Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/260

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Experimental research now began to spread into Germany and the Netherlands. The electrical machine was greatly improved by Professor Boze, of Wittenberg, and Professor Winkler, of Leipsic, who respectively added the prime conductor and the silk rubber to that important piece of apparatus. A Scotch Benedictine monk of Erfurt—Professor Gordon—substituted a glass cylinder for the sphere, and thereby brought the instrument in its essentials practically to the form in which it exists to-day. The improvement enabled the production of very large sparks, which were caused to produce the inflammation of various combustibles. Gordon went so far as to ignite alcohol by means of a jet of electrified water.

We now come to an epoch-making discovery—that of the condenser, or, in its conventional laboratory form, the Leyden jar. Professor Muschenbroeck, of the University of Leyden, was struck with the idea that it would be a good plan to try to prevent the dissipation of the electric charge by inclosing the conductor containing it in an insulating envelope. He therefore took a glass jar, partly filled it with water, and electrified the latter. His assistant, who was holding the bottle, accidentally touched the wire which made connection with the water, and received on the instant a shock much more violent than any that the electrical machine was capable of giving. This led to the discovery that as the charge of vitreous electricity had accumulated in the water, a corresponding charge of the opposite kind had gathered upon the outside of the glass and been "bound" there, as it is called, by the attraction exercised upon it by the charge on the inside. It had been enabled to get upon the glass by the fact of the assistant's hand having covered part of the surface of the latter, and, since he stood upon the ground, the electricity had quietly flowed from the latter up through his body to the outside surface of the glass.

The apparatus was quickly perfected by coating both the inside and outside of a jar with tin foil, applying the charge by means of a wire or chain to the inside coating and allowing the outer one to stand upon the earth or upon a conducting substance in electrical contact with the latter. The exaltation of spirit with which the discovery was hailed by the savants appears to have been extraordinary—one student who took a discharge through his body being reported to state that he would not have missed the experience for a fabulous consideration, and that he would not repeat it if it were to save his life. In reality the advance was enormous; it gave a means for literally bottling up electricity in quantities previously unthought of. The prime conductor of an electrical machine could not retain any considerable quantity of electricity for the reason that, a certain small intensity of electrification having been reached,