Charles-Augustin de Coulomb

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Created by: Team Physics -, Last Updated: April 25, 2024

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb

Who is Charles-Augustin de Coulomb?

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb was born on June 14, 1736, in Angoul√™me, France, and died on August 23, 1806, was a distinguished scientist renowned for his profound contributions to physics. His pioneering work laid the foundational principles of electrostatics and magnetism, most famously encapsulated in Coulomb’s Law. This law describes the force between two charged objects, profoundly influencing the development of theories in electricity and magnetism. Coulomb’s investigations into friction and torsion also advanced the field of physics, making his studies critical to the scientific advancements of his time and beyond.

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb Early Life and Education

Early Life

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb was born into a wealthy family in Angoulême, France. His early life was marked by comfort and stability, which allowed him to pursue his interests in science from a young age. Influenced by his family’s background and the burgeoning Enlightenment ideas, Coulomb showed an early inclination towards engineering and physical sciences.


Collège Mazarin, Paris

Coulomb attended the Collège Mazarin in Paris, an institution known for its rigorous academic standards and strong focus on the classics and sciences. Here, Coulomb immersed himself in studies, showing particular prowess in mathematics and mechanics. His time at Collège Mazarin shaped his methodical approach to scientific inquiry.

√Čcole du G√©nie at M√©zi√®res

After completing his initial education, Coulomb entered the prestigious √Čcole du G√©nie at M√©zi√®res, a top military engineering school. During his studies, he honed his skills in structural design and mechanics. Coulomb’s experiences at M√©zi√®res were instrumental in developing his analytical skills, which later played a crucial role in his scientific discoveries.


Charles-Augustin de Coulomb made significant contributions to the fields of electricity, magnetism, and applied mechanics. His research not only shaped the understanding of electrostatics but also had lasting impacts on engineering and physics.

Coulomb’s Law

Coulomb’s most famous discovery, Coulomb’s Law, quantifies the force between two point charges. In 1785, he presented this groundbreaking work, demonstrating that the force between two charges is directly proportional to the product of the charges and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This principle is fundamental to the theory of electromagnetism and has been a cornerstone in the development of electrical engineering.

Torsion Balance

Coulomb invented the torsion balance, a sensitive device used to measure the weak electrostatic force between charged objects. This invention was critical in the experimental verification of Coulomb’s Law. The torsion balance’s ability to measure minute forces revolutionized experimental physics, allowing for more precise measurements than ever before.

Studies on Friction

Coulomb also conducted extensive research on friction, which was vital for the field of mechanical engineering. His studies established the laws of sliding friction, which are still used to solve engineering problems today. He observed that friction between surfaces is proportional to the load imposed upon them and independent of the apparent area of contact.

Magnetic Studies

Later in his career, Coulomb turned his attention to magnetism. He investigated the laws governing magnetic attraction and repulsion. His work in this area helped lay the groundwork for future studies in magnetism, contributing to a deeper understanding of how magnetic forces interact and behave under various conditions.

Structural Studies

Aside from his theoretical work, Coulomb applied his knowledge to practical engineering problems. He analyzed the strength of materials and the effect of forces on structural elements. His contributions to structural analysis are noted for their precision and practical application, particularly in the design and construction of military fortifications.

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb Discovery and Invention

Coulomb’s Law

Coulomb formulated the law that bears his name, Coulomb’s Law, which describes the force between two stationary, electrically charged particles. His discovery established that the electric force between these charges is directly proportional to the product of the charges and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This fundamental principle of electrostatics has guided countless developments in the study and application of electricity.

Torsion Balance

Coulomb invented the torsion balance, a device crucial for measuring the force between charged objects with remarkable precision. This invention played a key role in experimentally verifying Coulomb’s Law. The torsion balance uses a thin fiber twisted by an applied force, measuring the angle of twist to determine the magnitude of the force.

Theories on Friction

Coulomb extensively researched and developed the first systematic theories of friction. His findings revealed that the frictional force between two sliding surfaces is proportional to the load pressing the surfaces together and independent of their contact area. These principles are fundamental in the field of tribology and mechanical engineering, providing essential insights into material behavior under force.

Magnetic Theory

Coulomb explored the forces between magnetic poles and established inverse square laws similar to those he formulated for electric charges. His studies helped delineate the fundamental properties of magnetic forces, enhancing the understanding of magnetic fields.

Soil Mechanics

Coulomb’s work in the field of soil mechanics, particularly his analysis of earth pressure on retaining walls, remains influential in civil engineering. He developed theories to predict the pressure exerted by soil on structures, which are crucial for safe and efficient design.

Structural Analysis

He contributed methods for analyzing the distribution of forces in beams and columns, vital for structural engineering. Coulomb’s analysis techniques helped predict how structures withstand loads and stress, improving the safety and durability of buildings and bridge

Awards and Honors

  1. Royal Society of London: Coulomb was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London, recognizing his significant contributions to the field of physics.
  2. French Academy of Sciences: Coulomb became a member of the French Academy of Sciences. His innovative research in electricity and mechanics earned him this esteemed position.
  3. Elected to the French Academy of Sciences: Coulomb’s membership in the French Academy of Sciences, awarded in 1781, was a significant honor that acknowledged his revolutionary work in physics and engineering.
  4. Foreign Associate of the Royal Society: His election as a Foreign Associate of the Royal Society in 1789 was another major honor, underscoring his impact on the international scientific community.

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb Dealth

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb passed away on August 23, 1806, in Paris, France. At the age of 70, he died peacefully after a lifetime dedicated to advancing the field of physics. His death marked the loss of one of the era’s most influential scientists, whose discoveries and inventions continue to impact the scientific world profoundly. Coulomb’s pioneering work in electricity and magnetism laid foundational principles that remain essential in both academic research and practical applications today.


What was Charles-Augustin de Coulomb known for?

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb gained renown for formulating Coulomb’s Law, which describes the force between two charges.

Who discovered coulombs?

Although Charles-Augustin de Coulomb did not “discover” the coulomb, his work led to the naming of this unit of electric charge after him.

What is Coulomb also known as?

People celebrate Charles-Augustin de Coulomb as a pivotal figure in electromagnetism, credited with foundational studies in electric charge and force.

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