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The retrospectroscope: medical electricity. I. Electrostatics

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Eectricity has been used in medicine since the days of the Romans. In 46 c.e. Scribonius Largus recommended the discharge of the electric torpedo fish for relief of pain. This therapy is in use yet today, with a small TENS pulse generator taking the place of the fish. But the modern history of medical electricity begins with the electrostatic generator, invented by either Otto von Guericke (1663) or Francis Hauksbee the Elder (1796). Much depends upon your views of intent: Hauksbee specifically noted "Elistricity," while von Guericke never used the word. Rather, von Guericke discussed the nature of the Universe, using a sulfur sphere as a model. The sphere, rubbed by his hand, created effects one recognizes today as electrical. Von Guericke's sulfur globe died without issue. Modern electrical machines derive from a 1675 observation by the French astronomer, Jean Picard. While moving a mercury barometer in the dark, he noticed a glow in the evacuated tube above the mercury. News of this "mercurial phosphor" reached the Royal Society in London, where Hauksbee used a spinning, evacuated glass globe mounted on a lathe bed to study Picard's glow. He recreated the glow-and noted, when his hand rubbed the globe as it spun, strong electrical attraction of threads and other light bodies. Georg Matthias Bose began his electrical experiments in 1734, and in 1737 began using a spinning glass globe after the fashion of Hauksbee, In 1743 he used a tinplate telescope tube to store his electricity, thus inventing the "prime conductor" of most later electrostatic generators. Also in 1743, Johann Heinrich Winkler added a friction cushion to the spinning globe. This completed the invention of the frictional electrostatic generator. Later developments improved the form and configuration, but did not add to the substance

Published in:

Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:14 ,  Issue: 1 )

Date of Publication:

Jan/Feb 1995

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