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Historical Figures: Electric Discoveries, Part 2

If you’ve been following along this week, you might already know where this story is headed, however the observations that led humanity to electric lighting where certainly unexpected at the time of their discoveries. While the source we’ve been using thus far to discuss the history of electricity is helpful (here’s the link: https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-electricity-1989860#:~:text=Ben%20Franklin%2C%20Henry%20Cavendish%2C%20and,first%20practical%20application%20of%20electricity), it leaves out one crucial person responsible for aggregating many of the previous findings and creating a historical record of electricity in his book titled, “The history and Present Stare of Electricity, With Original Experiments” which allowed countless others to further this exploratory work: Joseph Priestly. Some of Priestley’s most important work, in my opinion, included the initial findings of conductivity – please see the quote below from encyclopedia.com (https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/science-and-technology/chemistry-biographies/joseph-priestley):

His experiments relate primarily to conductivities of different substances, although he also examined other modes of the motion of the electrical fluid. He discovered the conductivities of charcoal and of metallic salts, ranged the metals in a table of comparative conductivities, first noted the distinctive marks left by spark discharges on metallic surfaces—now known as “Priestley’s rings”—and examined the phenomena of “electric wind” and sideflash. His most remarkable electrical discovery came as an interpretation of an experiment by Franklin. From the observation that pith balls lowered within an electrified metallic cup were not influenced by electricity, Priestley deduced, on Newtonian grounds, the inverse-square form of the force law between electrical charges. The publication of this deduction in the History passed nearly unnoticed (as had that of Daniel Bernoulli in 1760), but it probably inspired Cavendish’s subsequent experimental determination of the force law.”

By combining and honing the information on electricity and conductivity, as well as requesting direct critiques from the experimenters themselves, Priestly was able to pass on a plethora of generational knowledge to other scientists who would later continue this important work. His book potentially led Henry Cavendish to his discovery of electric attraction and repulsion and his own discoveries on conductivity – priming us for Charles-Augustin de Coulomb’s famous “Coulomb’s law” which states the direct inverse relationship between electrostatic repulsion and attraction (see below).

Coulombs Law

In case you’re curious about the chemistry implications of this equation (which essentially hold our entire world together), click on the image to check out the source.

Priestley, Cavendish, and Coulomb’s works gave rise to another scientist, who’s name you might recognize: Alessandro Volta. While Volta has a plethora of findings, one of his most significant contributions to the world of electricity was the worlds first battery (https://www.thoughtco.com/alessandro-volta-1992584). As you can see from this link, the words “volt” and “photovoltaic” are credited to him.

It would still be roughly 80 years before we saw the first incandescent light bulb that led to harnessing light in street lamps and homes, but the painstaking work would may have taken even longer without these amazing discoveries. More to come on that in tomorrow’s post!

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Historical Figures: Electric Discoveries

There’s a lot to unpack in the history of electricity, but there’s also a ton of information online to help. So where do we begin? It’s easy to think that Benjamin Franklin “invented” electricity in 1752 during his experiment when he, to put simply, attached a key to a kite so that it might be struck by lightening and then the electricity would be harnessed via a Leyden jar (https://www.fi.edu/benjamin-franklin/kite-key-experiment), but in fact electricity itself existed long before that day, and humans had been well aware of it for centuries prior. His discovery however did help illustrate that lightening did in fact harness the same type of electrical charges that we use to power our homes today.

Even in his experiment however, Franklin was already building upon existing principals and prior inventions within the field of electricity. Namely, those of William 

Gilbert – whom had coined the phrase “electrica” in his book written in 1600 about electricity and magnetism, “De magnete, Magneticisique Corporibus” – or Otto von Guericke – whom was responsible for proving that a vacuum could exist– or Pieter van Musschenbroek and Ewald Christian Von Kleist – whom had invented the very Leyden jar that allowed Franklin to harness the electricity from his kite experiment (https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-electricity-1989860#:~:text=Ben%20Franklin%2C%20Henry%20Cavendish%2C%20and,first%20practical%20application%20of%20electricity).

After all of this progress however, humans were not quite able to turn on a light switch in their home to turn on their recessed lighting. It would take the delicate work of a few more people before we were ready to achieve that milestone. To be continued on tomorrow’s post – stay tuned!

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