Far beyond than the light bulb or an electric stove of yesterday, even the introduction of the television, electric car, and iPhone are recent history. Yet electricity continues to feature prominently in our daily lives. Its history dates back to discovered components such as “electric charge, field, potential, current, and magnets” with subsequent electric power and the field of electronics.
From prior to 2700 B.C., electric eels led to discovery of electricity (sometimes used for ailments such as headaches), to a relationship being established to lightning, with friction resulting in electric shock (“static electricity” termed today) being noted in around 600 B.C., with this “rubbing effect” being again brought up over 2000 years later, in 1600 A.D. The famous Benjamin Franklin story of a key being attached to a kite resulting in sparks being thrown occurred in 1752, with an idea for storage being born.
The 1791 discovery of biological systems containing electricity was noted by Galvani (demonstrated in nerves), with later (1800) work by Volta creating a “battery” layering zinc and copper. In short order, much happened: the relationship between electricity and magnetism was noted by Orsted and Ampère (1819), the motor being discovered by Faraday (1821), and Ohm analyzed the “electric circuit” mathematically. The unique linkage between electricity, magnetism, and light was noted by Maxwell in 1861. Subsequent work by more familiar people such as Graham Bell (telephone), Edison (light bulb), Westinghouse (appliances), etc. led to useful inventions to everyday life. Theoretical work was furthered by Hertz (electrodes illuminated caused sparks), Einstein (photoelectric effect suggesting photons, later to be used by others in solar panels), and others which led to practical innovations such as the radio (using a solid-state device with a “cat’s whisker” detector in 1930s, utilizing a germanium cystal, or eventually a semiconductor). Subsequently, transistor (1947), microprocessor chips, flash drives, LEDs, etc. were borne out of earlier work.
Present-day Electricity – Practical (and Dumbfounding) Uses
Orsted, as noted, discovered a magnetic-electric relationship reciprocally (and more precisely, perpendicularly) existing – by using a wire suspended noted to exert forces; subsequently, Faraday showed a wire moving in this field had a potential difference between its ends, with this being proportional to “magnetic flux” – leading to an electric generator (1831) converting mechanical to electrical energy. This would have long-ranging uses, converting mechanical to electrical energy, traveling distances (like homes).
Electric circuits were subsequently described, with resistors (generating typically useless heat), the relationship between resistance and potential (V=IR), capacitors storing charge, and inductors (allowing an unchanging current, but impeding a changing current, hence acting opposite in ways to a capacitor).
Practical uses of electricity included initially the battery (allowing electrons flowing from negative to positive ends), then fossil fuel burning allowing electro-mechanical generators, namely the “steam turbine discovered by Sir Charles Parsons in 1884 generating 80% of the world’s electric power (!). Subsequently, the transformer allowed higher voltage, lower current transmission of electricity, but leading to a crucial problem – “ONLY what is needed can be generated, due to problems of storing electricity…”
Today, we use electricity in ways beyond the light bulb and refrigerator, populating air conditioning units and beyond into personal computing and telecommunications, with millions or billions of transistors within a few square cm.
Future Electric – The One-Atom Nobel Prize-Winning Reality of Graphene
Novel applications of electricity have pervaded medical practices, with diagnostic techniques such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) relying upon electronics and magnetic effects in various ways.
However, the future may well lie in the 2010 Nobel prize-winning work of Geim and Novoselov (Univeristy of Manchester, Physics) for a one-carbon layer (sp2 organized) thick layer and its $9mm global market as of 2014 in semiconductor and electronics otherwise. Described in 1962, termed in 1987, and produced reliably in 2004 in the lab (Geim/Novoselov), with a “two-dimensional material” isolated – as perhaps an “infinite aromatic molecule” – highly reactive, more conductive than other carbon forms (that are more than an atom thick), resulting in greater light opacity, named “the strongest material EVER TESTED” – in the Nobel statement “1 sq meter would support a 4-kg cat but weigh only as much as a cat’s whisper”… but imperfect graphene fractures or cracks, so perfect graphene has far superior properties (per researchers at Rice University and Georgia University of Technology).
With a substance such as graphene as notably strong, one atom thick, and with noted electrical and photic properties, it remains to be seen what the “next big use will be…”
Much like Kurzweil’s concept of the “singularity,” graphene would be one to watch in the world of physics (which eventually, as the iPhone has shown, becomes our world).
(information for this blog was acquired from different sites and research, including materialstoday.com, code-electrical.com, and/or Wikipedia.org)