List of my Publications

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Papin's engine

Scientific American, Volume XXXVI., No. 8, February 24, 1877
It is a matter of history that, as early as 1688, Denis Papin, Professor of Physics and Mathematics at the University of Marburg, proposed to substitute steam for powder in the engine invented by Huyghens, and that in 1695 he published a description of several new inventions, in which steam played an important part. The Elector Carl of Hesse-Cassel, was anxious to be free from the annoyances and impositions practised upon his boatmen by the authorities at Münden, and he proposed to avoid that city by constructing a canal connecting the Weser with the river that flowed through Cassel. Much of the work was accomplished, and the half finished line of the canal can be traced even at the present day. Papin was authorized to build a powerful steam pump by which the supply of water was to be regulated. A working model of this pump was completed; and the Elector was on the point of visiting the laboratory to witness its operation, when a fearful explosion frightened the workmen, and afforded an opportunity for enemies to intrigue for the expulsion of Papin from the country. The model was preserved for a long time in Cassel; but at the time of the French invasion, it disappeared, and no trace of it has since been found. In writing about his inventions, Papin says, in 1695: "It would occupy too much space for me to describe in what manner this principle could be applied to removing water from mines, throwing bombs, sailing against the wind, and for many other similar purposes; everyone according to his wants can imagine the constructions that could be made. I cannot, however, refrain from remarking how much preferable this power would be to oars for those whose business calls them to the sea." And further on he says: "The steam cylinders could be employed for a great variety of purposes." One of the cylinders, which was to form a part of the pump, was cast at the foundry in Cassel, and after various vicissitudes has finally become the property of the Historical Museum in that city, where it will be preserved, with jealous care, from any further injury. During the recent exhibition of philosophical instruments in London, this remnant of Papin's invention played an important part, it having been generously loaned by the authorities for that occasion. After the flight of Papin from Germany, the cylinder was used as a receptacle for iron turnings and borings in the royal works; and after the destruction of those works by fire, it came into the possession of Henschel, the founder of one of the most extensive locomotive works in Germany. This man fully appreciated the value of the historical relic; and when I visited him at the works, twenty-five years ago, he pointed out with pride to me the inscription on its side, "Papin's Cylinder," and said that he intended to have it placed upon a solid pedestal near the gate. His grandson has since presented it to the city, and its preservation from destruction or sale is now secured. A copy of the drawing made by Papin of the pump of which this cylinder was to form a part, and which was published in 1695, has recently appeared in Dingler's Journal, and I send it to you, hoping that you will have it engraved and perpetuated in your valuable paper. It is a peculiar combination of Savery's invention and Papin's piston engine, suggested for another purpose, and is a decided improvement on Huyghens' powder engine.


A is the boiler for the generation of the steam, provided with a safety valve (an invention of Papin). On opening the stopcock, C, the steam passes through B into the cylinder, D, and by its expansion drives the plunger, E, against the water contained in the cylinder, D, which is thus forced into the chamber, F, compressing strongly the air, which in turn expels the water through the pipe, G, to the height desired. K is a funnel for the fresh supply of water, and at I and H are valves opening upwards and downwards. After the condensation of the steam in D, a renewed supply of water, through K, forces the plunger, E, to the top of the cylinder, ready for the next action of steam. The strokes of such a pump could not be frequent, and it would not compare very favorably with the wonderful machinery exhibited in Philadelphia last summer; but it contains the germ of the idea, and is worthy of all honor. Having often seen it stated that Papin had invented a steamboat, I resolved during a recent visit to Germany to investigate the matter, and especially to search for the correspondence between Papin and Leibnitz in the library at Hanover. It will be borne in mind that two hundred years ago, on December 4, 1676, Leibnitz was appointed to take charge of the library in Hanover, and that he remained in this position until his death in 1716. He bequeathed his manuscripts to the library; and as he had the habit of writing upon all manner of loose scraps of paper, it has cost much labor to assort and classify them.

