Popular Science Monthly/Volume 63/July 1903/Hertzian Wave Wireless Telegraphy II

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JULY, 1903.

By Dr. J. A. FLEMING, F.R.S.,


WE have next to consider the appliances for creating the necessary charging electromotive force, and for storing and releasing this charge at pleasure, so as to generate the required electrical oscillations in the aerial.

It is essential that this generator should be able to create not only large potential difference, but also a certain minimum electric current. Accordingly, we-are limited at the present moment to one of two appliances, viz., the induction coil or the alternating current transformer.

It will not be necessary to enter into an explanation of the action of the induction coil. The coil generally employed for wireless telegraphy is technically known as a ten-inch coil, i. e., a coil which is capable of giving a ten-inch spark between pointed conductors in air at ordinary pressure. The construction of a large coil of this description is a matter requiring great technical skill, and is not to be attempted without considerable previous experience in the manufacture of smaller coils. The secondary circuit of a ten-inch coil is formed of double silk-covered copper wire, generally speaking the gauge called No. 36, or else No. 34 S.W.G. is used, and a length of ten to seventeen miles of wire is employed on the secondary circuit, according to the gauge of wire selected. For the precautions necessary in constructing the secondary coil, practical manuals must be consulted.[1]

Very great care is required in the insulation of the secondary circuit of an induction coil to be used in Hertzian wave telegraphy, because the secondary circuit is then subjected to impulsive electromotive forces lasting for a short time, having a much higher electromotive force than that which the coil itself normally produces.

The primary circuit of a ten-inch coil generally consists of a length of 300 or 400 feet of thick insulated copper wire. In such a coil the secondary circuit would require about ten miles of No. 34 H.C. copper wire, making 50,000 turns round the core. It would have a resistance at ordinary temperatures of 6,600 ohms, and an inductance of 460 henrys. The primary circuit, if formed of 360 turns of No. 12 H.C. copper wire, would have a resistance of 0.36 of an ohm, and an inductance of 0.02 of a henry.

An important matter in connection with an induction coil to be used for wireless telegraphy is the resistance of the secondary circuit. The purpose for which we employ the coil is to charge a condenser of some kind. If a constant electromotive force (V) is applied to the terminals of a condenser having a capacity C, then the difference of potential (v) of the terminals of the condenser at any time that the contact is made is given by the expression:

In the above equation, the letter e stands for the number 2.71828, the base of the Napierian logarithms, and R is the resistance in series with the condenser, of which the capacity is C, to which the electromotive force is applied. This equation can easily be deduced from first principles,[2] and it shows that the potential difference v of the terminals of the condenser does not instantly attain a value equal to the impressed electromotive force V but rises up gradually. Thus, for instance, suppose that a condenser of one microfarad is being charged through a resistance of one megohm by an impressed voltage of 100 volts, the equation shows that at the end of the first second after contact, the terminal potential difference of the condenser will be only 63 volts, at the end of the second second, 86 volts, and so on.

Since e-10 an exceedingly small number, it follows that in ten seconds the condenser would be practically charged with a voltage equal to 100 volts. The product CR in the above equation is called the

time-constant of the condenser, and we may say that the condenser is practically charged after an interval of time equal to ten times the time-constant, counting from the moment of first contact between the condenser and the source of constant voltage. The time-constant is to be reckoned as the product of the capacity (C) in microfarads, by the resistance of the charging circuit (R) in megohms. To take another illustration. Supposing we are charging a condenser having a capacity of one hundredth of a microfarad, through a resistance of ten thousand ohms. Since ten thousand ohms is equal to one hundredth of a megohm, the time-constant would be equal to one ten-thousandth of a second, and ten times this time-constant would be equal to a thousandth of a second. Hence in order to charge the above capacity through the above resistance, it is necessary that the contact between the source of voltage and the condenser should be maintained for at least one thousandth part of a second.

In discussing the methods of interrupting the circuit, we shall return to this matter, but, meanwhile, it may be said that in order to secure a small time-constant for the charging circuit, it is desirable that the secondary circuit of the induction coil should have as low a resistance as possible. This, of course, involves winding the secondary circuit with a rather thick wire. If, however, we employ a wire larger in size than No. 34, or at the most No. 32, the bulk and the cost of the induction coil began to rise very rapidly. Hence, as in all other departments of electrical construction, the details of the design are more or less a matter of compromise. Generally speaking, however, it may be said that the larger the capacity which is to be charged, the lower should be the resistance of the secondary circuit of the induction coil.

