The anemometer is a device that measures the speed of the wind (or other airflow, like in a wind tunnel). The first anemometer, a disc placed perpendicular to the wind, was invented in 1450 by the Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti. Robert Hooke, an English physicist, later reinvented the anemometer. In 1846, John Thomas Romney Robinson, an Irish physicist, invented the spinning-cup anemometer. In this device, cups are attached to a vertical shaft; when the cups spin in the wind, it causes a gear to turn.
A barometer is a device that measures air (barometric) pressure. It measures the weight of the column of air that extends from the instrument to the top of the atmosphere. There are two types of barometers commonly used today, mercury and aneroid (meaning “fluidless”). Earlier water barometers (also known as “storm glasses”) date from the 17th century. The mercury barometer was invented by the Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli (1608 - 1647), a pupil of Galileo, in 1643. Torricelli inverted a glass tube filled with mercury into another container of mercury; the mercury in the tube “weighs” the air in the atmosphere above the tube. The aneroid barometer (using a spring balance instead of a liquid) was invented by the French scientist Lucien Vidie in 1843.
A battery is a device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. Each battery has two electrodes, an anode (the positive end) and a cathode (the negative end). An electrical circuit runs between these two electrodes, going through a chemical called an electrolyte (which can be either liquid or solid). This unit consisting of two electrodes is called a cell (often called a voltaic cell or pile). Batteries are used to power many devices and make the spark that starts a gasoline engine.
Alessandro Volta was an Italian physicist invented the first chemical battery in 1800.
Storage batteries are lead-based batteries that can be recharged. In 1859, the French physicist Gaston Plante (1834-1889) invented a battery made from two lead plates joined by a wire and immersed in a sulfuric acid electrolyte; this was the first storage battery.
The dry cell is a an improved voltaic cell with a cylindrical zinc shell (the zinc acts as both the cathode and the container) that is lined with an ammonium chloride (the electrolyte) saturated material (and not a liquid). The dry cell battery was developed in the 1870s-1870s by Georges Leclanche of France, who used an electrolyte in the form of a paste.
Edison batteries (also called alkaline batteries) are an improved type of storage battery developed by Thomas Edison. These batteries have an alkaline electrolyte, and not an acid.
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The catapult is a device that hurls heavy objects or arrows over a large distance. It was invented in ancient Greece in 399 BC by Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse. The Romans later added wheels to the catapult to make it more maneuverable. The catapult (also called the ballista) was a major weapon of warfare for well over a thousand years. A double-armed catapult (also called the trebuchet) was invented by Mariano Taccola of Siena during the Middle Ages, about AD 1400.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian inventor, artist, architect, and scientist. Da Vinci had an interest in engineering and made detailed sketches of the airplane, the helicopter (and other flying machines), the parachute, the submarine, the armored car, the ballista (a giant crossbow), rapid-fire guns, the centrifugal pump (designed to drain wet areas, like marshes), ball bearings, the worm gear (a set of gears in which many teeth make contact at once, reducing the strain on the teeth, allowing more pressure to be put on the mechanism), and many other incredible ideas that were centuries ahead of da Vinci’s time.
ASSES Eyeglasses with convex lenses for correcting farsighted vision were probably invented in Italy around the year 1268-1284, perhaps by Salvino D’Armate of Pisa or by Alessandro Spina of Florence. Early glasses were also made in China around the same time. The earliest glasses did not have arms; they perched on the bridge of the nose. Eyeglasses with concave lenses for nearsightedness (or myopia) were not invented until the 1400s.
Glasses with arms were invented in the 1600s. Bifocals (combining convex and concave lenses to correct both nearsightedness and farsightedness) were invented by Benjamin Franklin around 1775. Glasses with hinged arms were invented in 1752 by James Ayscough. Ayscough also made the first sunglasses (glasses with green- or blue-tinted lenses).
Polarizing filters (which are very effective at filtering out glare) were invented by Edwin H. Land (and patented in 1929). Katherine J. Blodgett (1898-1979) invented a micro-thin barium stearate lens coating that made glass completely nonreflective and “invisible” (patent #2,220,660, March 16, 1938).
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. Galileo found that the speed at which bodies fall does not depend on their weight and did extensive experimentation with pendulums.
In 1593 Galileo invented the thermometer.
In 1609, Galileo was the first person to use a telescope to observe the skies (after hearing about Hans Lippershey’s newly-invented telescope). Galileo discovered the rings of Saturn (1610), was the first person to see the four major moons of Jupiter (1610), observed the phases of Venus, studied sunspots, and discovered many other important phenomena.
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) was an Italian inventor and physicist. In 1895, Marconi promoted and popularized the radio (wireless telegraphy), building machinery to transmit and receive radio waves. His first transmission across an ocean (the Atlantic Ocean) was on December 12, 1901. Marconi won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1909.
