MadSci Network: Physics

Re: Who discovered electricity and how do alarms work?

Date: Thu May 4 21:57:20 2000
Posted By: Neil Sandham, Secondary School Teacher, Science Teacher and Career and Technology Studies Coordinator, Chestermere Middle School
Area of science: Physics
ID: 956942252.Ph

This question is kind of like asking who discovered gravity.  Electricity 
was discovered the first time somebody ran their fingers through their hair 
and zapped their friend on the ear, or stroked a cat's fur backwards to 
make it stand up, or saw lightning. One of the first experiments recorded 
was from ancient Greece when they found that rubbing something called Amber 
(fossilized tree sap) with a piece of fur caused pieces of straw to stick 
to it.  Here is a good website explaining some of the best known 
experiments and early discoveries in electricity:

My favourite experiment is Galvani's experiment involving a dead frog.  
When Galvani touched a dead frog's leg with a knife the leg started 
twitching.  Another scientist named Volta figured out that the knife and 
the metal plate on which the frog lay were forming an electrical "circuit" 
(a combination of things which cause electricity to flow) which made the 
frog's leg move.

This brings us to your alarm system.  The reason the alarm goes off when 
the trip wire is pulled is because it forms a circuit.  When the circuit is 
open, the electricity basically stays in it's source (like a battery).  
When the trip wire is pulled, the circuit is closed, basically forming a 
tube through which the electricity runs to the bell (or buzzer, or 
whatever) and causes it to ring.  Different bells ring for different 
reasons.  Some use the electricity to generate a magnetic charge (magnetism 
and electricity are closely related) which pulls a metal bar over, hitting 
the bell, causing it to ring.

Here are some other good website to check for information on electricity;

Electrical Engineers group:

Lightning and Electricity Experiments (Theatre of Electricity):

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