for my science friends

I’m not sure how to phrase this best, but — at what point in history did we start to develop actual, workable “detection” devices? I’m thinking of things along the lines of a Geiger counter, but it doesn’t have to be a radiation detector; just a device to measure anything not visible to the eye. Wikipedia claims Gauss invented an early magnetometer in 1833, but the claim consists of three not terribly informative sentences, and the article on Gauss himself just says he developed a “method” for measuring magnetism, without specifying what it was.

Basically, Fate may or may not end up including a device for the measuring of a particular substance/effect/force/whatever, and I’m trying to figure out how much the concept of such a thing existed by 1884. (The question of how this thing works can be dealt with separately, if I decide to include it.)

Any historians of science able to answer that one for me?

0 Responses to “for my science friends”

  1. saladinahmed

    My candidate would be the Air Pump, first designed & built by Robert Boyle: He’s an undersung ‘father’ (I know, I know) of modern science, IMO. There’s a great history/philosophy of science book on him:

    • Marie Brennan

      Hmmm, I don’t know if Boyle’s pump comes close enough to what I’m thinking of — but mentioned galvanometers below, so I’m set.

      (Boyle was pretty cool, though. I ended up not getting to make use of him in the last Onyx Court book, but I did learn quite a bit about him in the course of researching it. Also, he was less of an asshole than Robert Hooke, so he had that going for him. <g>)

  2. alecaustin

    Galvanometers were apparently in use by the scientific community in the 1820s and 30s, so it looks like you’re safe on the concept count.

    • Marie Brennan

      Perfect, and thank you. (Half the problem was that my sleepy brain was having trouble coming up with examples of the kind of thing I was talking about; after “Geiger counter,” it grudgingly gave me “magnetometer,” then quit.)

  3. beccastareyes

    I remember William Herschel was the first to discover infrared radiation, by observing that, when splitting sunlight using a prism, the dark area next to the red light would warm a thermometer. Wikipedia suggests that we knew about the photoelectric effect and that methods for turning infrared photons into electricity existed.

    You had Maxwell’s equations in the 1860s, so you’d have the mathematical abstractions of electric and magnetic fields, and that they work together to make light waves. Before that, scientists knew that an electric current would turn a compass, so you could use a magnetized material as a current detector (and you start to get into the basics of measuring the electronic and magnetic properties of something).

    • beccastareyes

      There’s also the famous Michelson-Morley experiment which was done right around that time, which was an attempt to measure the properties of the luminiferous ether, the supposed medium in space in which light propagated. The famous experiment itself wasn’t done til 1887, but a precursor was done in ’81, and the idea shows that ‘we can use things we can measure to measure something not visible or tangible, but that we suspect is there’ was alive and well.

  4. unquietsoul5

    It depends on what you want to measure…..

    The Thermoscope (Precursor to the Thermometer) was first turned into a scaled device around 1611. And Anders Celcius created his 1-100 scale for a Thermometer in 1742.

    Florin Perier & Pascal developed and tested the Mercury Barometer in 1648.

    These could be considered detection devices…

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, part of the problem is clarifying (even in my own head) what I mean by “detection” devices. Do thermometers and barometers count? I dunno, but galvanometers (mentioned above) certainly do, so I’m good to go.

  5. remus_shepherd

    I’d point to the versorium as one of the first measuring devices. It was invented by William Gilbert in 1600.

    You could argue that long before that, the lodestone was used to detect true north. But people didn’t make lodestones, they found them.

  6. marycatelli

    Compasses measure the direction of magnetic fields.


  7. swords_and_pens

    The concept of “detection” has been around for a long time, depending on how you want to consider it. Probably the most basic device is the divining rod, used to “detect” everything from water to lines of iron ore in the ground, and so on. It’s not “technical” in the sense you seem to be talking about (made of various working parts), but the idea of using things to detect other things is an old one. Once you have that, it’s simply a matter of deciding whether you can link the tech you are looking at with the concept/realization that there is something specific to detect.

    I’m not a science/tech historian, but I’d be stunned if things weren’t built to “detect” certain substances, either in the Renaissance, at the height of science & medicine in the Middle East, or earlier in China for that matter. Historic peoples are far more resourceful than we often give them credit for. (Not that you didn’t know that, nor that the broad assertion helps you much with specifics.)

    • elaine_thom

      I first thought of clocks for detecting time, although they’re more measuring it than detecting.
      Candles or other flames for detecting air flow… Smiths might have had techniques for figuring out whether they had good ore besides eyeballing it.

      If you want you can take it back a long long way.

      Divining rods in the classic sense don’t go back farther – in documented form, at least – than 14xx, when Agricola wrote De Res Metallic and described Germans using them in the manner we know today.

      I used to have a book that was sort of a history of measurement, but I can’t find it right now. If I can lay hands on it, I’ll see if it has anything useful.

      • swords_and_pens

        I also recall that medieval brewers used to use eggs(in the shell) to determine the density of the wert when they made beer. Depending on where the egg settled within the liquid helped tell them where they were in terms of starch/sugar conversion, IIRC (unless it was to determine the level of fermentation–it’s been ages since I’ve seen the reference). The point is, even though they didn’t understand the entire process in terms of the chemistry that was involved, they still knew how to measure/detect the progress of their beer.

        Again, not so much detection as measurement, but the principle of developing a useful technique without knowing all the steps behind why it works is still valid.

  8. moonandserpent

    Dowsing came about in 15th century Germany, so there’s a conceptual basis if you need one for “detecting devices”.

Comments are closed.