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by  Jim & Rhoda Morris 781 245 2897

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"Davy" and his amazing  journeys into the
mighty kingdom  of modern electricity much of which for all practical purposes was  (started) humbly  from a dead  nameless little Italian  frog. being prepared for someone's lunch.-----
Around our lab, where we replicate famous experiments by famous scientists, we call  this nameless frog  "Freddy", to be kinder his full  name is  "Fredric E. Frog" . E is for Electric Freddy like all frogs  and all humans have potassium and sodium (Davy's discovery) in compound for running their  nervous systems. A nervous system including the brain that runs on the power of electricity. This is a ho hum piece of information  because everything runs by electricity, including us and the universe. So  what's  new?  Well  be on the aware if some one steals all the electrons (you know like some physicist inventing an electron vacuum cleaner and some promoter turning it on ). Just imagine how  all of the universes and us would get disturbed -------- lets not think about it.

It really got started One day in  and around the  late 1700's in pre-Italy. Luigi Aloisio Galvani discovered that the legs of dead frogs such as he had prepared for a tasty meal for his sick wife  would seemly come back to life when  two shorted dissimilar metals that were stuck into the dead frog leg system.

This is not a very flattering  sketch of a  headless frog but what can you expect from a physicist  trying to be an artist.  
Edison saw the value of this  electricity connected his power stations for his light bulbs into  an electric chair to cook  criminals. It   was successful and at least gave  the criminal the courtesy of sitting down for the treatment.
Based on this very odd  but not particularly exciting   phenomenon of dead frog legs jumping around the lab As  the story goes, another Italian, Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta  in 1800  found a way to make  big powerful voltage chemically rather than mechanical ( using two  pieces of  dissimilar metals and  putting them into an  acidic or salty solution rather than frog juices.
For some reason (which happens allot in the  chronicling world ) Volta gets all the public  credit for the discovery of the battery Galvani  is lost by historians and the media, even though the two scientist were friends, co workers. the way all scientists have to  operate to make the worlds scientific discoveries.....

Anyway Volta put a series of these combinations together called them  a pile because he finally made one  out of a pile  alternate kinds of metal coins separated by moist blotters  Our set below is about 12 inches high generates over 50 volts at current in the neighborhood of a tenth of an amp. Today you can buy a pile  not far from the same price that Volta paid for his . but today's  are smaller and might cost far more per pound? But anyways next time  your Black Berry runs low on bat voltage  empty your pockets of change  and your on you why to solving your loss of power problem.


Davy an Englishman started to make really big batteries with hundreds of cells consisting of large area metal plates that he could use to make humans jump around. Below is our replica of a set of Davy batteries. His batteries were capable of about 200 volts and several amperes. A photo further down  in this page show them amongst of the crew and actors on a set which gives a better appreciation of their size.


He, Davy, made many startling discoveries by connecting them across anything he could scrape up in  and around his lab. This included potash in one of its many forms from which he eventually discovered potassium sodium , etc., carbon from which he generated one of the brightest sources of white electric light, even by today standards. For years they were used in lighting  outside of  churches,  powering all our movies, etc..

Freddy the frog also distinguished himself as a voltmeter by the strength of the kick. little frogs for little voltages, big frogs for big voltages. These voltmeters were recommended to Hertz for his very  important radio experiments measuring the strength of the radio signals.  However, being squeamish (like most physicists) he spent a fair number of paragraphs in his book  defending his use of spark length instead of frog meters to measure volt-rage!  

Below is a pictorial skit of our Muse playing host  at a party attended by a couple of playful little frogs playing around an examples of one of our replicas of  Volta's pile and one of  Davy's  10 to 15 battery stacks used in his electrochemical experiments. 
We made these and more replicas for the up coming "Mystery of Matter" documentary.

Potassium - Symbol K, a soft, silver-white, highly or explosively reactive metallic element that occurs in nature only in compounds.
experimented around and finally obtained his  by electrolysis of its common hydroxide but could only  capture the raw metal  using  mercury as the receiving electrode  converting into an amalgam which was then boiled off to obtain the raw metal.
Today  potassium is found in, or converted to, a wide variety of salts used especially in fertilizers and soaps  Atomic number 19; atomic weight 39.102; melting point 63.65°C; boiling point 774°C; specific gravity 0.862; valence 1. From potash (from which it was first obtained).

