Get a “Charge” out of National Battery Day!

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National Battery day! What a shock! We get a “charge” out of this day every
year! Observed annually on February 18th, the day serves to
appreciate the convenience batteries provide to us in our everyday lives.

Before we can appreciate batteries, we better determine what a battery is. Batteries are a collection of one or more cells whose chemical reactions create a flow of electrons in a circuit. All batteries are made up of three basic components: an anode (the ‘-‘ side), a cathode (the ‘+’ side), and an electrolyte (a substance that chemically reacts with the anode and cathode).

When the anode and cathode of a battery are connected to a circuit, a chemical reaction takes place between the anode and the electrolyte. This reaction causes electrons to flow through the circuit and back into the cathode where another chemical reaction takes place. When the material in the cathode or anode is consumed or no longer able to be used in the reaction, the battery is unable to produce electricity. At that point, your battery is “dead.”

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Batteries that must be thrown away after use are known as primary batteries. Batteries that can be recharged are called secondary batteries. Batteries also come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and occupy an indispensable role everywhere in our lives.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Voltaic Pile Battery

Let’s go back in time to the very first battery. The first true battery was invented by the Italian physicist, Alessandro Volta, in 1800. Volta stacked discs of copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) separated by cloth soaked in salty water. Wires connected to either end of the stack produced a continuous stable current. WOW! If only Benjamin Franklin would have known, he would not have gone outside during a lightning storm flying a kite!

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Baghdad Battery – ceramic pot, tube of copper, & rod of iron

But wait, was Alessandro truly the first? Has anybody ever heard of the Baghdad Battery? The Baghdad Battery or Parthian Battery is a set of three artifacts which were found together: a ceramic pot, a tube of copper, and a rod of iron. It was discovered in modern Khujut Rabu, Iraq close to the metropolis of Ctesiphon, the capital of the Parthian (150 BC – 223 AD) and Sasanian (224–650 AD) empires of Persia and it is believed to date from either of these periods. Can you imagine the level of ingenuity these people had 2000 years ago?

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Faraday disk, the first electric generator, consisting of a copper disk rotating
between the poles of a horseshoe shaped magnet

As we take a deeper dive into batteries, we must mention a man named Michael Faraday. He was an English physicist & chemist. Michael Faraday was one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. His many experiments contributed greatly to the understanding of electromagnetism. In 1820 Michael Faraday produced the first known compounds of carbon and chlorine. In 1821 he invented the first electric motor and in the early 1830s he discovered a way to convert mechanical energy into electricity on a large scale, creating the first electric generator.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Energizer Bunny

By 1898,
the Colombia Dry Cell became the first commercially
available battery sold in the United States. The manufacturer,
National Carbon Company, later became the
Eveready Battery Company, which produces the Energizer brand, and we
all know the Energizer Bunny!

If you got a “charge” out of this blog post and want to try your hand at being a scientist like Michael Faraday, check out our at-home Electromagnet experiment! Click the link below for lesson plan and supplies! This activity is electrifyingly FUN!

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