BATTERIES, SHOCKS AND BOTTLES

I’m rummaging disconsolately and a little desperate in various drawers and containers (my wife has a penchant for cramming assorted bits and objects into a bowl in the kitchen) in search of… batteries.
Nowadays, the two essential elements of our existence seem to be chargers and batteries. The ones I need for my remote are named AAA. It took me a while to learn it but now, when I go to buy them, I feel almost like a nuclear scientist. The name seems to be born with the first distinction of batteries in A for low voltage and B for high voltage. By the 1940s, the letter system was universally accepted. The letters now refer to the battery measurements. For example, AA measure 50.5mm x 14.5mm.
The original intention was to start from A and use the subsequent letters of the alphabet for batteries of increasing size (B, for example, is still used in England for certain bigger bicycle batteries). The problem turned out to be that, instead of increasing in size, batteries have shrunk, and therefore we have the AA, AAA and AAAA, indicating increasingly smaller sizes.
Manufacturers of electronic gadgets prefer to prioritize their own individual layout and space requirements rather than international standards, so today there are in fact more than 300 different battery sizes (not to mention chargers!).
Returning to the origins (which is somewhat the purpose of these Connections), we must mention the concept of electricity. That there was a particular phenomenon in nature, such as what we now call electricity, had been noted since ancient times. For example, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, up to the Romans, had obeserved the discharges of certain fish such as the electric eel, the torpedo and over two hundred other species.
Furthermore, different cultures had observed that certain non-ferrous substances, when rubbed, could attract other light objects, such as feathers (what we now call static electricity).
Thales of Miletus (about 640/625 BC – 548/545 BC) Greek philosopher and mathematician, performed in-depth analysis of natural phenomena, and – according to later historians – writes about magnetism within a broader discourse on the soul (psyché) as a force that moves everything, distinguishing between a magnet that attracts iron from amber that attracts other substances when rubbed.
Incidentally, magnet derives from the Greek and means stone of Magnesia, a locality in Asia Minor, known for its deposits of magnetite.
The centuries pass and in 1600, William Gilbert (1544 – 1603), physician and philosopher, takes up the distinction and describes these attractions using the term Electricus from the Greek Elektron, amber, in the sense of “magnetic like amber”. To him, magnetism is a kind of “effluvium” (fluid) similar to a sea current that after beaching returns to the sea.
You may have heard of Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), mathematician, typographer, scientist, and one of the founding fathers of the United States. As most people know, in 1752, during a thunderstorm, he attaches a key to a long cable that ends in a wet kite.
There were two possibilities: one, that he would die struck by lightning or, two, that some minor discharge would reach his hand. Since the second case came true, he was able to deduce – and write – that lightning strikes are electrical discharges.
As scientists, intent on studying and understanding the forces of nature, became more familiar with electrical phenomena, there were confronted by two challenges: on the one hand to generate artificially some form of electric charge, on the other to store it and thus control it. The first was solved, starting from the 1700s, in laboratories all over the world, with the electrostatic machine. These devices are basically the modern version (for the time) of the wool sweater that you take off in the dark, in winter, and it sparkles and attracts your hair or the shock you get when shaking someone’s hand in dry weather. And if you want to look at your carpet with more respect, take notice that its static electricity discharges can reach 30,000 volts.
To build an electrostatic machine, first take a glass disc, then glue thin metal strips on both sides like the spokes of a bicycle, and finally put it on a support that allows it to rotate. Now place two small spheres, metal or leather, barely touching the glass.
Spin the disc and the two balls will be charged with static electricity. And don’t underestimate the result! the tensions generated can be very important.
The one described is, for the sake of brevity, one of the many possible models: a stage in a long progress that continued until the early 1900s. There were machines that used, cylinders, rotating globes, different materials, multiple discs, ribbons and so on.
Ok, we have built the machine, now we have to put the generated electricity in a bottle… literally.
The idea came to two scientists: a German priest, Ewald Georg von Kleist, and the Dutch Pieter van Musschenbroek from Leyden.
The first, starting from erroneous theories, was lucky enough in 1745 to receive a shock that literally threw him across the room. He believed, In fact, according to the parameters of the time, that electricity was a fluid, and thought therefore that he could store the electricity generated by an electrostatic machine, within a glass bottle full of alcohol. After sticking a nail into the cork and taking it in his hand, he had the aforementioned mishap, which, in a way, proved his point. He wrote about this interesting effect even though he didn’t understand why it had happened.
The news spread through the laboratories of Europe to the ears of Pieter van Musschenbroek from Leyden.
He too did not go much beyond a series of tests and shocks but, perhaps because of better social connections, he ended up being connected to subsequent developments. The final product is called a Leyden jar from the name of the town where Musschenbroek was working and teaching: a glass bottle with two separate metal sheets lining both the inside and the outside and a cap from which a thread or chain hangs inside the bottle touching the sheet at the bottom.
Result: if you take the electrostatic machine described above and connect it to the Leyden jar, the electric charge is “captured” by the two foils (take it for granted: the explanation would be too long).
The two devices became the essential tools of any serious laboratory, technical institute or science classroom, leading slowly to a better understanding of electricity.
The next major conceptual step that we can only hint at was the discovery in 1831 of the relationship between magnetism and electricity by Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867). Pass an electric current around an iron core, for example by wrapping an electric wire around a nail, and you will have a magnet, that is an electromagnet. Rotate a spool of electric wire inside a magnetic field and, with the necessary precautions, you can generate electricity.
Thus, between 1830 and 1860, the dynamo and, reversing the principle, the first electric motor were invented by various scientists, mainly in Italy and France.
And the rest is history …
Let’s take a step back. Do you remember Benjamin Franklin? In 1748, Benjamin, elaborating on the principle of the Leyden jar, connected eleven glass plates on which he applied thin sheets of lead and illustrated the results of the experiment in a letter, where he enthusiastically writes about the gun salute which should greet the discoveries of scientists and researchers.
Referring to this bombastic recognition and perhaps inspired by the vision of a 20 gun salute, since a row of four guns or the set of howitzers lined up along one side of a ship are called batteries, he calls his invention an ‘electric battery’.
Meanwhile, I found mine.

Published by szemere2019

Designer, Videomaker e Digital Artist with a Passion for Knowledge and History

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