This Battery Has Lasted 176 Years and No One Knows How
While science tries to explain everything this world has, some things are inexplicable. Like this battery which has been working for past 176 years and no one knows the reason how.
A battery that was installed in a bell device in the year 1840 at the University of Oxford has been continuously ringing nonstop for the past 176 years, or about 10 billion times. The mysterious battery that sits in the Clarendon Laboratory has baffled researchers with its long-lasting performance, as no one knows how the battery has lasted for so long.
Officially known as the Clarendon Dry Pile or just the Oxford Electric Bell, it is powered by a single seemingly immortal battery, which moves a metal ball clapper back and forth with a barely audible sound. This is because the charge is so low that the metal ball responsible for the ringing only delicately vibrates between the two bells.
Clarendon Dry Pile is one of the first types of electric batteries. These work by use alternating discs of silver, zinc, sulphur, and other elements, to produce small amounts of electricity. In the case of the Oxford Bell battery, the making of the “piles” inside the battery is unknown.
Writing about it in 1984, A.J. Croft, then a researcher at Oxford’s Clarendon Laboratory, explains the mystery behind the little bell’s power in The European Journal of Physics:
“What the piles are made of is not known with certainty, but it is clear that the outer coating is of sulphur, and this seals in the cells and the electrolyte. Piles similar to this were made by [19th century dry pile researcher Giuseppe] Zamboni, whose batteries were constituted of about 2,000 pairs of discs of tin foil glued to paper impregnated with zinc sulphate and coated on the other side with manganese dioxide. The piles, of course, are not dry, but contain the right amount of water to provide the electrolyte without causing a short-circuit.”
The piece made by Watkins & Hill, a London-instrument company, was bought by Oxford professor Robert Walker who left it at the school and included a handwritten note saying it was “set up in 1840.” This interesting device was a battery designed to propel a hanging metal ball quickly back and forth, between two small bells.
Researchers are hesitant to open up the device since the disturbance could “ruin an experiment to see how long it will last.” A.J. Croft said that it’s unlikely that the electrochemical energy might run out, but the clapper of the bell might wear out. That’s when the bell will stop ringing and we will be able to examine the inner workings more closely.
Meanwhile, the Oxford Bell has been named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s most durable battery” whose battery continues to live on in history.
Here’s a video: