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The Fascinating Mystery of the Oxford Electric Bell

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Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

More than 175 years after it was manufactured, the Oxford Electric Bell, as it is often referred to, has rung more than 10 billion times.

More than 175 years after it was manufactured, the Oxford Electric Bell, as it is often referred to, has rung more than 10 billion times.

How Long Does a Mobile Phone Battery Charge Last?

Let us admit it, mobiles are our lifeline in today’s world, and we cannot live without them. And nothing can be more frustrating when the battery dies at the worst possible moment.

This led us to ask, how long does a cell phone battery charge last?

Well, battery lives are influenced by many factors like usage, weather, charging cycles, etc. For example, according to Apple, the iPhone batteries are expected to last at least 500 full recharging cycles and you see a noticeable dip in performance after 8 months,16 months, and 32 months if you charge your phone at least once a day.

Now let us come to the burning question; can any battery last without charging forever? The answer is yes and it lies on a shelf in the foyer of the Clarendon Laboratory of Oxford University in the UK.

Known officially as the Clarendon Dry Pile, the device consists of a hanging metal ball that moves back and forth between two small bells. The ball striking the bells produces a ringing sound. Yes, it looks like a straightforward device, except that it isn’t.

Today more than 175 years after it was manufactured, the Oxford Electric Bell, as it is often referred to, has rung more than 10 billion times. And the mystery lies in the battery powering this device. Nobody knows the composition of the battery yet and scientists are waiting desperately for it to die to examine its contents.

As of now, the battery is showing no signs of dying as it has been dubbed the ‘world’s most durable battery’ by the Guinness Book of World Records for functioned for so long.

The device made by the instrument manufacturers Watkin and Hill consisted of two brass bells each stationed beneath a dry pile battery, with a metal sphere (or clapper) swinging between them to produce a ring.

The device made by the instrument manufacturers Watkin and Hill consisted of two brass bells each stationed beneath a dry pile battery, with a metal sphere (or clapper) swinging between them to produce a ring.

The Story of the Oxford Electric Bell

In the 1800s, Robert Walker, a physics professor at the University of Oxford acquired a very interesting device.

The device made by the instrument manufacturers Watkin and Hill consisted of two brass bells each stationed beneath a dry pile battery, with a metal sphere (or clapper) swinging between them to produce a ring. The device was originally created as part of an experiment, similar to the many other experiments being conducted in laboratories across Europe.

But this one was special, and the specialty lies in its battery.

As the clapper hits one of the bells, the corresponding dry pile battery gives off a small charge, repelling the clapper to the other bell. The process repeats on and on, thus producing the ringing sound. And since only a small amount of charge is carried between the bells, there is very less drain on the battery as it continues to support the ringing making it one of the longest-running scientific experiments in the world.

But here is the catch; the battery has been running for more than 175 years since then and the mystery lies in the internal composition of the ‘dry pile’ battery.

The interior is suspected to be similar to that of Zamboni piles (an early electric battery invented by Giuseppe Zamboni in 1812).

The interior is suspected to be similar to that of Zamboni piles (an early electric battery invented by Giuseppe Zamboni in 1812).

How Exactly It Has Functioned for So Long?

The interior is suspected to be similar to that of Zamboni piles (an early electric battery invented by Giuseppe Zamboni in 1812).

Scientists speculate that the composition might consist of alternate layers of metal foil and paper coated with manganese dioxide that may be several thousand layers, or discs, thick. The battery is also covered with an insulating layer of molten sulfur, to protect against atmospheric damage.

As a researcher, AJ Croft writes about the bell in his 1984 paper submitted to the European Journal of Physics.

"What the piles are made of is not known with certainty, but it is clear that the outer coating is of sulfur, and this seals in the cells and the electrolyte. Piles similar to this were made by Zamboni, whose batteries were constituted of about 2,000 pairs of discs of tin foil glued to paper impregnated with zinc sulfate and coated on the other side with manganese dioxide."

To date, the bell has rung roughly 10 billion times, but the sound is barely audible as the charge generated is so low that the metal ball barely strikes the metal bells. That said, how exactly it has functioned for so long? No one knows for sure.

The team at Oxford is waiting desperately to pull those dry piles apart once the battery loses the charge but as of now, they have no option except to be content making educated guesses about its composition.

The team at Oxford is waiting desperately to pull those dry piles apart once the battery loses the charge but as of now, they have no option except to be content making educated guesses about its composition.

Will the Mystery Get Solved?

The team at Oxford is waiting desperately to pull those dry piles apart once the battery loses the charge but as of now, they have no option except to be content making educated guesses about its composition.

The bell has been ringing nonstop under the glass and shows no sign of stopping yet and researchers fear that opening the casing prematurely might damage the battery. Instead, they have decided to wait to see how long it will last. Yes, the lifetime of this battery is incredible, and if scientists are correct, it should still outlive all of us.

That said, the Oxford battery does give us a valuable lesson in humility; there is a lot to learn from the functional simplicity of older technologies and the roots of all future innovations lie in the sturdy, detailed experiments of the past.

Sources

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 11, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 11, 2021:

Yes Brenda you are right. The manufacturers would never make an "everlasting" battery in today's world.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 11, 2021:

There's truth in that. For the first ever made electric bulb is still brightly burning.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on September 11, 2021:

Ravi

I need that kind of battery. I charge my phone up constantly,

But I use it all day long.

I seriously doubt they really want to find out because the manufacturers are naking alot of money by letting ours die out.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 11, 2021:

Thanks Linda

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 11, 2021:

This is yet another intriguing article. You write about some very interesting topics!

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 11, 2021:

Thanks, John for your kind comments.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 10, 2021:

This is quite enthralling, Ravi. I wish we knew what was inside the battery so others could be made using that technology.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 10, 2021:

Thanks Peggy

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 10, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 10, 2021:

Thanks Joanne

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 10, 2021:

That is a mystery for sure regarding the length of time that battery has lasted. It would be wonderful if scientists could learn how to make current batteries last longer. You write the most interesting articles!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 10, 2021:

Very interestly read. Much thanks.

Joanne Hayle from Wiltshire, U.K. on September 10, 2021:

Interesting, thanks for sharing!

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