Side bar extra details
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
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"
Potassium - Symbol K, a soft, silver-white, highly or explosively reactive
metallic element that occurs in nature only in compounds.
Davy 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
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
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
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
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).
Electrons, 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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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.
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
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
n. A small spherical mass, especially a small drop of liquid.
[French, from Latin globulus, diminutive of globus,
1. (n.) A quantity of liquid that forms a spherical
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.
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
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