A parachute is a device for slowing down one’s descent while falling to the ground. Parachutes are used to skydive from airplanes, to jump from very high places, and to help slow down the descent of spacecraft. Parachutes are also used to slow down some race cars. The early parachutes were made from canvas (a strong cotton cloth). Light-weight (but very strong) silk cloth was then introduced for parachutes. Modern-day parachutes use nylon fabric.
The idea of using a parachute to fall gently to the ground was written about by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). The first parachute was demonstrated by Louis-Sébastien Lenormand in 1783 of France - he jumped from a very tall tree carrying two parasols (umbrellas). A few years later, some adventurous people jumped from hot-air balloons using primitive parachutes. The first person to jump from a flying airplane (and survive the fall) was Captain Albert Berry, who jumped from a U.S. Army plane in 1912. Parachutes were first used in war towards the end of World War 1.
The modern piano (the pianoforte) was developed from the harpsichord around 1720, by Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy. His new instrument had a delicate pianissimo (very soft sound), a strong fortissimo (a very loud, forceful sound), and every level in between.
The first upright piano was made around 1780 by Johann Schmidt of Salzburg, Austria. Thomas Loud of London developed an upright piano whose strings ran diagonally (in 1802), saving even more space.
Scissors were invented thousands of years ago (roughly 1500 B.C.) in ancient Egypt. Early scissors have been found in ancient Egyptian ruins. These early scissors were made from one piece of metal (unlike modern scissors, which are made from two cross-blades which pivot around a fulcrum). Modern cross-bladed scissors were invented in ancient Rome (roughly A.D. 100). Early scissors were used by clothes makers and barbers. Scissors were not in common use until much later, in the 1500’s (in Europe).
The thermometer was invented by Galileo Galilei in 1593. His thermometer consisted of water in a glass bulb; the water moved up and down the bulb as the temperature changed.
The sealed thermometer was invented in 1641 by the Grand Duke Ferdinand II. He used a glass tube containing alcohol, which freezes well below the freezing point of water (alcohol freezes at -175°F=-115°C). He sealed the tube to exclude the influence of air pressure.
Mercury was later substituted for the alcohol, and then Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736), a German physicist, used mercury plus a chemical solution that kept the mercury from sticking to the tube of the thermometer (in 1714). Fahrenheit also expanded the thermometer’s scale (in 1724); on his scale, the temperature of boiling water is 212°F and the freezing point of water is 32°F.
Anders Celsius, a Swedish astronomer, invented the Celsius (or Centigrade) scale in 1742, putting the freezing point of water at 0° and the boiling point at 100°.
Lord Kelvin (William Thomson, 1824 - 1907) designed the Kelvin scale, in which 0 K is defined as absolute zero and the size of one degree is the same as the size of one degree Celsius. Water freezes at 273.16 K; water boils at 373.16 K.
Evangelista Torricelli (1608 - 1647) was an Italian physicist who invented the mercury barometer (in 1643) and made improvements to the microscope. Torricelli was a pupil of Galileo. Torricelli inverted a glass tube filled with mercury into another container of mercury; the mercury in the tube “weighs” the air in the atmosphere above the container. A barometer is a device that measures air (barometric) pressure. It measures the weight of the column of air that extends from the instrument to the top of the atmosphere. There are two types of barometers commonly used today, mercury and aneroid (meaning “fluidless”).
Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (Feb. 18, 1745- March 5, 1827) was an Italian physicist (at the University of Pavia) who invented the chemical battery (also called the voltaic pile) in 1800. This invention provided the first generator of continuous electrical current. Volta also discovered (and isolated) methane gas, CH4 (in 1778). He had earlier invented the electrophorus, a device that generated static electricity charges (in 1775). The volt, the unit of electrical potential, was named for Volta in 1881.
The yo-yo is one of the oldest toys. Yo-yo’s have been used as a toy for over 2,500 years, when the ancient Romans played with wooden and metal yo-yo’s. The word “yo-yo” may come from Tagalog language (the language of the Philippines), meaning “to come back.”
Frank J. Zamboni (1901-1988) was an inventor and mechanic who invented the Zamboni Ice Resurfacing Machine in 1949. His machine is used in ice rinks to resurface marred ice. In 1939, Zamboni and his brother Lawrence built a 20,000-square-foot enclosed ice skating rink in Paramount, California, USA. Resurfacing the ice was a major problem, and took many men and assorted equipment. In 1942, Zamboni transformed a tractor to scrape and smooth the ice in a single pass. After years, he perfected his it, releasing his “Model A Zamboni Ice Resurfacer” in 1949, (patent #2,642,679). The Olympic medal-winner Sonja Henie was one of his first customers.