In the practical construction of induction coils for wireless telegraphy, manufacturers have departed from the stock designs. We are all familiar with the appearance of the instrument maker's induction coil; its polished mahogany base, its lacquered brass fittings, and its secondary bobbin constructed of and. covered with ebonite. But such a coil, although it may look very pretty on the lecture table, is yet very unsuited to positions in which it may be used in connection with Hertzian wave telegraphy.

Three important adjuncts of the induction coil are the primary condenser, the interrupter and the primary key. The interrupter is the arrangement for intermitting the primary current. We have in some way or other to rapidly interrupt the primary current, and the torrent of sparks that then appears between the secondary terminals of the coil is due to the electromotive force set up in the secondary circuit at each break or interruption of the primary circuit. We may divide interrupters into five classes.

We have first the well known hammer interrupter which continental writers generally attribute to Neef or Wagner.[3] In this interrupter, the magnetization of the iron core of the coil is caused to attract a soft-iron block fixed at the top of a brass spring, and by so doing to interrupt the primary circuit between two platinum contacts. Mr. Apps, of London, added an arrangement for pressing back the spring against the back contact, and the form of hammer that is now generally employed is therefore called an Apps break.

As the ten-inch coil takes a primary current of ten amperes at sixteen volts when in operation, it requires very substantial platinum contacts to withstand the interruption of this current continuously without damage. The small platinum contacts that are generally put on these coils by instrument makers are very soon worn out in practical wireless telegraph work. If a hammer break is used at all, it is essential to make the contacts of very stout pieces of platinum, and from time to time, as they get burnt away or roughened, they must be smoothed up with a fine file. It does not require much skill to keep the hammer contacts in good order, and prevent them from sticking together and becoming damaged by the break spark.

By regulating the pressure of the spring against the back contact, by means of an adjusting screw, the rate at which the break vibrates can be regulated, but as a rule it is not possible, with a hammer break, to obtain more than about 800 interruptions per minute, or say twelve a second. The hammer break is usually operated by the magnetism of the iron core of the coil, but for some reasons it is better to separate the break from the coil altogether, and to work it by an independent electromagnet, which, however, may be excited by a current from the same battery supplying the induction coil. For coils up to the ten-inch size the hammer break can be used when very rapid interruptions are not required. It is not in general practicable to work coils larger than the ten-inch size with a platinum contact hammer break, as such a butt contact becomes overheated and sticks if more than ten amperes is passed through it. In the case of larger coils, we have to employ some form of interrupter in which mercury or a conducting liquid forms one of the contact surfaces.

The next class of interrupter is the vibrating or hand-worked mercury break, in which a platinum or steel pin is made to vibrate in and out of mercury. This movement may be effected by the attraction of an iron armature by an electromagnet, or by the varying magnetism of the core of the coil, or it may be effected more slowly by hand.

The mercury surface must be covered with water, alcohol, paraffin or creosote oil to prevent oxidation and to extinguish the break spark. The interruption of the primary current obtained by the mercury break is more sudden than that obtained by the platinum contact in air, in consequence of the more rapid extinction of the spark; hence the sparks obtained from coils fitted with mercury interrupters are generally from twenty to thirty per cent, longer than those obtained from the same coil under the same conditions, with platinum contact interrupters. The mercury breaks will not, however, work well unless cleaned at regular intervals by emptying off the oil and rinsing well with clean water, and hence they require rather more attention than platinum interrupters. It is not generally possible to obtain so many interruptions per minute with the simple vibrating mercury interrupter as with the ordinary hammer interrupter. The mercury interrupter has, however, the advantage that the contact time during which the circuit is kept closed may be made longer than is the case with the hammer break. Also, if fresh water is allowed to flow continuously over the mercury surface, it can be kept clean, and the break will then operate for considerable periods of time without attention. The mercury interrupter may be worked by a separate electromagnet or by the magnetism of the core of the induction coil.

