The Science of the Spud

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The Science of the Spud — a History of the Potato Battery Experiment There are hot potatoes, french fried potatoes, baked potatoes and scalloped potatoes. There are potato chips, potato pies and potato soufflés. Last, but not least, there’s the potato battery. Who on earth invented the electric spud? Why does it work? For that matter, why would anyone want to see if a potato could conduct electricity in the first place? Well, we may never be able to answer some of the questions this quirky experiment raises, but a brief overview of the possible origins, quirky chemical compositions and remarkable staying power of the grin-inducing oddity that is the potato battery is sure to be worthwhile.

The potato battery: not your usual sunday spud...
A Brief History
While the Internet is littered with stories detailing potato batteries, it seems as though one must have a PhD to learn the true story behind this invention, as the origins of the potato battery remain uncertain. One site mentions that potatoes were known to conduct electricity as early as the 18th century, but even this is suspect. What we do know for certain is that as early as the year 1600, electricity was beginning to be understood. As the Galileo Project points out, it was in this year that William Gilbert published what was the first treatise on electricity and magnetism and saved sailors a lot of worry about why their compasses worked when he identified the difference between magnetism and electricity. Who knew that people once thought a compass would be ruined if you ate garlic near it! At least Gilbert ensured that 17th century sailors could enjoy their spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread in peace.

William Gilbert:
Explorer of electricity, magnetism and... garlic
(image: inventors.about.com)
Fast-forward to 1729 when, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, another scientifically-minded Englishman, Stephen Gray, discovered that electricity could flow. Before he decided to moisten corks in...
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