Recreating Davy's  electrolysis experiment (for the M & M project ):   In this process not only is the explosively reactive element  potassium released at the negative electrode but so is the explosive gas hydrogen.  Making this experiment even more lively, oxygen is given off a short distance from these reactions at the anode. All of these active elements produced near each other and surrounded by a strong electric field result in vigorous chemical reactions accompanied by a most creative shower of sparks and dangerous fumes. Obviously great care has to used in handling this mass.  One can get serious, slow healing burns from splattering of this dynamic mixture.

Potash is in the cup with 5 amperes flowing through it from a 200 volt ballasted direct current power supply.

Above-The above image is the potassium hydroxide electrolysis apparatus with the rod electrode at negative polarity.  Potassium  and hydrogen are forming on its tip. The arc consists of a complex reaction  mixture from the reaction of the hydrogen, oxygen and potassium released from the electrolytic decomposition of potassium hydroxide as well as the electrical discharge through the surrounding air molecules.

Potash is in the pot with 5 amperes flowing through it.

Above-The polarity of the rod electrode is positive so the potassium and hydrogen  form  on the inside surface of the bottom of the cup. Note the gas bubbles surfacing on each side of the rod  electrode. The bubbles are filled with explosive hydrogen.



Reference 1 Edinburgh Alembic club reprints 6 1906 U of C  press.

The Bakerian Lecture ,On some new phenomena of chemical changes produced by electricity, particularly the decomposition of fixed alkalis, and the exhibition of new substances which constitute their bases ; and on the general nature of alkaline bodies.
by Humphry Davy. read Nov, 19, 1807

In his introduction he  states that "A historical detail of the progress of the investigation and of all the difficulties that occurred  and the manner  in which they were overcome, and , the manipulation employed, would far exceed the limits assigned to this lecture."


Introduction to  Davy's paper  that  describes the relevant experiment we were replicating.


next 3 pages is the relevant description of one of the critical experiments we were interested in replication.


"Here Here Sir Humphry E. Davy-- playing with your chemistry set again? Boom de Boom!", Potassium? -Sodium?

Here is a replication of one of Sir Davy's potassium experiment.  From the look on the experimenters face's things look a pit out of control.  This photo is one of Davy's demonstrations that he would have performed for the public at the Royal Institute.
We helped make this part of a movie which has the   super titled Mystery of Matter. Look it up on the web but come back here for more.

Don't try this experiment.  It looks dangerous. It is very dangerous. These are very reactive chemical reactions the smoke trails are white hot flaming potassium particles.  You can see our little movie of this on you tube.

After your visit to our you tube site be sure to come back here for lots more.


It looks great, but today Sir Humphry E. Davy is not as great as he was in the good ole days. Today He is just another of histories many unheralded scientific, engineering experimentalist. Hopeful the M of M team will turn this around.

In Davy day he was at the right place, at the right time, and most important in the right environment to make his discoveries and characterization of potassium and sodium. He used scientist's new found power, found by others studying frog electric systems. (See side bar). 

lots and lots of them were the new things on the block. Today the massive flow of electrons is only indirectly noticed even though they determine everything in everything we do. How can they still be so mysterious to us and be such a "Dull topic”. How, within all of this technology and in spite of our advance education and the electron's importance, know so little about them?  Sadly few if anyone has a speaking acquaintance with them only when they are deprived of them and die from without them.

Sir Fredric E. Frog,
He and almost all frogs in Europe were nearly driven to extinction by a very curious very important scientific discovery, a discovery that started and fueled the mass distribution of electrons. Sir Humphry E. Davy used a fair supply of coulombs for his very important, very far reaching, scientific work.
Why has our hero worshiping gone astray in this so valuable department of science.  The one we count on for entertainment, our learning, our guidance. Our focus of critical knowledge, the kind of hero worship that can usually drives us into frenzy. Do our Doctors and Doctortress of history, our teachers, need their Potassium to Sodium ratios spiked up to answer this simple important questions and address it, fix it?