The third class of interrupter may be called the motor interrupter, of which a large number have been invented in recent years. In this interrupter some form of a continuously rotating electro-motor is employed to make and break a mercury or other liquid contact. In one simple form, the motor shaft carries an eccentric, which simply dips a platinum point into mercury, or else a platinum horseshoe into two mercury surfaces, making in this manner an interruption of the primary circuit at one or two places. As a small motor can easily be run at twelve hundred revolutions per minute, or twenty per second, it is possible to secure easily in this manner a uniform rate of interruption of the primary current, at the rate of about twenty per second. If, however, much higher speeds are employed, then the time of contact becomes abbreviated, and the ability of the coil to charge a capacity is diminished.

Professor J. Trowbridge has described an effective form of motor break for large coils, in which the interruption is caused by withdrawing a stout platinum wire from a dilute solution of sulphuric acid, and by this means he increased the spark given by a coil provided with hammer break and condenser from fifteen inches to thirty inches, when using the liquid break and no condenser.[4]

A good form of motor-interrupter, due to Dr. Mackenzie Davidson, consists of a slate disc bearing pin contacts fixed on the prolonged steel axle of a motor placed in an inclined position; the disc and the lower part of the axle lie in a vessel filled one third with mercury, and two thirds with paraffin oil. The circuit is made and broken by the revolution of the disc causing the pins to enter and leave the mercury. The speed of the motor can be regulated by a small resistance, and can be adapted to the electromotive force used in the primary circuit. When the motor is running slowly, the interrupter can be used with a low electromotive force, that is to say, something between twelve and twenty volts, but with a higher speed a large electromotive force can be used without danger of overheating the primary coil, and with an electromotive force of about fifty volts, the interruptions may be so rapid that an unbroken arc of flame, resembling an alternating current arc, springs between the secondary terminals of the coil.

Mr, Tesla has devised numerous forms of rotating mercury break. In one, a star-shaped metal disc revolves in a box so that its points dip into mercury covered with oil, and make and break contact. In another form, a jet of mercury plays against a similar shaped rotating wheel. For details, the reader must consult the fuller descriptions in The Electrical World of New York, Vol. XXXII., p. 111, 1898; also Vol. XXXIII., p. 247; or Science Abstracts, Vol. II., pp. 46 and 457, 1898.

The fourth class of interrupter is called a turbine interrupter. In this appliance, a jet of mercury is forced out of a small aperture by means of a centrifugal pump, and is made to squirt against a metal plate, and interrupted intermittently by a toothed wheel made of insulating material rotated by the motor which drives the pump. The current supplying the coil passes through or along this jet of mercury, and is therefore rendered intermittent when the wheel revolves. In the case of this interrupter, the duration of the contacts, as well as the number of interruptions per second, is under control, and for this reason better results are probably obtained with it than with any other form of break.

A description of a turbine mercury break devised by M. Max Levy was given in the Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift, Vol. XX., p. 717, October 12, 1899 (see also Science Abstracts, Vol. III., p. 63, abstract No. 165) as follows:

A toothed wheel made of insulating material carries from 6 to 24 teeth, and can be made to rotate from 300 to 1,000 times per minute, the interruptions being thus regulated between 5 and 400 per second. By raising or lowering the position of the jet of mercury and that of the plate against which it strikes, the duration of the contact can be varied, so that it is possible to regulate this period without disturbing the number of interruptions per second.

The sparks obtained from a coil worked with a turbine interrupter have more quantity than the sparks obtained with any other interrupter under similar conditions, and the coil can be worked with a far higher voltage than is possible when using the hammer break. In this manner, the appearance of the secondary sparks can be varied from the thin snappy sparks given by the hammer break to the thick flame-like arc sparks given by the electrolytic break. This break can be adapted for any voltage from twelve to two hundred and fifty volts, and the primary circuit can not be closed before the interrupter is acting. The mercury in the break is generally covered with alcohol or paraffin oil to reduce oxidation, and the appliance is nearly noiseless when in operation. The mercury has to be cleaned at intervals, if the interrupter is much used. If alcohol is used to cover the mercury, the cleaning is very simple; the break requires only to be rinsed under a water tap. When paraffin oil is used, the cleaning is generally effected with the help of a few ounces of sulphuric acid in a very few minutes. It is best, however, to clean the mercury continuously by allowing the water to flow over it.

The motor driving the centrifugal pump and the fan can be wound for any voltage, and it is best to have it so arranged that this motor works on the same battery which supplies the primary circuit of the coil, the two circuits working parallel together, A rheostat can be added to the motor circuit to regulate the speed.

