How many times each day do you pick up a probe to measure a DC voltage? The meter reads, say 4.65 volts, and we usually accept it without question. But just what is a volt and how is it maintained? Here's a fascinating look at the search for increasingly more accurate methods of building a “standard volt.”
In the fast moving world of digital electronics, I find it incredible that the vacuum tube — a piece of early 20th century analog technology — has managed to survive. It should have bitten the dust long ago but that just did not happen. This back-to-the-future one-tube radio is made with readily available parts, operates on 12 volts, and offers amazing performance.
With the wild fluctuations in fuel prices over the years, world concern over global warming, and simply the idea of creating new and more sustainable technologies, immense interest and progress continues in the world of battery development. Perhaps one day soon we’ll have a battery that displays no “memory” effect; can be completely discharged or overcharged without harm; and require no complex computerized management system. This battery could even prove so durable it will be immune to damage from vibration and not break down chemically over time. In operation, such a battery might also routinely outlast the very vehicle or machine it was designed to operate in! Lastly, we could complete our wish list by adding in the impossible: low materials toxicity, simple construction, and, of course, good energy density. Does such a battery sound like too much to hope for? Thomas Edison didn’t think so.
Who was Hugo Gernsback? The answer depends on whom you ask. “Gernsback published the first science fiction magazine!” a science fiction reader will declare. Ask an engineer and you might hear, “Gernsback ... wasn’t he involved in early experiments with television broadcasting?” Others will recall Gernsback’s radio magazines. A radio historian will tell you that Hugo Gernsback owned radio station WRNY, introduced the first home radio set (1905), and championed the cause of radio amateurs.
Most folks believe that first came the vacuum tube and right on its heels came its successor, the transistor — an historical fact, correct? Not really. Another competitive control technology developed by US and Nazi engineers came in between. It was the magnetic amplifier. Rugged, dependable, EMP-proof, and capable of handling greater electrical powers than either transistor or tube, the magnetic amplifier is a simple device that can be built by anyone.