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Little Known Methods of Producing Electricity

By Raymond B. Wailes


To many persons the only methods of obtaining electricity are by the use of the battery or dynamo, or by pulling the beaded chain beneath the electric light socket. Several little known methods of producing electricity are set forth here. While not commercially applicable, they illustrate some forces of everyday life not generally known.

Our Figure 1 shows two metals - brass and iron riveted together. If the couple is set vibrating, one end being clamped while the free end is struck a blow, a current is set up which actuates the indicating instrument, which can be a galvanometer or a millivoltmeter. The current ceases when the couple stops vibrating.

The mere bending of a metal can generate a current of electricity as the illustration, Figure 2, shows. Even lead, which is very inelastic, will produce an emf. Copper generates a greater current than any other metal. If the metal under test is stretched or pulled, the current is also generated. Volpicelli noticed this phenomena in 1872.

When an electrolyte - a liquid which conducts electricity - is driven with pressure through a tube with a small aperture a current of electricity is produced between the nozzle of the tube and a metal plate upon which the exuding stream of electrolyte falls. The conducting liquid must be of the same chemical characteristics as the nozzle. If a copper nozzle is used the solution or electrolyte passing through the tube must be a solution of a copper salt, such as copper sulphate. The pressure within the tube must be above 15 atmospheres. Emfs. of 0.063 volt have been recorded. The experiment is shown in Figure 3.

Mercury dropping into sulphuric acid (dilute) will also produce an emf. In this case the galvanometer or indicating instrument should be connected with the mercury which is dropping, and also with mercury at the bottom of the vessel which contains the dilute acid.

In 1840 W. Paterson observed that when a metal rod was held in the hand and the rod exposed to a jet of live steam, the free hand coming into contact with the boiler, an electric shock was felt. Sparks could be formed between the free hand and the boiler. In Figure 4 is shown how this measurement can be carried out.

The jet of steam, which must have about 10 or 15 atmospheres of pressure, is allowed to strike a metal plate, the metal plate being connected to a galvanometer, along with the boiler. The plate is always positive, and the boiler negative in respect to polarity when pure water is used.

If two plates of metal, one at a higher temperature than the other, are immersed in a conducting liquid, a current will be produced, which is easily detected by a sensitive indicating instrument. Using a solution of sodium sulphate, the warmer plate is the positive one. The plates must not be attacked by the liquid, for in this case the emf. would not be the true emf. produced by hot and cold plates, but would be due to chemical reaction. (Fig. 5.)

When bar magnets, opposite ends down, are immersed in a solution of oxalic or other acid solution, the millivoltmeter connected across their ends will show that a current is being produced. This effect was first noticed by Balsame in 1867.

Discussion would probably be raised here, that the two metals were of different chemical composition, thereby generating the current according to facts well known in elementary electricity. (See Fig. 6.)

Observations made indicate that the roots as well as all interior portions of plants containing sap are constantly acquiring a negative charge of electricity, while the green branches, leaves, flowers and fruits are all electrified positively.

By making a “Plant Pile” as shown in Figure 7, the presence of plant electricity can readily be shown.

This plant pile is simply a stack of discs freshly cut from beet roots. Between each pair of discs is interposed several moistened leaves of the cochlearia. This plant electropile was first made In 1807 by Baconic and the current produced was sufficient to produce the familiar muscular contraction of a frog’s leg.

Rusting is but a process of atmospheric oxidation. If a copper and an iron plate are heated in a crucible containing powdered glass and sodium hydroxide a very strong current is obtained between the two metallic electrodes (Figure 8).

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