1830s Electromagnetism and Faradisation

Online exhibition looks at how electricity in a medical capacity has developed from the Antiquities through to the early twentieth century. 

Fortunately, these entrepreneurial endeavours were soon surpassed by the next wave of scientific discoveries beginning with those of Andre Marie Ampere. The father of electrodynamics, Ampere, extended Oersted's observation that electricity affected magnetic needles into a new theory of magnetism. The realisation that two currents would attract or repel each other depending on whether they flowed in the same or opposite directions sparked the idea that magnetism is in fact caused by electricity.

Michael Faraday made the ground-breaking link in 1831 with the discovery of electromagnetic induction - the generation of electricity in a wire by means of the electromagnetic effect of a current in another wire. This is the basic principle behind the electric motor, a machine that meant medical electrical theory was able to become reality. His induction coil and a repeater, to break the current, were the essential components of Edward Montague Clark's magneto-electric machine. It provided a steady supply of induced electricity and became the first machine to be used in medicine.

Illustration of an electro magnetic machine in use from Medical Electricity by J Althus 1870 Illustration of medical apparatus from Medical Electricity by J Althus 1870

Faradisation, the application of an interrupted or alternating current from an induction coil, became, along with galvanisation, the main early forms of current used in medicine. Despite its effectiveness direct application was often painful and it was almost 60 years before this problem was overcome. In the meantime, the faradic current was put to excellent use in physiological studies. 

For more information on Michael Faraday and his discoveries please see the Michael Faraday Biography and the Michael Faraday Biography

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