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History of Electricity: Francis Hauksbee and the Isolation of Electric Fire

Franklin Case Study
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Case Study: Making Light - Francis Hauksbee and the Isolation of Electric Fire

Dan Graham, Evan Pence
Leverage Research

Working Paper (v1.0)
Original: Dec 2023. Last Updated: Dec 2023.

Beginning in 1703 when he was appointed Demonstrator of Experiments for the Royal Society of London, Francis Hauksbee pursued a series of experiments on light, which would ultimately lead to his isolation of electric light. Several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century researchers took note of luminescent phenomena in the course of their experiments. Two in particular, Samuel Wall in England and Pierre Poliniere in France, even connected these phenomena with known electricks, such as amber. Francis Hauksbee set himself apart from other experimenters by designing and building unique scientific instruments, most notably an improved air pump. With this air pump, and the support of the Royal Society, Hauksbee was able to conduct a series of experiments into the nature of light. Initially these experiments focused on the effects of vacuum on light generation, but through his experiments Hauksbee established the presence of electricity in generating light, and created electrical instruments, such as the glass rod and globe generator, which would be used by subsequent generations of electrical researchers.

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Further Resources

Research Highlights: Hauksbee's Electric Light

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A summary of the results from our case study on Francis Hauskbee's electrical research. It covers Hauskbee's key contribution, the experimental isolation of electric light, the background conditions and experimental steps that made the discovery possible, and how Hauksbee differed from his contemporaries. References to the case study included for further reading.

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