FW: [tecsoc2] A shocking inventor: R. Van de Graaff [Alabama nati ve]
- fyi..aj wright // ajwright@...
P.S. There was a pretty good progressive rock band in the 70s called Van de
From: CSTS Webmaster [mailto:webmaster@...]
Sent: Thursday, December 20, 2001 12:34 PM
Subject: [tecsoc2] A shocking inventor
This is the daily history message from the Center for the Study of
Technology and Society. It is available on the Web here:
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Dear Readers -
One century ago, the inventor of a machine used to generate static
electricity was born.
Robert Jemison Van de Graaff was born in Alabama on December 20, 1901.
Van de Graaff (pronounced VAN-duh-graff) graduated from the University
of Alabama. He then studied physics at some of the world's most
prestigious schools: the Sorbonne (where he took classes with Marie
Curie), Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar), Princeton (as a researcher) and
M.I.T. (as a professor).
When Van de Graaff studied advanced physics in the 1920s, researchers
were facing a new challenge: in order to continue investigating atoms
and radiation, scientists needed more powerful streams of high-speed
Using simple equipment -- a silk ribbon, some tin cans, a small motor --
Van de Graaff built a device that could speed up particles and create a
very high electrostatic charge. During the 1930s, he refined his "Van de
Graaff generator," and built larger models capable of producing millions
A Van de Graaff generator usually looks like two metal spheres sitting
atop two columns. The bigger the spheres, the higher the electrical
voltage they can store. One giant version -- capable of producing bolts
of "man-made lightning" -- was big enough to hold a laboratory inside
Van de Graaff generators were briefly useful for powering X-ray
machines, for treating cancer, and for physics research -- but they were
soon replaced by more powerful devices. Small models of Van de Graaff
generators, which can fit on tables, are still commonly used in physics
classes for teaching students about static electricity.
After WWII, Dr. Van de Graaff started a company that sold electrostatic
generators. He died in 1967.
To learn more, use the links below.
* Click here for a biography of Van de Graaff:
* Click here to read more about how Van de Graaff generators work:
* This page has several pictures of a giant Van de Graaff generator:
* Use these links to read more about the Van de Graaff generator, and
the instruments that preceded and followed it:
Thank you, as always, for your support.
The Center Staff
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