Have you heard that today's lack of understanding of a single tiny particle, the electron can be  very dangerous?
In Davy's  time neither he nor his colloquies  even had a clue of the upcoming importance of the electron.  even though there are Goggles to the Goggles of them, inside us, all around us, in the universe and finally to  Davy's and his pioneering work with potassium and sodium.  little did they know how crucial  all four of them were and are to  living things and our future.

 In  Humphry and Fredric's time one of the scientific challenges  was  finding, collecting and classifying  new and old chemical elements.

But, But  back to Sir Davy, let us not forget the most important tool of all, the one tool scientist used all the time, basically serious started in Galileo's time, tested by the catholic church. The tool is the thousands of years of experience being handed down from the  scientific community to the  scientific community in the  upgraded language of mathematics.  Davy used these resources to make his discoveries, and identified chemical elements. Unknown to him was that these discoveries of sodium and potassium would and have become recognized as the most profound electro chemical elements  in our brains they generate the electricity running our body our brain our senses our  intellectual, physical maturity, most important for keeping us alive and defined us as human beings.
 Big time eh! You bet.

 How Simple Can Davy's Experiments Get? But To Understand It, We're Not Their Yet?  Lets Hurry

His equipment was simple but revolutionary; some batteries composed of two kinds of metal dumped into an acidified pot of water,, some wire, a new use of wire, rather than binding things, to conduct masses of electrons from the batteries to a pot holding samples for testing. His experiment was simple ; take two wires one from each end of the batteries, connect them to and across the sample in the pot, stand back to see what happens. He finishes the experiment by deducing what was going on and shares it with the world.  Sharing he shared in a variety of ways, his note books, speeches and papers like the one in 1807 see ref, which we used along with his note book to replicate his experiments.

His most important and amazing discoveries were the two elements potassium sodium metals which he found by what we call electrolytic separation. There were two amazing feats in this work.

1st, Yes he did ultimately discover, among other elements potassium and sodium. These amazing and absolutely essential elements to human life we now know are the keys to the electrical systems driving our bodies' and brains'. Many may have heard about the sodium to potassium ratios that are so vital to our health our electric human nervous system which consists of billions of nerve cells (or neurons) plus supporting (neuralgia) cells. Neurons are able to respond to stimuli (such as touch, sound, light, and so on), conduct impulses, and communicate with each other (and with other types of cells like muscle cells are run by the electricity generated by these two elements, potassium and sodium, that Davy discovered.


The second feat was that Davy  lived as long as he did performing such dangerous scientific research.

End of background now the trouble starts.

Replicating Davy's electrolysis experiments

The authors were commissioned to accurately replicate Davy's electrolysis experiments particularly in  potassium which is in the very first row of the periodic table  topped by hydrogen followed by Li, Na, K, Rb, Cs, and Fr   for an NSF sponsored project referred to as the "Mystery of Matter".  From our perspective there have been times when it would have been better titled as the Mystery of Madness. Which anyone watching the inside work being shared between Media and the scientific communities a necessary and rewarding experience trying help our human community to a safer better life.

The authors have replicated and used  the instruments and experiments  that Davy describes in references "1 and 2"   where Davy presents  his trial and error processes for isolating the alkali metals potassium, sodium, etc.. 

To prepare for this work we visited the Royal Institute in London, Davy's place of employment,  which claims to have some of the original equipment  that he used.  Royal Institute allowed us to review and  photograph  these and some relevant pages of Davy's set of hand written lab notes in their archives for the purpose of further acquainting ourselves with his experiments for this NSF project.  We  surveyed  the chemistry and physics text books of the relevant time period and we have even reviewed  you-tube replications.  We have, and have shared, our extensive scientific experience in  this field of research (résumé) which is  considerable and at a senor scientist level.

No Visible Globules?:
With all of this background preparation we repeated  Davy's experiments and looked forward  to  seeing  the appearance of shiny metal globules of potassium jumping out of the electrolyte in the way Davy claims to have seen.  We observed all the affects that Davy so vividly describes  with classic use of magnificent adjectives for what he heard and  saw in great detail, but, no really visible reasonable size solid metal globules appeared for us. Evidence of potassium galore but  where were the globules hmmmm!

