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Oersted’s lesson: Back up your claims

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Driven by curiosity and enthusiasm for life, Hans Christian Oersted discovered electromagnetism and invented the first artificial aluminum. A satellite bearing his name now circles the globe mapping magnetic fields, and units of magnetic strength are called oersteds.

The Danish philosopher, physicist and chemist earned a reputation within his lifetime for credible science and good judgment. But along the way, he learned a hard lesson: Don’t promise more than you can deliver.

Early on, Oersted championed several other scientists whose theories in time were thoroughly discredited. As part of the collateral damage, Oersted became known for being overly eager to embrace wild theories. In 1803, he lost his bid for a job as professor at the University of Copenhagen.

To salvage his reputation, Oersted launched a campaign to carefully design and carry out experiments. Even though he loved discussing grand theories, his work became painstakingly specific, leading to breakthroughs in electricity, magnetism and metallurgy.

Three years after first being rejected, Oersted took a place on the university’s faculty, eventually winning honors, prizes and financial success.

—Adapted from “Unlocking Technology’s Gate,” Donna Howell, Investor’s Business Daily.

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