Aluminium encyclopaedia

Oersted, Hans Christian

For financial reasons, Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851) was unable to attend a secondary school, but following self-study he and his brother passed their university entrance exams in 1794. After receiving a degree in medicine from Copenhagen University and working as a pharmacist, he undertook a study trip to Germany, France and the Netherlands from 1801 to 1803. In 1806 he became Professor of Physics at Copenhagen University. During a lecture in 1820, Oersted noticed that a compass needle moved when electric current flowed through a wire held near to it. With this discovery, and its interpretation as the interaction between electricity and magnet, Oersted founded the theory of electromagnetism.

In 1825 he managed to become the first person to actually produce pure aluminium, whose existence had been discovered by Davy: he passed gaseous chlorine over glowing aluminium oxide. The chlorine combined with the aluminium of the aluminium oxide to form aluminium chloride. After reaction with potassium amalgam (a potassium"mercury compound), he obtained chlorine and aluminium amalgam. Finally, he separated the latter by distillation into mercury and aluminium. It formed a lump of metal that resembled tin in colour and sheen.

He sent a report to Wöhler, which inspired him to carry out his own experiments on the production of aluminium.

Oersted earned scientific recognition worldwide for the discovery of electromagnetism. Later he devoted himself to popularising the exact natural sciences and improving public education.