On making my application to the librarian to be permitted to see the correspondence between Papin and Leibnitz, my request was at once granted; and a table having been assigned me, I was able to examine these precious relics at my leisure. I was also shown a copy of an original treatise on the steam engine by Papin, which contained numerous marginal notes by Leibnitz. In one place, Leibnitz criticized Papin's method for condensing steam, and makes a drawing on the margin, showing a piston and valve which he thought would be more practical. It is somewhat remarkable that the Germans have not caused a fac-simile of this little volume to be published. After considerable search, I found a copy of the original letter addressed by Papin to Leibnitz in 1707, asking Leibnitz to assist him in obtaining the consent of the Hanoverian Government to navigate the river Weser with a sidewheel steamboat. The letter was dated July 7, 1707, and contained among other interesting passages the following sentence: "The new invention will enable one or two men to accomplish more effect than several hundred oarsmen." It is evident that Leibnitz was deeply impressed by Papin's letter, and he supported the simple and reasonable request contained in it by the following petition addressed to the Councillors of State. This communication from Leibnitz bears two indorsements, one by the clerk of the council, "pro memoria respectfully, in reference to the passage of a ship from the river Fulda into the Weser;" the other is in the handwriting of Leibnitz: "Papin's sidewheel ship." This last indorsement is of great value, as indicating the fact that Papin proposed to apply side wheels for the propulsion of his new invention. The following is a translation of Leibnitz' letter, the original of which I saw in the library:

"Dionysius Papin, Councillor and Physician to his royal highness the Elector of Cassel, also Professor of Mathematics at Marburg, is about to dispatch a vessel of singular construction down the river Weser to Bremen. As he learns that all ships coming from Cassel, or any point on the Fulda, are not permitted to enter the Weser, but are required to unload at Münden, and as he anticipates some difficulty, although those vessels have a different object, his own not being intended for freight, he begs most humbly that a gracious order be granted that his ship may be allowed to pass unmolested through the electoral domain, which petition I most humbly support.

G.W. Leibnitz.

"Hanover, July 13, 1707."

This letter was returned to Leibnitz with the following indorsement:

"The Electoral Councillors have found serious obstacles in the way of granting the above petition, and, without giving their reasons, have directed me to inform you of their decision, and that in consequence the request is not granted by his Electoral Highness.

H. Reiche.

"Hanover, July 25, 1707."

This failure of Papin's petition was the deathblow to his effort to establish steam navigation. A mob of boatmen, who thought they saw in the embryo ship the ruin of their business, attacked the vessel at night and utterly destroyed it. Papin narrowly escaped with his life, and fled to England, where he endured great hardships and poverty, and all traces of him were soon lost, so that it is uncertain in what country he finally died or where he was buried.

This remarkable man was driven out of France on account of his Protestant faith, and found a refuge in Germany; here he was again persecuted on account of the injury that ignorant and jealous people believed his inventions would inflict upon the industries of the country; and when the climax of steam engines for pumping water and propelling ships was reached, the enlightened government of the period "found serious obstacles" in the way of granting him protection, and, without condescending to state what those "objections" were, secretly instigated the mob to make an end of the trouble. It is another instance, unfortunately too often repeated in history, of the mischief men dressed up in a little brief authority can work upon their generation. If Papin had been permitted to navigate the Weser with his ship, and to carry it to London, as was his intention, it is possible that we should have had steamboats one hundred years earlier than they were given to us by Fulton. The plan proposed by Papin was highly impracticable; but a knowledge of what Savery had done in the way of steam machinery, aided by the shrewd suggestions of Leibnitz, combined with the practical assistance of Englishmen, would, no doubt, have enabled him to improve upon his invention until it had obtained sufficient credit to be secure against the misfortune of being totally forgotten. After the lapse of 100 years from the date of Papin's invention, when the first steamboat was put upon the river Rhine, the vessel was fired into by concealed marksmen on shore, and navigation was more dangerous than it is now on the upper waters of the Missouri in times of Indian hostility. It was only after stationing troops along the banks of the river to protect the boatmen that the government, fortunately more enlightened than in the days of Leibnitz, was able to establish steam navigation on a secure footing.

I have thought it worth while to make this contribution to the history of steam navigation, particularly as I have been able to authenticate a portion of it by reference to original documents.

