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This Battery Has Been Running for 175 Years

(Image: Leo Panthera)

This is the Clarendon Dry Pile, a device so old that documentation about its origins is a bit spotty. It was set up at the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford University in 1840. It’s a dry pile, which means that it’s made of alternating layers of sulfur, silver, and zinc that generate electrical current.


(Video Link)

Mechanically, it’s a bell, which is why it’s sometimes called the Oxford Electric Bell. The clapper between the two sections oscillates back and forth. The movements are too small to see easily and the sounds are too quiet to hear unaided. It has rung approximately 10 billion times while in operation. You can read more about this remarkable antique at Vice.

-via Marginal Revolution


I've seen this story making the rounds, and several versions of it keep using the claim "1 nanoamp of power per ring" which is nonsensical. Amps are not a unit of power, and even when you can crudely treat it like power (e.g. you know the voltage), it isn't an amount per ring, it would be a rate that occurs over time. If the average current is ~1 nA, and the voltage is ~2 kV, it uses about 2 microwatts of power. And at two rings a second, that would be a microjoules of energy per ring.
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Thank you for posting this. It is fascinating to see that such experiments are still running, and to see some of the extremes of performance in otherwise-familiar devices. Neatorama often helps to stretch the mind.
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