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Gauss and Tesla or how we measure magnets

The strength of magnets can be measured in one of two units: Gauss and Teslas – named after two different people.

It is not unusual for there to be different names of units to measure certain things because of different scales. Thus we have separate systems known as metric and imperial and even within the imperial system we have different variations such as troy weight (used for precious metals), apothecaries (used for medicine) and avoidupois (used for everything else). And within a scale we sometimes have different sizes indicated either by different names (inches, feet, yards, ounces, pounds, stone) or by prefixes (millimetre, centimetre, metre, gram, kilogram, etc).

So how does this apply to the Gauss and the Tesla? Are they two completely different systems? Or different size units within the same system? The answer is the latter. One Tesla is defined as 10,000 Gauss. Strictly speaking it is a measure of Magnetic Flux Density.

But who were these men who gave their names to these units? The answer is that they were both geniuses in their respective fields: maths and physics.

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian physicist, engineer and inventor. He invented the AC Polyphase System, without which electricity could not be widely distributed, the AC induction motor and X-ray emission without a target electrode. But perhaps more importantly, it was Tesla and not Marconi who invented radio – a fact that the United States patent office grudgingly acknowledged after his death.

Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss is said by many to have been the greatest mathematician who ever lived, his work touching on every major branch of mathematics. Although a pure mathematician, his work had a profound effect on physics. His work on non-Euclidean geometry (predating that of his disciple Riemann) paved the way for Einstein’s General Relativity. Later in life he collaborated with physicist Wilhelm Webber to study magnetism. He formulated a mathematical theory of magnetism in this period.
Tesla, in contrast, was a practical scientist and experimenter through and through. He worked with magnetism in his research on alternating current distribution and motors. He also proposed – and proved – the transmission of electricity through the ground taking advantage of earth’s electromagnetic properties.

So it is fitting that both these men should be honoured by having their names recognized in this way.