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Posted by / 05-Feb-2015 15:19

Background We think of a battery today as a source of portable power, but it is no exaggeration to say that the battery is one of the most important inventions in the history of mankind.Volta's pile was at first a technical curiosity but this new electrochemical phenomenon very quickly opened the door to new branches of both physics and chemistry and a myriad of discoveries, inventions and applications.Produced from the freshwater papyrus reed, the papyrus scrolls were fragile and susceptible to decay from both moisture and excessive dryness and many of them have thus been lost, whereas the older, more durable clay cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia have survived. Sumerian mathematics and science used a base 60 sexagesimal numeral system.

In recent years batteries have changed out of all recognition. Today the cells are components in battery systems, incorporating electronics and software, power management and control systems, monitoring and protection circuits, communications interfaces and thermal management. Mesopotamia, incorporating Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria, known in the West as the Cradle of Civilisation was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (The name means "land between the rivers") in the so called Fertile Crescent stretching from the current Gulf of Iran up to modern day Turkey. the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia developed the World's first written language.

(See Map of Mesopotamia) Unfortunately this accolade ignores the contributions of the Chinese people and the Harappans of the Indus Valley, (Modern day Pakistan) who were equally "civilised" during this period practicing metallurgy (copper, bronze, lead, and tin) and urban planning, with civic buildings, baked brick houses, and water supply and drainage systems. Called Cuneiform Writing from the Latin "cuneus", meaning "wedge", it was developed as a vehicle for commercial accounting transactions and record keeping.

They did not have the benefit of cheap, off the shelf, mass produced batteries. Bronze is a relatively hard alloy of copper and tin, better suited for the purpose than the much softer copper enabling improved durability of the weapons and the ability to hold a cutting edge.

For many years the telegraph, and later the telephone, industries were the only consumers of batteries in modest volumes and it wasn't until the twentieth century that new applications created the demand that made the battery a commodity item. The use of bronze for tools and weapons gradually spread to the rest of the World until it was eventually superceded by the much harder iron.

Initially inspired by the development of batteries, it covers technology in general and includes some interesting little known, or long forgotten, facts as well as a few myths about the development of technology, the science behind it, the context in which it occurred and the deeds of the many personalities, eccentrics and charlatans involved.

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"Either you do the work or you get the credit" Yakov Zel'dovich - Russian Astrophysicist Fortunately it is not always true.