André-Marie Ampère

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André-Marie Ampère bigraphy, stories - French physicist and mathematician

André-Marie Ampère : biography

20 January 1775 – 10 June 1836

André-Marie Ampère (20 January 1775 – 10 June 1836) was a French physicist and mathematician who is generally regarded as one of the main founders of the science of classical electromagnetism, which he referred to as "electrodynamics". The SI unit of measurement of electric current, the ampere, is named after him.

Biography

Ampère was born on 20 January 1775 to Jean-Jacques Ampère, a prosperous businessman, and Jeanne Antoinette Desutières-Sarcey Ampère during the height of the French Enlightenment. He spent his childhood and adolescence at the family property at Poleymieux-au-Mont-d’Or near Lyon. Jean-Jacques Ampère, a successful merchant, was an admirer of the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose theories of education (as outlined in his treatise Émile) were the basis of Ampère’s education. Rousseau believed that young boys should avoid formal schooling and pursue instead an “education direct from nature.” Ampère’s father actualized this ideal by allowing his son to educate himself within the walls of his well-stocked library. French Enlightenment masterpieces such as Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (begun in 1749) and Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie (volumes added between 1751 and 1772) thus became Ampère’s schoolmasters. The young Ampère, however, soon resumed his Latin lessons, which enabled him to master the works of Leonhard Euler and Daniel Bernoulli.

French Revolution

In addition, Ampère used his access to the latest mathematical books to begin teaching himself advanced mathematics at age 12. In later life Ampère claimed that he knew as much about mathematics and science when he was eighteen as ever he knew; but, a polymath, his reading embraced history, travels, poetry, philosophy, and the natural sciences. His mother was a devout woman, so Ampère was also initiated into the Catholic faith along with Enlightenment science. The French Revolution (1789–99) that began during his youth was also influential: Ampère’s father was called into public service by the new revolutionary government, becoming a justice of the peace in a small town near Lyon. When the Jacobin faction seized control of the Revolutionary government in 1792, his father Jean-Jacques Ampère resisted the new political tides, and he was guillotined on 24 November 1793, as part of the Jacobin purges of the period.

In 1796 Ampère met Julie Carron. André-Marie Ampère took his first regular job in 1799 as a mathematics teacher, which gave him the financial security to marry Carron and father his first child, Jean-Jacques (named after his father), the next year. (Jean-Jacques Ampère eventually achieved his own fame as a scholar of languages.) Ampère’s maturation corresponded with the transition to the Napoleonic regime in France, and the young father and teacher found new opportunities for success within the technocratic structures favoured by the new French emperor. In 1802 Ampère was appointed a professor of physics and chemistry at the École Centrale in Bourg-en-Bresse, leaving his ailing wife and infant son in Lyon. He used his time in Bourg to research mathematics, producing Considérations sur la théorie mathématique de jeu (1802; “Considerations on the Mathematical Theory of Games”), a treatise on mathematical probability that he sent to the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1803.

Teaching career

After the death of his wife in July 1803, Ampère moved to Paris, where he began a tutoring post at the new École Polytechnique in 1804. Despite his lack of formal qualifications, Ampère was appointed a professor of mathematics at the school in 1809. As well as holding positions at this school until 1828, in 1819 and 1820 Ampère offered courses in philosophy and astronomy, respectively, at the University of Paris, and in 1824 he was elected to the prestigious chair in experimental physics at the Collège de France. In 1814 Ampère was invited to join the class of mathematicians in the new Institut Impériale, the umbrella under which the reformed state Academy of Sciences would sit.