Highlights of the Clarendon Laboratory Archive, University of Oxford

Highlights of the Clarendon Laboratory Archive

The Clarendon Dry Pile was purchased by Robert Walker (Professor of physics 1839-1865) and bears the label in his handwriting "Set up in 1840", though a later note indicates that it may have been constructed some 15 years earlier. It consists of two voltaic "dry-piles", covered with an insulating layer of sulphur, connected in series and, at their lower ends, to two bells. Between the bells is suspended a metal sphere about 4mm in diameter which is attracted alternately by the bells and transfers charge from one to the other. The frequency of its oscillation is about 2Hz; so far the bells have been rung of the order of 10 billion times.
    The internal construction of the piles themselves remains a matter for conjecture, but records of similar popular curiosities of the period e.g. Zamboni piles, indicate that they are probably of alternate layers of metal foil and paper coated with manganese dioxide.
    Some published reports of the Pile unfortunately refer to it as an example of perpetual motion but the Guinness Book of Records has it under the "worlds most durable battery" delivering "ceaseless tintinnabulation". It may be seen but not heard as the ringing is muffled, in the ground floor display cabinet near the main entrance of the Clarendon Laboratory.

Two current balances, one by James White of Glasgow, with a certificate signed by (Sir) William Thompson and dated 1889, the other by Kelvin and James White of Glasgow and London, with a certificate signed, after Sir William had been elevated to a peerage, by (Lord) Kelvin and dated 1904. (The 1895 Elliott Bros. catalogue gives the price of the first instrument as £30-0s-0d. They are on display in cabinet 1 in the Archive room.

An album of photographs taken by Professor R.B.Clifton of the old Clarendon Laboratory (built 1872). Highlights of these are the workshop, with its blacksmiths anvil and its treadle lathe, and the professor's room, with the torn upholstery of the professor's chair. The original album, found in poor condition, is being restored, but copies of the photographs are in filing cabinet 1, drawer 3.

A set of photographs illustrating measurements made on apparatus used in the cellars of the old Clarendon Laboratory by C.V.Boys in 1895, to measure the gravitational constant G. Boys states in his paper that he intended "to leave also permanently in the [Science] Museum a series of photographs of the apparatus as it appears in situ when each of the [measuring] operations is being carried out". It seems likely that the photographs in the Clarendon Archive are these photographs. They do not appear in Boys' paper and the Science Museum do not have copies. A framed set is on the wall of the Archive room. See also Boys' experiment to determine G.

The Kromskop, an interesting novelty from 1893 for viewing stereoscopic colour photographs. An ingenious application of additive three colour photography and stereoscopy. It is in display cabinet 4.

The original Moseley diagram of the square root of the frequency of the K and L lines in the X-ray spectrum of the elements, against the atomic number Z. This appears to have been drawn by his own hand, and has an endorsement by Townsend. It is in the Moseley Room in the Clarendon Laboratory. See also The story of Moseley and X-rays which will tell you what the endorsement by Townsend at the bottom says.

A glass torus made in 1938 for James Tuck (now deceased) by glassblower A. (Willie) Leemans. Tuck was attempting to make a betatron, but the work was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. He was very secretive about his work, and the purpose of the electrode structure revealed by an X-ray photograph is a mystery. It is in display cabinet 4.

A copy of a glass torus made in the laboratory for Peter Thonemann in 1947, with his original sketch (which shows that it was delivered two days after the sketch was made). The original glassblower was Douglas Saxton. This was almost certainly the first torus made for investigations intended to lead to thermonuclear fusion, which Thonemann initiated in the laboratory, before going on to large scale work at Harwell. Work based on his original idea is still in progress at JET and elsewhere. [The first torus was lent to CERN, who lost it. The one on display is a copy made by Steve Giles.] It is in display cabinet 4.

Lord Cherwell's slide rule. A miniature slide rule which he carried in his waistcoat pocket and used, for example, in the House of Lords on appropriate occasions to impress the non-mathematicians present. It is in the Clarendon Laboratory ground floor display cabinet.


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