Navigation and Gilbert
Physics Narrative for 11-14
Read more about the development of compasses
The magnet, as part of a compass, revolutionised the lives of sailors on perilous journeys across the world's oceans, allowing navigators to chart their course with much greater accuracy.
Pieces of lodestone were floated on wood and found to point towards the pole star. In later developments smaller iron needles were magnetised, which made the compasses more portable. The Chinese were using magnetic compasses around AD 1100, western Europeans around 1200, Arabs around 1250, and Scandinavians by 1300.
The first man to research the properties of the lodestone (magnetic iron ore) was William Gilbert, who, amongst other roles, was physician to Queen Elizabeth I. Gilbert published his findings in 1600 in a book called De Magnete (The Magnet) and caught the eye of such famous scientists as Johannes Kepler and Galileo. De Magnete was quickly accepted as the standard work on magnetism and electrical phenomena throughout Europe. In it, Gilbert distinguished between magnetism and static (known as the amber effect). He also compared the magnet's polarity to the polarity of the Earth.