Search for the invisible Globules:
In our quest to find these globules we enlarged our research. We expanded the range of the relevant variables  well beyond what Davy reports that he used.  Examples; we used a variety of electrode materials and shapes, various configurations of the power supply parameters - the voltage and current between  the electrodes, varieties and sources of potash.  We measured the resistances and the temperature of the electrolyte to assure its dryness after using the two different treatments to rid the potash of the water it always combines with. We spiked chunks of raw potassium into the electrolyte at the cathode where it could be protected by the hydrogen liberated there, then at the anode where it burned brightly from the oxygen produced at this electrode. We have made theoretical calculations considering the chemistry of the reactions involved, measured the resistances of the samples and varied the dried potassium hydroxide sample size and shape.  As is the tradition in all physical and chemical scientific work, we documented our work in our logbooks and extensive photo and video library. We have gigabytes of still pictures and videos of these tests documenting the experiments in our search for the shiny "mercury like" globules of potassium Davy reports.   But the correct interpretation of  Davy's visual globules remained elusive.

Evidence for Potassium - it's really there:
We have successfully plated the potassium on platinum cathodes; we have seen metallic looking waves floating on top of swirling masses of molten potassium compounds, we've seen bubbles that have metallic sheen to them, and observed the spectrum of potassium from flashes of their ignition from hydrogen driven explosions at the cathode.  Using the water test we always observe  bubbling from selected pieces of materials from different parts of the samples - a sure indication that elemental potassium is produced.  These are all observations that would have lead Davy to conclude that he had decomposed potash to new substances demonstrating the purpose of his work, namely that potash was not an element, it's a compound consisting of more than one element!  However his report sounds like he made globules of a mercury like substance that was easily observable.

Further Possibilities and Experimental Details in our Search
We have responded to most everyone's suggestions answering questions with experiments - even the considerable  number of   quaint "what if questions" from layman experimenters and professional experts alike. (We did neglect to gather information about the phase of the moon and the brand and amount of alcohol Davy was drinking,  or the amounted of  nitrous oxide he was sniffing during his  experiments.)  

A possible variable is Davy's dictionary choice and the definition he used for the term "globule, vivid, violent, fuse, effervescences, small".   Did he see a solid bead of material or a metallic looking bubble how small is small were they? 

Often overlooked in the replication of Davy's experiment, in the relative sense, is the scale and dimensions  of the components in his electrolysis  experiment. It was run on a small table in the center  of the large set of battery holding his tiny sample by comparison. The battery,  a giant  power supply in Davy's time, was   the most important component that made many of Davy's discoveries possible. They  filled a good size room at the Royal Institute. See in an engraving below of   his batteries which were capable of delivering about 200 volts more and less  and several ampere for a short time. There are some examples of them that were able to photograph  at the Royal Institute


Above we examined at took this photo at Royal Institute in London of the end of one of Davy's batteries.

Below a scene of the filming on the set of the production of MM .  We are  setting up  replica's  of the equipment that   Davy's used in his laboratory  when  he was doing his electrolysis work. Note our reproduction of a half of his batteries.


 In pursuing the reasons for why the blobs were not leaping out of the melt in gobs  in our replication  we compared  the performance of our replication power supply to Davy's.  Ours is  electrically the same to within  a few percent. We however made ours  more adjustable, stable, and capable of a greater range of conditions in our search.  Nature provided Davy's electrical system with  a built in ballast.  It is called the internal resistance of the battery.  This resistance changes in time throughout the experiment, but it automatically regulated the voltage and current delivered and prevented his experiment from exploding.  To replicate Davy's system we furnished these essential ballasts in our circuit.  These are not often employed by part time experimenters unfamiliar with the  negative volt - ampere characteristic curves of many gaseous and liquid conductors in the electro chemical world. Our replication therefore  included the polarizing effects built into Davy's battery system. Those who consider themselves experts in electrochemistry might say one only needs low voltage to do the electrolysis -  why are we  using a high voltage source? Answer: because he said he did and we were replicating his system as closely as is practical, within budget and without compromising the replication . (Note) Discussing work such as this example with other laymen and professionals is helpful but trying. There is an unlimited number of "what if " questions by the untrained  science enthusiasts that can be asked and only one lifetime to cover  all of them satisfactorily.

