In the physicist chapter of Gauss's bio on encyclopedia.com appears the following statement about Gauss-Weber's unpublished correspondence:

Stimulated by Faraday’s discovery of induced current in 1831, the pair energetically investigated electrical phenomena. They arrived at Kirchhoff’s laws in 1833 and anticipated various discoveries in static, thermal, and frictional electricity but did not publish, presumably because their interest centered on terrestrial magnetism.

I read this encyclopedia article some years ago, but only recently I found more information about Gauss-Weber work on thermogalvanism. In p.113-114 of Clemens Shaefer's treatise on Gauss's physical works appears the following information:

Gauss only made publicly known his investigation into thermogalvanism in the above mentioned essay on the bifilar magnetometer. There he says: "The new apparatus serves for sharp Measurement of even the weakest galvanic currents... This clearly refutes the erroneous opinion of many physicists, as if they could not penetrate a chain of significant length. No matter how long a chain, such currents are not canceled out, but are only weakened in exactly the same proportion as with other types of excitation. Using a thermogalvanic apparatus of a peculiar construction, the mere touch of the points with the finger produces a galvanic current, which, even if it has to run through a chain of almost two miles long, mostly of very thin wire, still results in very significant deflections of the magnetic rod."

The above mentioned essay (which contains the full version of this quotation of Gauss) is called "A new tool for magnetic observations (published in October 1837)", and the most relavent part is p.354. However, according to Shaefer: "Nothing is known about the construction of the special thermogalvanic apparatus that Gauss mentions."

According to Shaefer, in letters to Schumacher and Olbers, Gauss also states that: "Perhaps one can make very important discoveries from this for pyrometry (blast furnaces, porcelain furnaces, melting furnaces, etc)", and Shaefer says: "Gauss's broad view is evident here in the most brilliant way". These last statements are not clear to me since I don't understand Gauss's remarks on the applicability of thermogalvanism to pyrometry, nor I understand why this is a brilliant anticipation (as Schaefer says). Please note I am not familiar with the science behind thermogalvanism nor with the history of this science; its only aspect I am aware of is the Seebeck effect, in which temperature differences across a metal generate electric voltage (potentials difference).

Since the details of Gauss's thermogalvanic instrument are apparently lost (although there is some chance for more information once additional relavent parts of Gauss's Nachlass will be published), this is clearly not a good question, but perhaps there is a way of concluding something about Gauss-Weber's thermogalvanic circuit just from the verbal description of its functioning and from the consequent development of such instruments by later researchers in the 19th century. After all, Gauss was not so technologically oriented, and it is unlikely that this device was "a spectacle" for its time, so probably other inventors in the next 2 decades arrived at similar developments.

Thanks in advance for any useful piece of information!

  • $\begingroup$ Gauss was pretty technologically oriented, they built the Gauss-Weber telegraph, first in the world, in 1833. Gauss's description of "a chain of almost two miles long, mostly of very thin wire" that "still results in very significant deflections of the magnetic rod" sounds like what they had going between Weber's lab and Gauss's observatory. Perhaps, its accidental activation with finger touching suggested the "thermogalvanic apparatus". $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Mar 30 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ Seebeck and Peltier thermoelectric effects were discovered about that time. I wonder if he avoided publication because they beat him to it. $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Mar 31 at 14:24


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