Ørsted's Work On The Compressibility Of Liquids And Gases, And His Dynamic Theory Of Matter

  • Ole Knudsen
Part of the Boston Studies In The Philosophy Of Science book series (BSPS, volume 241)

In this paper I shall attempt to answer the question why Ørsted should have devoted so much time and effort to measuring the compressibility of liquids and gases. In fact, in Ørsted’s scientific oeuvre his experimental researches on the compressibility of water and gases stand out as the most long-lasting, sustained, and painstaking research effort of all. It occupied him off and on from 1818 to 1845, and for a period in the 1820s, just when one might have expected him to concentrate on exploring, like many of his colleagues around Europe were doing, the new field opened up by his discovery of electromagnetism, it seems to have taken up most of the time he could spare from his heavy teaching and administrative duties. What was it about this subject that so attracted Ørsted?


Empty Space Atomistic System Dynamic View Administrative Duty Relative Compression 
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  1. 1.
    For similar suggestions, see Anja Skaar Jacobsen: Between Naturphilosophie and Tradition: Hans Christian Ørsted’s Dynamical Chemistry, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Aarhus 2000, pp. 27–28; and Ole Norling-Christensen: “Hans Christian Ørsted”, in: Dansk Biografisk Leksikon, 3rd ed., vol. 16. Copenhagen 1984, pp. 196–202, on p. 199.Google Scholar
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    Op. cit. II, p. 488.Google Scholar
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  6. 6.
    He found these values by measuring the amount of water displaced by the piston when pressed down into a full container to depths equal to the above-mentioned depressions. An easier way would be to multiply the depressions by the area of the piston. From the stated diameter of the piston (0.764”) I have tried to calculate the changes in volume and find much smaller values than Zimmermann’s measurements.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
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  12. 12.
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  14. 14.
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  15. 15.
    Ørsted: Works, pp. 521–525.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ørsted: Works, pp. 537–538.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    A modern textbook quotes the value 46.4 × 10−6 atm−1 for the compressibility of water. See Hugh D. Young and Roger A. Freedman: University Physics, with Modern Physics, 10th. ed., San Fransisco (Addison-Wesley) 2000, p. 342.Google Scholar
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    Ørsted: Works, pp. 586–592.Google Scholar
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    KM III, p. 28.Google Scholar
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    Hauch, op. cit. n. 2, vol. II, p. 771.Google Scholar
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    KM III, pp. 40–46.Google Scholar
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    Ørsted to Weiss, [30 January 1829], in: M. C. Harding, ed.: Correspondance de H. C. Örsted avec divers Savants, tome I, Copenhagen 1920, pp. 286–289.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. pp. 282–283.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ole Knudsen
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AarhusDenmark

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