His electrolysis pot and ours were about two inches in diameter. The sample in the pot was  a disk of caustic potassium hydroxide about an inch in diameter  and 1/4 inch thick. We could and did experiment with polarity changes across the cell, in most all runs Davy chose   connecting the positive side of the batteries  to  small thin Pt wire and to a platinum plate on the bottom connected to the negative side of the battery.

When the voltage is turned on the dry potassium hydroxide sample does not conduct a current as Davy notes, and we concur. Measured resistances get up to and exceed  the mega ohm region which equates to milliamperes of current.  By this measurement , the dryness of the surface KOH can be assured.  (The presence of water in the potassium hydroxide sample, which is very hygroscopic and easily forms hydrates, will result in the electrolysis of the water in the experiment rather than the potassium hydroxide).  Starting  the experiment with current flow is only achieved with the application of a very slight amount of moisture brushed onto the top and bottom surfaces and then only when the "correct" voltage is  applied by a slow ramping up of the input power.  The highly active  chemical electrolysis reaction in the sample grows from about 1/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter forming puddles of melt and supporting a mixture of various potassium chemical reactions.  Once current flows the electrode region generates tiny specks of potassium catapulted about with sharp cracks from its ignition and the explosions of hydrogen. These very tiny bits and pieces of potassium from the cathode fly through the hot oxygen coming from the anode and heated by the hydrogen explosions.  Hot gases  from the caustic materials fill the atmosphere.  The equipment left at the end of the experiment looks like a wreckage splattered with caustic compounds of potassium.  Running this equipment requires safety gear for the experimenters as it's very unhealthy and risky environment for everyone even with powerful fans ventilating the apparatus.  Our equipment, including our cameras, infra red thermometers, oscilloscopes and pieces of expensive platinum have taken a beating by the fumes in these Davy experiment replications.

We experimented, with  far greater detail, with the parameters Davy describes just to be sure we  had covered  all the conditions  Davy and his assistants might have performed.  In any case we missed replicating his  "spectacular" results to produce those all important mercury-like Globules of Potassium for the public education and pleasure - at least they were not easily visible, as we assumed they were from reading his reports.

The Sun Dawns over the Horizon:
We asked ourselves, what are the chances of elemental potassium surviving the hazardous conditions that it is exposed to in the electrolysis environment and having enough of it left to form visible globules?  Potassium does not want to stay in the elemental state.  It will react with oxygen to form all kinds of oxides (also very reactive)  and it will react with water very aggressively to form hydrogen and KOH again.  So we are trying to make potassium at the cathode while at the same time making oxygen and water at the anode - all in a room environment that also contains oxygen and moisture.  It's like trying to lure mice out of their holes with a swarm of cats waiting to pounce on them.  The life-time of elemental potassium is very short under these conditions! In addition the sample and reaction site is so small we needed to increase our power of observation to see what was really happening at the electrodes.  Perhaps Davy saw his effects but on a different scale and used magnifiers!

 All of us in the team wanted our audience to see in real life and marvel at what  Davy saw that was so exciting and motivated him to make even more discoveries in electrolyses and which in the long run has been so important to each and everyone of us.  So we cranked out our helium tank to blanket the KOH sample with an inert atmosphere and blow aside some of the entrapping gases.  And we procured some macro lenses to attach to our movie camera and built protective covering for it.

What a spectacular sight - especially at slow speeds!  A frame by frame observation shows flashes of fire, rolling swirls of hot KOH, silvery metallic looking layers intermittently floating on top or spilling over the edges of little volcanic like structures made by the high melting temperature potassium hydroxide and  gaseous bubble that had metallic sheens to them.