The turbine break driven by an independent motor, which is kept always running, has another advantage over the hammer break in practical wireless telegraphy, viz., that a useful secondary spark can be secured with a shorter time of closure of the primary circuit, since there is no inertia to overcome as in the case of the hammer break. This latter form has only continued in use because of its simplicity and ease of management by ordinary operators.

The mercury turbine interrupter has been extensively adopted both in the German and British navies in connection with induction coils used for wireless telegraphy.

Lastly we have the electrolytic interrupters, the first of which was introduced by Dr. Wehnelt, of Charlottenburg, in the year 1899, and modified by subsequent inventors. In its original form, a glass vessel filled with dilute sulphuric acid (one of acid to five or else ten parts of water) contains two electrodes of very different sizes; one is a large lead electrode formed of a piece of sheet lead laid round the interior of the vessel, and the other is a short piece of platinum wire projecting from the end of a glass or porcelain tube. The smaller of these electrodes is made the positive, and the large one the negative. If this electrolytic cell is connected in series with the primary circuit of the induction coil (the condenser being cut out) and supplied with an electromotive force from forty to eighty volts, an electrolytic action takes place which interrupts the current periodically,[5] An enormous number of interruptions can, by suitable adjustment, be produced per second, and the appearance of a discharge from the secondary terminals of the coil, while using the Wehnelt break, more resembles an alternate current arc than the usual disruptive spark.

At the time when the Wehnelt break was first introduced, great interest was excited in it, and the technical journals in 1899 were full of discussions as to the theory of its operation.[6] The general facts concerning the Wehnelt break are that the electrolyte must be dilute sulphuric acid in the proportion of one of acid to five or ten of water. The large lead plate must be the cathode or negative pole, and the anode or positive pole must be a platinum wire, about a millimeter in diameter, and projecting one or two millimeters from the pointed end of a porcelain, glass or other acid-proof insulating tube. The aperture through which the platinum wire works must be so tight that acid can not enter, yet it is desirable that the platinum wire should be capable of being projected more or less from the aperture by means of an adjusting screw. The glass vessel which contains these two electrodes should be of considerable size, holding say a quart of fluid, and it is better to include this vessel in a larger one in which water can be placed to cool the electrolyte, as the latter gets very warm when the break is used continuously. If such an electrolytic cell has a continuous electromotive force applied to it tending to force a current through the electrolyte from the platinum wire to the lead plate, we can distinguish three stages in its operation, which are determined by the electromotive force and the inductance in the circuit. First, if the electromotive force is below sixteen or twenty volts, then ordinary and silent electrolysis of the liquid proceeds, bubbles of oxygen being liberated from the platinum wire and hydrogen set free against the lead plate. If the electromotive force is raised above twenty-five volts, then if there is no inductance in the circuit, the continuous flow of current proceeds, but if the circuit of the electrolyte possesses a certain minimum inductance, the character of the current flow changes, and it becomes intermittent, and the cell acts as an interrupter, the current being interrupted from 100 to 2,000 times per second, according to the electromotive force, and the inductance of the circuit. Under these conditions, the cell produces a rattling noise and a luminous glow appears round the tip of the platinum wire. Thus, in a particular case, with an inductance of 0.004 millihenry in the circuit of a Wehnelt break, no interruption of the circuit took place, but with one millihenry of inductance in the circuit, and with an electromotive force of 48 volts, the current became intermittent at the rate of 930 per second, and by increasing the voltage to 120 volts, the intermittency rose to 1,850 a second.

The Wehnelt break acts best as an interrupter with an electromotive force from 40 to 80 volts. At higher voltages a third stage sets in: the luminous glow round the platinum wire disappears, and it becomes surrounded with a layer of vapor, as observed by MM. Violle and Chassagny; the interruptions of current cease, and the platinum wire becomes red hot. If there is no inductance in the circuit, the interrupter stage never sets in at all, but the first stage passes directly into the third stage. In the first stage bubbles of oxygen rise steadily from the platinum wire, and in the interrupted stage they rise at longer intervals, but regularly. The cell will not, however, act as a break at all unless some inductance exists in the circuit.

