4 BC – The Compass – China

Chinese South Pointing Device

In the Chinese book “Book of the Devil Valley Master” (鬼谷子) is mentioned a “south pointing device” or compass. It was used at the time for fortune telling1.

Magnetized needle compass

The first reference to using a magnetized need a magnetized needle happens around around 1088, in the Dream Pool Essays by Shen Kuo. It isn’t until 1119 that the use of a magnetized needle compass was used for navigational purposes in Zhu Yu‘s book Pingzhou Table Talks (萍洲可談).

A magnetized needle compass was first mentioned in western literature written about 1180 by Alexander Neckam in De Utensilibus (On Instruments).

Experiment – make a compass

600 BC – Attraction of static electricity

600 BC – Attraction of static electricity – Thales of Miletos

(624 BC -546 BC)

Thales also observed that after rubbing amber with certain items it attracts small objects.

Amber is fossilized tree resin. It is hard transparent yellowish (amber) colored substance that was used for jewelery and buttons. We can reproduce Thales observations with other objects too.

The word electricity came from the latin word electrious which means to “produce from amber by friction”. Electrious has is root in the greek word for amberηλεκτρονelectron)ew,monospace;”>


Experiment – attraction of small objects I

600 BC -Early magnetism

Thales of Miletos (624 BC -546 BC)

Thales of Miletos was greek philosopher, mathematician and natural scientist in the 6th century BC. He observed that loadstones attracted iron.

A loadstone is a naturally occurring magnet. It is a form of iron ore that keeps it’s magnetic properties, perhaps after being struck by lighting. If iron is struck by lighting it will become magnetic for a short time. We can simulate Thales observations.

Experiment – what is attracted to a magnet:


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