Below we present a single freeze frame from a set of 24 per second frame rate videos. There is a lot of faster than 4/100 of a second exciting dynamics going on in Davy's experiment and it is very tiny to the unaided eye. This photo was taken from one of many million taken during our investigation showing what could be some potassium blobs on a green beach in comparison to our gigabytes of photos showing only the sparks and sounds of crackling and of burning of potassium and the explosions of hydrogen reactions running Davy’s experiment as he spelled out in some detail in our reference 1.Only a tiny fraction of our run times supported even tiny bit of Davy's claims until??????

Clues from this enlargements and the step by step examination of the dynamics with a 40th of seconds frame rate resolution in this photo did we get a clear visually sense of the dynamics of Davy’s dynamics Davy’s experiment. Our photo below with a ten or more fold magnification showed the wild scene of shapes of the liquid flow growing into lavas like features covered with tiny crystal like jewels over a large range of colors and shapes accompanied by flashes and streaks of flaming particles shooting out of the cavity, the cracking of thunder and explosions of hydrogen it is a wild murderess scene but so tiny and fast thank the sprits this was on a subminiature scale.


An attempt at a description of  the picture below.
 basically   Chaos rains!


This is no place for man or beast. But look closely, very closely on the green beach -- pebbles, tiny grayish whitish shinny little pebbles of metallic blobs of potassium - heralding the birth of the electrical element that runs our body and brain. This is what one gets doing it the way Davy describes in his paper BUT RARELY VERY Rarely. On the other hand if Davy were to reverses the polarity making the wire electrode negative rather than positive everything will gentle down with, little or no fireworks, and then there will be a lot more evidence of blobs of potassium plating on the electrode. They will turn white into potassium oxide etc. from exposure to air and its moisture and a considerable less will be wild floating imitating potassium blobs. Could it be Davy got his battery polarity mixed up when he was carrying out his experiment and reporting It.? We have repeated his experiment hundreds of times more than Davy over a much greater range of condition than Davy and others.

The videos we took and made available for the show has both the gentle scene and the wild scene which is more exciting for the audience and will take up more of the action in the show even though???


Here is a frame  selected from  a macro photograph  video replication  of Sir Humphry Davy's  Infamous potassium experiment.

The electrode is actually less than an eight of an inch in diameter. the whole scene of the experiment has been  magnification around a factor of ten  using macro photography. It was shot at 24 frames per second. The end of the electrode  grows a circular  lake around it making of blackish brown swirling mixtures of  colored electrolyte  . While it is running it generates a circular brown pool  at 3 amperes. the pool is about three eights of an inch in diameter at and  depends on the  current. The higher the  current it the larger the pool.  With the upper electrode positive  the scene is wild with an electric storm ragging  burning up most any potassium around and in the sample

Top  center is the upper  platinum electrode which Davy made positive " a disaster in choice , or mistake when logging in his note book".  During the run the top oxygen generating electrode  becomes a spectacle of oxidation of potassium and  hydrogen, creating sparks firers and   explosions  from oxide  formations thus  leaving little or no potassium globs. by contrast

With  the electrode,  negative, the opposite sign the scene by comparison is gentle and quiet, In both cases the temperature in the pool measures about 350 to 400 degrees centigrade. The outside walls of this miniature volcano filling the scene are much cooler and are  sprinkled with thousands of tiny crystals of potassium oxides, hydrides and running nearly a 100 degrees C cooking and being cooked during the test which may be as long as half or more an hour.


Here we show some frames from  hundreds  of gigabytes  of videos taken in our experimenting.  We saw  lots of shiny things in the electrolysis soup but they mostly  turn out  to be bubbles of hydrogen or oxygen  covered with the electrolyte.  We see globules of fresh shiny potassium but very tiny and barely visible to the naked eye.   Crude spectroscopic measurements made using a transmission grading made by of R. W. Wood's told us that there was lots of potassium flying about with each pop crackle snap and flash.  Putting the end sample of the experiment to the water test always gave strong evolutions of bubbles - sure indication of elemental potassium reacting with water to give off hydrogen.

 The explosions  are  hydrogen fed. The atoms of hydrogen  also given off at the cathode along with the potassium atoms being  freed With just the right amount of stray oxygen in the area any little spark or sharp wiggle  in the electric field and there goes a fiery bit of  potassium blown right out of the sample area.  They land on the  equipment around them thus are  not available to make globs. The more the fire works the less efficient the production of  potassium globs. To build a potassium glob one needs a  simple quiet humble environment  for the atoms to coagulate.

