Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Science Report #1: Joseph Henry: An American Physicist

By Stevie Liu/Aug.16, 1999

I. A time line of Joseph Henry
1. In 1797, Joseph Henry was born to Scottish immigrants in Albany, New York. 2. In 1805, when young Henry was eight, his father died, and financial circumstances forced his mother send Henry to live with his grandmother in Galway, New York. 3. In 1811, Joseph Henry was fourteen, he moved back to work a day job and attend night school at the Albany Academy, a boys’ school. 4. In 1815, after graduating from Albany Academy, Henry spent several years working as a tutor, then a canal surveyor, and eventually as an engineer for canal construction. 5. In the summer of 1815, Henry invented his own Electro-magnetic. 6. In the early 1830s Princeton University offered Henry the chair of natural philosophy, which Henry accepted. 7. In 1833, Henry met Benjamin Franklin, the man who surpassed him, and they became good friends. 8. In the late 1840s, he accepted the position of Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, where he continued to promote what he called basic research. 9. In 1846, he was professor of natural philosophy (physics) at the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). 10. At the December 3, 1846, meeting of the Board of Regents, Henry was Elected Secretary, with seven of the twelve votes cast. 11. In 1878, Joseph Henry died.
II. Some interesting things about Joseph Henry's life and work
When Henry was inventing the Electro-magnet, he claimed that he did not pursue practical applications for the Electro-magnet because:
"I freely renounced all right to the invention as I consider the machine in the present state of the science a philosophical toy.”
Later in his life, when ask why he didn't patent the Electro-magnet, Henry replied:
"I did not then consider it compatible with the dignity of science to confine the benefits which might be derived from it to the exclusive use of many individual.”
At the December 3, 1846, meeting of the Board of Regents, Henry was elected Secretary, with seven of the twelve votes cast. Just prior to the vote, the regents had made it clear what sort of person they wanted by passing the following resolution:
...that the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution be a man possessing weight of character, and a high grade of talent; and that it is further desirable that he possess eminent scientific and general acquirements; that he be a man capable of advancing science and promoting letters by original research and effort, well qualified to act as a respected channel of communication between the institution and scientific and literary individuals and societies in this foreign countries; and, in a word, a man worthy to represent before the world of science and of letters the institution over with this Board presides.

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