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Wilhelm Eduard Weber

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Biography

Wilhelm Eduard Weber was a physicist, most noted for his contributions in the field of electromagnetic telegraphy.

Weber was born in Wittenberg, in Germany, in 1804. His father was a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg and he had two brothers who were both interested in and had great aptitude for science. In 1815, his father was transferred to the University of Halle. Here, Weber attended a Grammar School and later attended the University of Halle to study natural philosophy. Here he acquired his Privatdozent (the German equivalent for a PhD) under Johann Salomo Christoph Schweigger and soon he became a professor of natural philosophy at Halle. He co-authored a book titled ‘Wave Theory and Fluidity’ with his elder brother Ernst Heinrich Weber, a professor of anatomy at Leipzig. With his younger brother, he conducted a joint study on the mechanism of walking in mankind.

In 1831, he was hired as a professor of physics at the University of Gottingen, under the recommendations of Carl Friedrich Gauss. In 1833, Weber and Gauss collaborated and constructed an early electromagnetic telegraph. A 1,200 meters long telegraph wire connected the workplaces of the two scientists, the observatory and the institute for physics, above the roofs of the Gottingen buildings and helped in their collaboration and joint research. Instead of a Voltaic pile, they used an induction pulse enabling the transmission of seven letters a minute. Weber, along with Gauss also founded a magnetic club to support the measurement of the earth’s magnetic field in different parts of the world.

Weber was also politically active. In 1837, he was dismissed from the Gottingen University as a part of the ‘Gottingen Seven’ – seven professors who protested against the abolition of the constitution. Weber visited England and later became a professor of physics at Leipzig. He continued his collaboration with Gauss and they together compiled the ‘Atlas of Geomagnetism: Designed according to the Elements of the Theory’. He worked with Rudolf Kohlrausch and together they found out that the ratio of electrostatic to electromagnetic units produced a number that matched the value of the speed of light. In a 1856 paper, they used the letter ‘c’ to denote the speed of light, which is in use even today. Weber’s findings paved the way for Maxwell’s hypothesis that light waves are electromagnetic. Weber also developed a theory of electrodynamics, which is an alternative to Maxwell electrodynamics. The SI unit of magnetic flux, the weber with the symbol ‘Wb’ is named after Wilhelm Eduard Weber.