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The Oxford Electric Bell

by Shawna McCord Bennett about a year ago in Science
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By: Shawna Bennett

The Oxford Electric Bell
Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

The Oxford Electric Bell is a relatively obscure fact, but one of the most fascinating. I came across this fact on YouTube one day and have been telling everyone about it ever since. The Oxford Electric Bell was created by Watkins & Hill, a London based manufacturing firm in 1825. During this time "Dry Pile" was invented and is the first form of modern day batteries. Giuseppe Zamboni was the inventor of the dry piles, which had metal disk with different chemicals such as silver or zinc layered between. It is interesting to note that Zamboni as a priest and psychist and it seems the Catholic church did some ground breaking research with their educated priests at the time. It is thought that the Oxford Electric Bell is made with Zamboni plies. They know some of the components that make up the battery, that they can see from the outside. It is known that the batteries are coated in molten Sulphur for insulation. There is no absolute evidence that Zamboni plies are contained within, it is only the most popular theory. It is unknown if the Oxford Bell has ever been x-rayed or examined in another way, so scientists can figure out what is the exact makeup of the battery. The Bell itself played an important role in distinguishing between two different theories of electrical action. The theory of contact tension, which has since become obsolete and the theory of chemical action. I'm not sure what this battery proved, but it seems weird that if an energy source can last so long modern manufacturers don't use it.

The discovery that led to people competing to make batteries began in the 1780's. Luigi Galvani was dissecting frogs with metal tools when he noticed something strange. Whenever he touched the frog's nerves with the metal, the frog's legs would flex. This led Galvani and his peers down a rabbit hole to discover, bioelectricity, which has led to the modern day battery.

Robert Walker a priest and physicist was a collector of unusual apparatus. His collection was acquired By Oxford University after his death and the Oxford Electric Bell has been on display ever since. The Oxford Electric Bell was the first piece he acquired in his collection. It is encased in two layers of glass as the bell has never stopped ringing in over 181 years. It is estimated to have rung over 10 billion times. It is on permanent display and can be viewed by the public.

Scientists will not open the bell to see how the dry pile battery was made, because they believe it ruin the longest running experiment in history. It will be allowed to ring until the battery finally wears itself out. After 181 years no one can even guess how long that will be. Hopefully we will all be around when it finally does stop ringing! The suspense is killing me.

It opens the doorway to many discussions like why did we move away from dry pile to the modern day battery? If it finally does stop ringing and is opened will we use the old battery blueprint in the future? What if it never stops ringing and just rings forever? Could a potential battery that never needs replaced even be considered because of the obvious income loss .

Whatever conversations take place, one thing is for sure. It is a shame that the inventor of the Oxford Electric Bell will never know how amazing his invention truly was! Scientists speculate that the ancient Egyptians had their own form of batteries. Given all that we know about batteries, it makes me wonder why modern day humans decided on the batteries we use everyday. They are inefficient, and need to be charged or replaced frequently. They are expensive and are cluttering up the environment at an alarming rate. Maybe, when the Oxford Electric Bell finally stops ringing, we can find a more friendly battery for all of us inside.


About the author

Shawna McCord Bennett

I am the author of a new YA book series and an avid reader of fiction. I love the horror genre and fantasy.

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