In applying the Wehnelt break to an induction coil, the condenser is discarded and also the ordinary hammer break, and the Wehnelt break is placed in circuit with the primary coil. In some cases, the inductance of the primary coil alone is sufficient to start the break in operation, but with voltages above 50 or 60, it is generally necessary to supplement the inductance of the primary coil by another inductive coil. The best form of Wehnelt break for operating induction coils is the one with multiple anodes (see Dr. Marchant, The Electrician, Vol. XLII, page 841, 1899), and when it has to be used for long periods, the kathode may advantageously be formed of a spiral of lead pipe, through which cold water is made to circulate.

Another form of electrolytic break was introduced by Mr. Caldwell. In this, a vessel containing dilute sulphuric acid is divided into two parts. In the partition is a small hole, and in the two compartments are electrodes of sheet lead. The small hole causes an intermittency in the current which converts the arrangement into a break. Mr. Campbell Swinton modified the above arrangement by making the partition to consist of a sort of porcelain test-tube with a hole in the bottom. This hole can be more or less plugged up by a glass rod drawn out to a point, and this is used to more or less close the hole. This porcelain vessel contains dilute acid and stands in a larger vessel of acid, and lead electrodes are placed in both compartments. The current and intermittency can be regulated by more or less closing the aperture between the two regions.

When the Wehnelt break is applied to an ordinary ten-inch induction coil, and the inductance of the primary circuit and the electromotive force varied until the break interrupts the current regularly, and with the frequency of some hundred a second, the character of the secondary discharge is entirely different from its appearance with the ordinary hammer break. The thin blue lightning-like sparks are then replaced by a thicker mobile flaming discharge, which resembles an alternating current arc, and when carefully examined or photographed is found to consist of a number of separate discharges superimposed upon one another in slightly different positions.

Many theories have been adopted as to the action of the break, but time will not permit us to examine these. Professor S. P. Thompson and Dr. Marchant have suggested a theory of resonance.[7] One difficulty in explaining the action of the break is created by the fact that it will not work if the platinum wire is made a kathode.

Although the Wehnelt break has some advantages in connection with the use of the induction coil for Röntgen ray work, its utility as far as regards Hertzian wave telegraphy is not by any means so marked. It has already been explained that, in order to charge a condenser of a given capacity at a constant voltage, the electromotive force must be applied for a certain minimum time, which is determined by the value of the capacity and the resistance of the secondary circuit of the induction coil. If the coil is a ten-inch coil and has a secondary resistance of say 6,000 ohms, and if the capacity to be charged has a value say of one thirtieth of a microfarad, then the time-constant of the circuit is 15,000 of a second. Therefore, the contact with the condenser must be maintained for at least 15,000 of a second, during the time that the secondary electromotive force of the coil is at its maximum, so that the condenser may become charged to a voltage which the coil is then capable of producing.

In the induction coil, the electromotive force generated in the secondary coil at the 'break' of the primary current is higher than that at the 'make,' and this electromotive force, other things being equal, depends upon the rate at which the magnetism of the iron core dies away, and its duration is shorter in proportion as the whole time occupied in the disappearance of the magnetism is less. The Wehnelt break does not increase the actual secondary electromotive force, nor apparently its duration, but it greatly increases the number of times per second this electromotive force makes its appearance. Hence this break increases the current, but not the electromotive force in the secondary coil. It therefore does not assist us in the direction required, viz., in prolonging the duration of the secondary electromotive force to enable larger capacities to be charged.

The important point in connection with the working of a coil used for charging a condenser is not the length of spark which the coil can give alone, but the length of spark which can be obtained between small balls attached to the secondary terminals, when these terminals are also connected to the two surfaces of the condenser. Thus, a coil may give a ten-inch spark if worked alone, but on a capacity of one thirtieth of a microfarad it may not be able to give more than a five-millimeter spark. Hence in describing the value of a coil for wireless telegraph purposes, it is not the least use to state the length of spark which the coil will give between the pointed conductors in air, but we must know the spark length which it will give between brass balls, say 1 cm. in diameter, connected to the secondary terminals, when these terminals are also short-circuited by a stated capacity, the spark not exceeding that length at which it becomes non-oscillatory.

A good way of describing the value of an induction coil for wireless telegraph purposes is to state the length of oscillatory spark which can be produced between balls one centimeter in diameter connected to the secondary terminals, when these balls are short-circuited by a condenser having a capacity say of one hundredth of a microfarad, and also one tenth of a microfarad.

