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The Forever Ringing Bell

Joey is an undergrad at the University of Alabama studying History and Economics. He has many interests including the History of Science.

Originally an experiment set up in 1840 the Oxford Electric Bell has continued to ring since it was created. It is currently the world record holder for the longest ringing bell and oldest active battery.

What runs this forever ringing bell, and what can science today learn from this piece of 200-year-old technology?

The Design

Although the bell was set up in1840, the original bell and battery were built by a firm called Watkins and Hill in 1825.

The design of the bell experiment consists of 2 brass bells on top of a dry pile battery connected in a series circuit. In between the bells is a small brass ball that strikes them and rings them. The ball is charged by an electrostatic force.

This electrostatic force charges the brass ball every time it hits one of the two bells, causing it to continuously move and strike until the dry pile battery is depleted.

The Dry Pile

The dry pile battery is a predecessor of the modern dry cell battery, however, unlike other dry piles, the one running the Oxford Electric Bell was an experimental dry pile battery. Its composition is entirely unknown.

There are a few things known about the battery, however, it is not enough to fully recreate this battery. The only thing absolutely known about the dry pile that it was coated in molten sulfur to insulate the battery. It is also assumed that the battery is made of Zamboni piles, which were an even eariler type of electric battery created.


Perpetual Motion?

When viewing this bell, many ask or claim that it is an example of a perpetual motion machine. However, it is not. A perpetual motion machine is a machine that does not require energy and will continue infinitely at the same rate of efficiency.

The Oxford Electric Bell, however, will eventually stop. Once the dry pile runs out of charge and no longer supplies the bells with electric current the brass ball will be unable to collect an electrostatic charge, ultimately stopping the bell from sounding.

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When the bell does stop however, researchers will be finally able to disassemble the machine and figure out the composition of the dry pile battery and what allowed it to run for so long.


Studying the Battery

Many people have wondered why the researchers don't just open the bell and study the battery before putting it back together again.

This however holds far more risks than what people may realize. If the bell is disassembled there is no guarantee that scientists will be able to decode its composition or how to recreate it. More importantly, there is no guarantee that once taken apart the bell will work again at the efficiency that it used to work.

So in order to have the best chance of decoding this marvel of science no one will be able to open the battery and disassemble the bell until wither the battery runs out of charge, or the bell itsself breaks.


The Oxford Electric Bell has rung an estimated 10 billion times during its 200-year battery life. However one day the battery will run dry and scientists and researchers will be able to figure out what allowed this magnificent battery to run for so long, and that day will be a wonderful one for science.


CHATRA RAM from BARMER INDIA on July 08, 2020:

Very knowledgeable

Ankita B on July 07, 2020:

Excellent article. Thank you for sharing this amazing information.

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