As is the case with any historical work, it is frequently difficult to establish a boundary of dates that conclusively defines the subject matter being studied. The history of science is no exception. Scientific discovery is a building process, with each new discovery not only founded on the work of previous generations of scientists, but also providing the material for later investigations and ideas. Such is the case when studying the scientific achievements of the 17th century. Science in the 1600s is the result of an effort that began prior to the Renaissance. Following an almost eleven-century lapse of activity, the Renaissance represents a time in the Western world of renewed interest in science and mathematics. This in no way implies that scientific investigation was in hibernation throughout the globe. In the centuries preceding the 17th century, Arabic scholars were studying the principles of optics and mathematics while Chinese astronomers were charting the paths of comets. However, scientific achievement is a periodic phenomenon, with civilizations demonstrating periods of high scientific achievement followed by times of relative inactivity. The 17th century represents an era of intense activity for Western scientists and while many nationalities contributed to the advance of science and math during this time, the focal points of activity developed primarily in the northern European countries and Italy.
The 17th century is a unique period of time in that it is possible to define the boundaries of scientific achievement during this century by examining the work of two scientists. In the early years of the 17th century (ca. 1600) the English physicist William Gilbert conducted preliminary investigations on the science of magnetism. While his work was important in characterizing magnetism as a force of nature, it rep-