 1814 to the Instut des Sciences.

Ampere’s Contributions to Physics and Chemistry

While making giant strides in the field of Mathematics, Ampere also made important contributions to the field of Chemistry. After getting admitted to the Instut in 1814, Ampere developed a classification of the elements in 1816. He was also involved in the development of the theory of light. He subscribed to the wave theory of light and was against the corpuscular theory. The work done by Ampere in the field of Electromagnetism was his greatest contribution. In September 1820 a Danish scientist named Hans Christian Orsted produced some experimental results in the field of magnetism. Ampere reacted quickly to the discovery and by the end of September he had discovered electrodynamical forces between linear current conductors. He also realized that the deflection of a compass needle caused by an electric current flowing through it could be used to measure the magnitude of the current. This concept led to the development of the galvanometer. He presented his discoveries to the Academy in November 1820, and published his work in the Annales de Chimie et de Physique. In 1826, Ampere’s seminal work in the field of electromagnetism culminated in the publication, of the Memoir on the Mathematical Theory of Electrodynamic Phenomena, Uniquely Deduced from Experience. It included a rigorous mathematical derivation of the electrodynamic force law and was substantiated by four experiments.

Ampere’s Personal Life

Ampere’s personal life was rather tragic. The French Revolution which started in 1789, greatly influenced his teenage years. In 1793, when the Republican army captured Lyons, Ampere's father a wealthy city official was sent to the guillotine. This had a devastating effect on Ampere, and he gave up his studies for eighteen months to cope with the trauma. Things improved when he met Julie and was engaged to marry her in 1797. However, soon after, their marriage Julie died in 1803. He remarried in 1806, but the consequences were barely pleasant, resulting in a separation in less than a year. Ampere never recovered completely from these personal tragedies and the epitaph he choose for his gravestone says Tandem Felix ('Happy at last').