Charles Augustin De Coulomb

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Angoulême, France
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Angoulême, France

Charles Augustin de Coulomb was a French scientist who is most known for inventing the Coulomb law, which bears his name. The electrostatic interactions between electrically charged particles are described by Coulomb’s law, commonly known as Coulomb’s inverse-square law. His discoveries and investigations in the late eighteenth century laid the groundwork for the subsequent development of electromagnetic theory. Friction studies, torsions, applied mechanics, and magnetism were all areas where he made significant contributions. He was a studious and brilliant student who was born into an affluent household and obtained an excellent education. He graduated from Mézières’ Royal Technical School (École royale du génie de Mézières) and worked in a variety of engineering roles during his career. He became interested in research and began writing articles on applied mechanics as a result. He conducted his own research on friction and magnetism alongside his engineering employment. He was once asked to submit a report on the possibility of constructing a navigable canal. He decided from his investigation that the proposed plan was excessively expensive, which enraged the French bureaucracy, and he was punished. Knowing he was correct, he was dissatisfied with the French government and opted to devote his time to physics instead.

Childhood and Adolescence

Charles Coulomb was born to noble parents in Angouleme, France, on June 14, 1736. His father, Henri Coulomb, was a lawyer, and his mother, Catherine Bajet, was from a wealthy family.

He received a good education at the Collège Mazarin and the College de France, where he took classes in philosophy, language, literature, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and other topics.

He travelled to Paris in 1758 to study for admittance to the elite École du Genie in Mézières. After a few months, he was able to pass the entrance exam and get admission to the college.
In 1761, he received the rank of lieutenant en premier in the Corps du Génie.

Career of Charles Augustin De Coulomb

Coulomb started his engineering career as a ‘Lieutenant’ in the Corps du Génie. He worked in the fields of structural design, soil mechanics, and other related fields throughout this time.

At first, he was assigned to Brest. In February 1764, however, he was dispatched to Martinique in the West Indies. He was assigned to the construction of the new Fort Bourbon, which took him many years to finish.

Fort Bourbon cost six million livres to build, which was a large sum in those days. At the building site, hundreds of people were employed, and Coulomb guided them through the various stages of construction. This task was extremely demanding, and it took a toll on Coulomb’s health, causing him to fall unwell.

He found that the practical engineering abilities he learned during his army construction projects were quite valuable in his subsequent theoretical mechanical attempts. In 1772, he returned to France and was sent to Bouchain. He had also began to engage in research and produce his own papers at this time.

His first study was presented to the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1773. ‘Sur une application des règles, de maximis et minimis a quelque problèmes de statique, relatifs à l’architecture,’ was his first work, and it was written to determine the influence of friction and cohesion in specific statistical difficulties.

The Académie des Sciences was so pleased by his use of calculus to address many inconsistencies in engineering concerns that he was designated as the Bossut’s correspondent on July 6, 1774.

He prepared and submitted his most renowned memoir on the workings of a magnetic compass for the Grand Prix of the Académie des Sciences in 1777, while stationed at Cherbourg. The study earned him a part of the Grand Prix prize money and includes some of his earlier torsion balance research.

In 1779, he was sent to supervise the construction of a fort constructed entirely of wood in Rochefort, France. In the shipyards, he began doing friction experiments.

He won the Grand Prix of the Académie des Sciences in 1781 for his paper ‘Theorie des Machines Simples (“Theory of Simple Machines”), which was based on these tests.

His life took a turn for the better in 1781, when he was elected to the Académie des Sciences’ mechanics division. He moved to Paris and worked as an engineering consultant for the remainder of his life, devoted to physics.

In 1784, he presented a report on the elasticity of wires under twisting force, which sparked interest in torsion balance. This research would later be used to calculate the earth’s density as well as the forces of frictional electricity and magnetism.
Between 1785 and 1791, he published seven important memoirs on the subject of electricity and magnetism.

Coulomb was heavily absorbed with his scientific research when the French Revolution began in 1789. Many institutions were restructured or eliminated. Coulomb left the Corps du Génie in 1791, dissatisfied with the situation, and relocated to his home near Blois in 1793, where he resumed his scientific research.

In 1793, the Académie des Sciences was decommissioned and replaced with the Institut de France. Coulomb returned to Paris in December 1795 after being chosen as a member of the Institut de France.
Between 1802 and 1806, he was the inspector general of public instruction, and he spent much of his time doing education-related work.

Major Projects of Charles Augustin De Coulomb

Coulomb’s law, which he first published in 1785, is his most famous achievement. The theory of electromagnetism arose from this law, which defined the electrostatic interaction between electrically charged particles.

Achievements & Awards

In 1777, he won a shared first prize in the Paris Académie des Sciences competition for his memoir on magnetic compasses.
He was elected to the Academie as adjoint mécanicien in 1781 after winning first place at the Académie des Sciences for his paper ‘Theorie des Machines Simples (“Theory of Simple Machines”)’.

Personal History and Legacy

Charles Coulomb married Louise Francoise LeProust Desormeaux and they had two boys together. After the birth of their second son, he married her in 1802.

His health had always been precarious. His health deteriorated in his final years, and he died on August 23, 1806.
‘Crater Coulomb,’ a lunar feature, is named for him in appreciation of his services to the globe.

Estimated Net Worth

The stimated net worth of Charles Augustin De Coulomb is unknown.


The Eiffel Tower has 72 names engraved on it, including his.
The coulomb, a SI unit of electric charge, was named after him.

His theories of earth pressure and generalized wedge theory, both of which are connected to soil mechanics, are still used in engineering practice today.
The torsion balance is said to have been invented by him.

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