Leyden Jar Project

My current artist bookwork in progress The Leyden Jar Project, in collaboration with poet Cole Swensen, traces the history of this scientific instrument from its discovery in 1745 up to the present day usage of capacitive touch sensing.

The sculptural book object is made up of twelve replica Leyden jars which function as pages for Swensen’s poems. Upon touching a jar, the reader activates the capacitive touch sense microchip; this digital switch then tells another microchip that a request has been made to hear a particular sound file.e. [<a href="http://youtu.be/iABg_JN000Q">video of prototype 4</a> -- which is playing random sounds not Cole's voice as the final version will]

A Leyden Jar is a essentially the earliest form of a capacitor — two conductive plates separated by a dielectric (in this case, the glass of the jar). Rather than allowing for a flow of electricity as a conductor does, the electric field becomes polarized across the dielectric material of the capacitor. On some level, a capacitor is a very simple, perhaps even mundane, thing and yet it played a leading role in the history of our understanding of electricity and is central to the workings of modern electronics. The discovery of the Leyden Jar created such a stir among the scientific-hobbyist community in mid-18th century because it was <em>shockingly</em> incomprehensible.

The Leyden Jar was humanity’s first successful capturing a significant electric charge for the purpose of zapping a circle of monks, killing a turkey, aggravating a spouse, or making little bits of paper fly up towards the outstretched hands of a servant suspended from the ceiling. [See <a href= "http://libraries.mit.edu/collections/vail-collection/topics/electricity/science-as-spectacle/">The electrified boy</a>.]

The word <em>electricity</em> was coined by the 16th natural scientist, William Gilbert, from the Greek word for amber, based on the ability of amber to attract small bits of matter, which had also astounded and amazed the ancients. He said these forces developed because the rubbing action removed a fluid, or “humour,” from one of the objects, leaving an “effluvium,” or atmosphere, around it. Although 18th century experimenters had contrived more efficient means of generating friction (rubbing amber and similar substances), there was no significant advance in understanding the electrical phenomenon. Until the Leyden Jar.

more info /links coming soon