Columbia College, New York city, January, 1877.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The searchlight - 1897

In The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Great Round World and What Is Going On In It, Vol. 1, No. 15, February 18, 1897, by Various,
we find the following news

A New York newspaper has been making some experiments in signalling ships at night, which, if as successful as it is claimed to be, will be of the greatest service to sailors for all time to come.
Ships have a regular way of talking to one another, by means of flags arranged in certain ways...
There has been one difficulty with the flag-signals, and that has been that they were useless at night. When it became too dark for the flags to be seen, sailors had no other means of communication.
The New York paper claims to have overcome this difficulty.
In saying that ships have no means of communicating with each other, it must not be forgotten that they can use lights and send certain messages with them. But the flag system enables them to say exactly what they wish to, while through the lights they can only show where they are, and call for help in case of accident.
The invention of the searchlight set men thinking, and at last the idea struck one man that if the searchlight were turned on the flags, it ought to be perfectly possible to see them in the darkest night.
A few nights ago two tugs went down to Sandy Hook to try if the experiment would work. To their great delight they found it did answer perfectly. The tugs were stationed about a mile and a half apart, and could read with ease the messages waved across the water.
More experiments will be made, and if on further trial the method is found to be practical, a great advance will have been made in navigation...
This invention is in the nature of a powerful foghorn. It is, however, made somewhat like a musical instrument, so that different tones can be produced by it; and the idea is to have these tones arranged into a signalling code, after the fashion of the flag-signals, so that a conversation can be kept up in a similar way to that done with flags. G.H.R."

Edison's searchlight cart, from the Smitsonian:

Of course, the use of the Morse Code is better. But we have to wait till the Aldis Lamp.
According to the Oxford Dictionary: Aldis lamp, a handheld lamp for signalling in Morse code. Origin:
First World War: named after Arthur C. W. Aldis (1878–1953), its British inventor
The Aldis Lamp is a signal lamp, a visual signaling device for optical communication (typically using Morse code). Modern signal lamps are a focused lamp which can produce a pulse of light.

Moving sand dunes

In several desert areas, the slow motion of sand dunes can be a challenge for modern human activities and a threat for the survival of ancient places or archaeological sites. However, several methods exist for surveying the dune fields and estimate their migration rate. Among these methods, the use of satellite images, in particular of those freely available on the World Wide Web, is a convenient resource for the planning of future human settlements and activities. More at

The barchans move. Note the dunes on the tracks.

Centennial Superconductivity

The Japanese Journal of Applied Physics
Volume 51, Number 1, January 2012
 had published the Special Section: Centennial Anniversary of Superconductivity in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of JJAP and the centennial anniversary of superconductivity.

Special Section —Centennial Anniversary of Superconductivity—
Comprehensive Review
Invited Review Papers
Selected Topics in Applied Physics
Rapid Communications
Regular Papers
Semiconductors, dielectrics, and organic materials
Photonics, quantum electronics, optics, and spectroscopy
Spintronics, superconductivity, and strongly correlated materials
Device physics
Nanoscale science and technology
Crystal growth, surfaces, interfaces, thin films, and bulk materials
Plasmas, applied atomic and molecular physics, and applied nuclear physics
Device processing, fabrication and measurement technologies, and instrumentation
Brief Notes

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Higgs boson

"On Tuesday, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, said that data from two independent experiments had helped them narrow the range of what the mass of the Higgs boson could be. Higgs bosons—if they exist—are created in the giant atom-smashing machine, where they almost instantly decay into other particles. Discovery is based on observing the particles into which they decay.
One experiment, known as Atlas, suggested that the hypothesized Higgs is most likely to have a tiny mass, in the range of 116 to 130 gigaelectronvolts, or GeV. The other experiment pegged mass at 115 to 127 GeV. The experiments were carried out at the European particle physics laboratory CERN near Geneva."
Wall Street Journal

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Acoustic freezer

Thermoacoustic engines (sometimes called "TA engines") are thermoacoustic devices which use high-amplitude sound waves to pump heat from one place to another, or conversely use a heat difference to induce high-amplitude sound waves. In general, thermoacoustic engines can be divided into standing wave and travelling wave devices. These two types of thermoacoustics devices can again be divided into two thermodynamic classes, a prime mover (or simply heat engine), and a heat pump. The prime mover creates work using heat, whereas a heat pump creates or moves heat using work. Compared to vapor refrigerators, thermoacoustic refrigerators have no ozone-depleting or toxic coolant and few or no moving parts therefore require no dynamic sealing or lubrication.