The Thinner the Better:
Last but not least, we also found that the visibility of the potassium globules is increased by using a thinner electrode. Of course the amount of potassium produced is proportional to the amount of current applied during electrolysis and a thin electrode increases the current density at any spot in the sample during electrolysis.  Although the overall current applied is the same, the amount of potassium at any spot is increased and this density increase makes it more visible - especially to the naked eye!!  In the picture below we reversed the polarity by making the top wire electrode negative to capture the potassium (with a helium blanket). This allowed us to be able to observe the deposition of the potassium  onto the electrode directly as it formed visual globules!  

Jim put in pictures with electrode wire

Davy's Final Method for Making Potassium:
Davy soon  found  that a touch of mercury at the cathode would cause amalgamation with the potassium preserving it from the hostel environment. It was easily collected and later boiled away giving free potassium metal. This is the method he used after his initial experimentation.

 The question is: did Sir Davy ever really make and see "globules" of  potassium metal  using his initial electrolysis methods or were his potassium globs  simply  thin films of potassium metal covering the bubbles of hydrogen generated with them?  Or should it be considered one of the many testing variations referred to in the introduction of his paper where he discusses the successful mercury amalgam  method he eventually used for producing potassium metal. 




ps, Davy found and  replicated (willingly) or not himself  adding another prolific scientist engineer Michael Faraday to the Royal Institute.

Davy, Sir Humphrey. 1778-1829. British chemist who was a pioneer of electrochemistry, using its methods to isolate  potassium and sodium (1807) and barium, boron, calcium, and magnesium (1808).

Above picture shows the results of  throwing a few tiny chips of  potassium metal  (you know the metal along with sodium that suppose to make your brain work) into what might have been Freddy  frog's pond!  One can see from the violence of the explosion that potassium has to be handled  very very carefully. Each of the tiny streamers carries with it a flaming white hot piece of exploding potassium in its elemental metallic form  eager to gobble up the water in your skin on touching  it leaving a strong solution of potassium "lye" preparing to eat  a deep hole into  your interior. The wound  smarts for  several hours can be deep and  slow taking weeks  to heal . 
Don't ask why we  know this.
The violence and the extent of the explosion is real.  like all good movie makers which strive for the spectacular because the audience demands it.  The actors were safe,  instructed to move back a safe distance. The  rest  of the illusion is a matter of camera perspective.

Below;  a wiki picture of Davy  in his mid twenties around the time of his famous electrolysis experiments   the other is  of Jim's replicas of Davy's  electrolysis apparatus the kind in his earliest experiments. He made many other innovations, This would have been one of Davy's  principal scientific instruments he used in pioneering the science of electrochemistry and leading to the discovery / isolation of potassium and sodium, barium, boron, calcium, and magnesium.  Davy and company  their batteries were on a role new discoveries with the electric batteries were making profound discoveries every day, week or month. Humans were on the edge of the  steepest cliff  in history of monstrous discoveries in all the physical sciences along with and new super measurement tools.(:

 We can almost guarantee you that  this is a fake painting of Davy. It doesn't have the sulfuric acid BURNED  hole in his clothes nor the scars on his face and hands from experiments that got out of control nor does it show the dilated pupils from all the drug like chemical he was testing  for his sponsors by tasting, smelling or drinking them.
OR IS IT POSSIBLE THAT HE LET HIS TECHNICIANS TAKE ALL THE RISK WHILE HE TOOK ALL THE  GLORY. Maybe that's why Faraday and Davy didn't get along to well. ---- Oh well who knows


Rhoda  coauthor and chemist in our team going over Davy's hand written log covering  his experiments in potassium, getting the data from the un-interpreted original source at the Royal Institute London.

A typical  portion of a page of Davy's log book at the Royal Institute London.

Click here to see some of our U-tube video replicating Davy's potash electrolysis experiment  It is boring unless one plays some hippy background music at the same time -- then it is slightly hypnotic. But its what Davy was seeing and doing.  Good science is seldom exciting.

