The misjudged Math Teacher – Georg Simon Ohm

Georg Simon Ohm (1789 – 1854)

Georg Simon Ohm
(1789 – 1854)

On July 6, 1854, the Bavarian physicist and mathematician Georg Simon Ohm passed away, he was best known for his research on electricity and it was him to initiate the subject of circuit theory. The SI unit of electrical resistance and Ohm’s law are named after this Bavarian ‘teacher’.

Ohm’s intention was to develop a formula dealing with the effects of flowing electricity and its measurability in dependence on the material of wire. Doing this, he succeeded in finding the famous law named after him. In his experiments he used voltaic piles, batteries made from daniell cells, and a voltage source, which was also made from daniell cells. In the early 19th century, Ohm published an article describing a measuring device. All he did was basically reconstructing and modifying discoveries of other scientists and combining them to a whole new device (…everything is a remix!). But his experiments were still unsuccessful, because of the enormous fluctuations of the electric power. After an important hint by Thomas Johann Seebeck, Ohm added a thermocouple to his experiment and succeeded. He published his today well known law, but didn’t gain a whole lot of respect. The German Minister of Education even said, that ‘a physicist who professed such heresies was unworthy to teach science’. By then, Ohm was ‘just’ a teacher and could not blare with a great reputation. This was the reason, why it took almost 10 years to get the law widely accepted throughout Germany and even longer abroad.

Georg Ohm himself grew up in a Protestant household and just like his brother Martin he received his most education from their father. He must have done a good job, since Georg turned out being a great physician and Martin became well known for developing the theory of the exponential with complex numbers. Being aware of Georg’s potential, his father sent him to Switzerland, where he later became a math teacher. After teaching mathematics in several schools, he was able to start his career in Cologne, teaching math as well as physics. Not happy with his private studies on electricity, he was resigned from this school and continued teaching in Munich until his retirement.

Although Ohm could not impress the masses with his studies first he has later been honored by the Royal Society and became a member of the Bavarian Academy nine years before his passing.

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