Coulomb, Charles Augustin de

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Coulomb, Charles Augustin de

(ko͞o`lŏm, ko͞olŏm`, Fr. shärl ōgüstăN` də ko͞olôN`), 1736–1806, French physicist. In 1789 he retired from his posts as military engineer and as superintendent of waters and fountains and devoted himself to continuing his scientific research. He was known for his work on electricity, magnetism, and friction, and he invented a magnetoscope, a magnetometer, and a torsion balance that he employed in determining torsional elasticity and in establishing Coulomb's lawCoulomb's law
, in physics, law stating that the electrostatic force between two charged bodies is proportional to the product of the amount of charge on the bodies divided by the square of the distance between them.
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. The unit of quantity of electric charge, the coulombcoulomb
[for C. A. de Coulomb], abbr. coul or C, unit of electric charge. The absolute coulomb, the current U.S. legal standard, is the amount of charge transferred in 1 second by a current of 1 ampere; i.e., it is 1 ampere-second.
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, is named in his honor.


See study by C. S. Gilmor (1971).

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Coulomb, Charles Augustin de


Born June 14, 1736, in Angouleme; died Aug. 23, 1806, in Paris. French physicist; member of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1781). For nine years after his graduation from secondary school, Coulomb worked in the corps of military engineers on the island of Martinique. When he returned to France in 1772, he devoted himself to scientific studies. His works dealt with engineering mechanics (statics of structures and the theory of windmills). He studied the twisting of hairs, silk threads (1777), and metallic fibers (1784) and formulated the laws of torsion; he invented a torsion balance that he later used to measure electric and magnetic forces of interaction. In 1781 he described experiments on sliding and rolling friction and formulated the laws of dry friction. Between 1785 and 1789 he published seven volumes of memoirs in which he gave the law of interaction for electric charges and magnetic poles (Coulomb's law), showed that electric charges always lie on the surface of a conductor, and introduced the concepts of magnetic moment and polarization of charges. Coulomb's experimental works have had great value in the creation of a theory for electromagnetic phenomena. The unit quantity of electric charge, the coulomb, was named for him.


Mémoires…. Paris, 1884. (Collection de mémoires relatifs á la physique …, vol. 1.)


Lezhneva, O. A. “Trudy Sh. O. Kulona v oblasti elektrichestva i magnetizma (k 150-letiiu so dnia smerti).” Elektrichestvo, 1956, no. 11, pp. 79–81.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.