For the experimental runs described and shown here, it should be noted that in the electrolysis of KOH (caustic potash), the positively charged potassium ion is attracted to the negatively charged electrode (the cathode) where it receives an electron literally at the surface of the electrode to make the metallic potassium element. At the same time oxygen is being produced at the positive electrode (anode) and the hydrogen from KOH also comes off as hydrogen gas also at the cathode.(2 for 1).

 Much of the action is on or very close to the surface of the electrodes. The sparking and burning observed  in these runs are caused by one or both of the following effects – an arc generated by the electric discharge passing through air molecules and vapors of potash and/or the ignition of hydrogen gas formed at the cathode from KOH and from the reaction of elemental potassium reacting with surface and atmospheric moisture to form flammable hydrogen gas.  All in all the reaction vessel contains a very complicated mass of interactive electrochemical processes competing to free elements and/or recombining to form new compounds such as K2O.

These experiments replicate the electrochemical process Davy described in his notes.  He described lots of sparking and energetic flashes when the cathode is the platinum rod, the configuration for which the potassium is produced closer to the surface of the KOH.  For this polarity case we observe the same energetic phenomena as described above and shown in the attached film.  When the polarity of the electrodes was reversed such that the negative electrode was below the surface of the KOH, at the bottom of the cup, Davy reported the formation of globules of elemental potassium that rose to the surface.  In our case this configuration of the electrode polarity formed a dispersion of very small elemental potassium particles in the sample mix.  Evidence for the formation of potassium was observed by a strong evolution of hydrogen gas from the cup's final sample mixture upon the addition of water.  This variation in Davy’s and our experimental observations is most likely due to a mechanical geometry difference that is not evident from Davy’s notes.   It’s impressive to note how hard Davy had to work to sort out the electrical and physical requirements for success. His method for producing elemental potassium is seldom if ever used today.


Above a scene of the filming on the set of the production of MM .  We are  setting up  replica's  of the equipment that   Davy's used in his laboratory  when  he was doing his electrolysis work. Note our reproduction of a some of his batteries. Above is our replica of a set of Davy batteries. His batteries were capable of about 200 volts and several amperes.

Above Jim making adjustments to his replica of Davy's  potassium electrolysis apparatus and coaching the actors in its operation including the safety precautions to observe. For further safety on the set we substituted a more benign chemical compound for the potash. All this was to create a more interesting scene for the documentary we were helping to make.



Jim and Rhoda Morris, experimental physicist and chemist working for the set in their lab on the M & M project.

Where are Davy's globules of potassium.?

They don't seem to be in here.


 How did Sir Davy finally get his metallic potassium?

He reports that he used  mercury as his negative electrode in his apparatus which dissolved the potassium as it was being generated thus  insulating  it from the scene of violent chemical action. He collected the mercury heated and boiled it off leaving his beautiful shiny potassium to play with.



American Heritage Dictionary

glob·ule (gl¼b"y›l) n. A small spherical mass, especially a small drop of liquid. [French, from Latin globulus, diminutive of globus, sphere.]


1. (n.) A quantity of liquid that forms a spherical mass:
• drop
• bead
• blob
• bubble
• dab
• droplet
• gout
• gob

New Oxford English Dictionary

noun a small round particle of a substance; a drop: globules of fat.
n Astronomy a small dark cloud of gas and dust seen against a brighter background such as a luminous nebula.
globulous adjective.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from French, or from Latin globulus, diminutive of globus â?�spherical object, globeâ??.
New Oxford Thesaurus Dictionary


globules of sweat
DROPLET, drop, dewdrop, bead, tear, ball, bubble, pearl, particle; informal blob, glob; technical prill.
English - English


The human nervous system consists of billions of nerve cells (or neurons)plus supporting (neuroglial) cells. Neurons are able to respond to stimuli (such as touch, sound, light, and so on), conduct impulses, and communicate with each other (and with other types of cells like muscle cells).



copyright 11/30/2013Jim & Rhoda Morris

All photos and written material are by Jim & Rhoda Morris unless noted otherwise. Free personal and educational use and reproduction is encouraged; all commercial rights are reserved