Abbé Jean Antoine Nollet


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(1700–1770) French physicist

Born at Pimprez in France, Nollet was one of the great popularizers of the new electrical science in the salons and at the court of 18th-century France. He had collaborated with Charles Dufay in the period 1730–32 and tended to follow him in his electrical theory. Nollet saw electricity as a fluid, subtle enough to penetrate the densest of bodies. In 1746 he first formulated his theory of simultaneous ‘affluences and effluences’ in which he assumed that bodies have two sets of pores in and out of which electrical effluvia might flow. He was later involved with Benjamin Franklin in a dispute over the nature of electricity.

After the discovery of the Leyden jar (a device for storing electrical charge) by Pieter van Musschenbroek in 1745, Nollet arranged some spectacular demonstrations of its power. He once gave a shock to 180 royal guards and, even more dramatically, joined 700 monks in a circle to a Leyden jar with quite startling results. Nollet also contributed to the theory of sound when he showed in 1743 that sound carried in water (he had taken care to expel the dissolved air from the water first).

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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