There is an electric bell in Oxford that has been ringing for 181 years thanks to a battery that nobody knows what it is made of

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batteries degrade. Faster or slower, but all the batteries that we use in the devices that we have at home end up degrading and, therefore, reducing their capacity. We know, above all, thanks to cell phoneswhich in one or two years after its first ignition begin to offer less autonomy. It is normal, it is pure chemistry and it is something inherent to lithium-ion batteries.

But what if there was a battery that had been operating for years and years and years and giving life to a device? This is precisely what happens with the electric bell battery that we can find in the Clarendom laboratory of the University of Oxford. It has been playing since 1840, which is already something, but the most curious thing is that nobody knows what its drums are made of.

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A battery whose composition is unknown

The Oxford Electric Bell, also known as the Clarendon Dry Cell, consists of two brass bells, one on each side, and a clapper (the piece that strikes each bell) about four millimeters in diameter. Each bell is placed under a dry cell battery that attracts the clapper. When the clapper strikes the bell, the stack emits a small charge repelling clapperwhich is subsequently attracted to the other end, and so on with a frequency of two hertz.

The most curious thing is that this process has been repeated over and over again over the last 181 years. The battery has been working ever since. It is true that the sound is inaudible (among other things, because the device is displayed inside a bell jar), but the mechanism continues to work. And what is that battery made of to make it last so long? That is the mystery: nobody knows.

The Oxford electric bell has never been disassembled, as that would instantly stop one of the longest-running scientific experiments of today. What is known is that the battery is coated with molten sulfur to protect it from moisture, but its exact composition is a mystery. In any case, there is an explanation for the fact that it continues to work: although a high voltage is needed to start the movement, the charge that is transported from one bell to another is very low.

Just like they explain from the University of Oxford itself, it is suspected that there could be a Zamboni battery inside the bell, since there are records of other similar experiments during the time of its creation. These batteries are built by stacking paper disks coated with zinc foil on one side and manganese dioxide on the other. In that case, there will come a time when the bell will stop workingeither because the zinc oxidizes or the manganese runs out, but so far the bell has rung more than 10 billion times.

Image | David Glover-Aoki

batteries degrade. Faster or slower, but all the batteries that we use in the devices that we have at home…

batteries degrade. Faster or slower, but all the batteries that we use in the devices that we have at home…

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