THE EARLY HISTORY OF ELECTRICITY

 

History shows us that at least 2,500 years ago or so, the Greeks were already familiar with the strange force (as it seemed to them) which is known today as electricity. General­ly speaking, three phenomena made up all of man's knowledge of electrical effects. The first phenomenon under consideration was the familiar lightning flash - a dangerous power, as it seemed to him, which could both kill people and burn or destroy their houses. The second manifestation of electricity he was more or less familiar with was the following: he sometimes found in the earth a strange yellow stone which looked like glass. On being rubbed, that strange yellow stone, that is to say, amber, obtained the ability of attracting light objects of a small size. The third phenomenon was connected with the so-called electric fish which possessed the property of giving more or less strong electric shocks. It was known that in some parts of the world such shocks could be obtained by a person coming into contact with the electric fish.

These three effects could be observed by the man of 25 centuries ago and the same three effects, and no more, made up all the knowledge of electrical phenomena for the man liv­ing about four centuries ago. Nobody knew, of course, that the facts observed were due to electricity. People could neither understand their observations nor find any practical appli­cations for them.

As a matter of fact, all of man's knowledge in the field of electricity has been obtained during the last 370 years or so. Needless to say, it took a long time before scientists learned how to make use of electricity. In effect, most of the electrically operated devices, such as the electric lamp, the refrigerator, the tram, the lift, the radio, and so on, are less than one hundred years old. In spite of their having been employed for such a short period of time, they play a most important part in man's everyday life all over the world. In fact, we cannot do without them at present.

No scientists have been mentioned who contributed to the scientific research on electricity as centuries passed. However, famous names are connected with its history and among them we find that of Phales, the Greek philosopher. As early as about 600 B.C. (that is, before our era) he discov­ered that when amber was rubbed it attracted and held minute light objects. However, he could not know that amber was charged with electricity owing to the process of rubbing.

For more than 20 centuries people were familiar with the above-mentioned phenomenon before anything was done to find out more about it. Then Gilbert, the English physicist, began the first systematic scientific research on electrical phenomena. He discovered that various other substances possessed the property similar to that of amber or, in other words, they generated electricity when they were rubbed.

He gave the name "electricity" to the phenomenon he was studying. He got this word from the Greek "electrum" meaning amber, "electrum," in its turn, meaning "sun." The name was certainly given amber because of its yellow color.

Many learned men of Europe began to use the new word "electricity'" in their conversation and were soon engaged in research of their own. Scientists of Russia, France and Italy made their contributions as well as the Englishmen and the Germans.

Exercises

1. Learn the following active words and use them in the sentences of your own:

charge (n, v) заряд, заряжать

contribute (v) вносить вклад

familiar (a) знакомый

force (n) сила

mean (v) значить, иметь значение

object (n) предмет

phenomenon (n) явление

power (n) сила, энергия

research (n) исследование

rub (v) тереть

2. Translate the following word chains into Russian, define what part of speech these words are:

vary – various – variety, operate – operation – operator – operative; mean – meaning – meaningful – meaningfully; apply – application – applicable; connect – connector – connection – connected – disconnected; observe – observer – observation.






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