If a hammer or motor interrupter is employed with the coil, then a primary condenser must be connected across the points between which the primary circuit is broken. This condenser generally consists of sheets of tin-foil alternated with sheets of paraffin paper, and for a ten-inch coil, may have a capacity of about 0.4 or 0.5 of a microfarad.[8]

Lord Rayleigh discovered that if the interruption of the primary circuit is sufficiently sudden and complete, as when the primary circuit is severed by a bullet from a gun, the primary condenser can be removed and yet the sparks obtained from the secondary circuit are actually longer than those obtained with the condenser and the ordinary break,[9]

In the use, however, of the coil for Hertzian wave telegraphy, with all interrupters except the Wehnelt break, a condenser of suitable capacity must be joined across the break points.

Turning in the next place to the primary key, or signaling interrupter, it is necessary to be able to control the torrent of sparks between the secondary terminals of the coil, and to cut them up into long and short periods in accordance with the letters of the Morse alphabet. This is done by means of the primary key. The primary key generally consists of an ordinary massive single contact key with heavy platinum contacts. As the current to be interrupted amounts to about ten amperes and is flowing in a highly inductive circuit, the spark at break is considerable. If the attempt is made to extinguish this spark by making the contacts move rapidly away from one another through a long distance, in other words, by using a key with a wide movement, then the speed at which the signals can be sent is greatly diminished. The speed of sending greatly depends upon the time taken to move the key up and down between sending two dots, and hence a short range key sends quicker than a long range key. If it is desired to use a short range key, then some method must be employed to extinguish the spark at the contacts. This is done in one of three ways: Either by using a high resistance coil to short-circuit these contacts, or by a condenser, or by a magnetic blow-out, as in the case of an electric tram-car circuit controller. Of these, the magnetic blow-out is probably the best.

Mr. Marconi has designed a signaling key which performs the function not only of interrupting the primary circuit, but at the same time breaks connection between the receiving appliance and the aerial.

The author has designed for signaling purposes a multiple contact key which interrupts the circuit simultaneously in ten or twelve different places. The particular point about this break is the means which are taken to make the twelve interruptions absolutely simultaneous. If these interruptions are not simultaneous, the spark always takes place at the contact which is broken first, but if the circuit is interrupted in a dozen places quite simultaneously, then the spark is cut up into a dozen different portions, and the spark at each contact is very much diminished. By this break, voltages up to two thousand volts may be quite easily dealt with.

Various forms of break have been devised in which the circuit is broken under oil or insulating fluids, but, generally speaking, these devices are not very portable, and a dry contact between platinum surfaces with appropriate means for cutting up the spark and blowing it out so that the mechanical movement of the switch may be small is the best thing to use.

The signaling key is really a very important part of the transmitting arrangement, because whatever may be the improvements in receiving instruments, it is not possible to receive faster than we can send. A great many statements have appeared in the daily papers as to the possibility of receiving hundreds of words a minute by Hertzian wave telegraphy, but the fact remains that whatever may be the sensibility of the receiving appliance, the rate at which telegraphy of any kind can be conducted is essentially dependent upon the rate at which the signals can be sent, and this in turn is largely dependent upon the mechanical movement which the key has to make to interrupt the primary circuit, and so interrupt the secondary discharge.

In order to make the separation of the contact points of the switch as small as possible, and yet prevent an arc being established, various blow-out devices have been employed. The simplest arrangement for this purpose is a powerful permanent magnet so placed that its interpolar field embraces the contact points and is at right angles to them.

As already explained, the applicability of the induction coil in wireless telegraphy is limited by the fact of the high resistance of the secondary circuit, and the small current that can be supplied from it. Data are yet wanting to show what is the precise efficiency of the induction coil, as used in Hertzian wave telegraphy, but there are reasons for believing that it does not exceed 50 or 60 per cent.

Where large condensers have to be charged, in other words, where we have to deal with larger powers, we are obliged to discard the induction coil and to employ the alternating current transformer. But this introduces us to a new class of difficulties. If an alternating current transformer wound for a secondary voltage, say of 20,000 or 30,000 volts, has its primary circuit connected to an alternator, then if the secondary terminals, to which are connected two spark balls, are gradually brought within striking distance of one another, the moment we do this an alternating current arc starts between these balls. If the transformer is a small one, there is no difficulty in extinguishing this arc by withdrawing the secondary terminals, but if the transformer is a large one, say of ten or twenty kilowatts, dangerous effects are apt to ensue when such an experiment is tried. The short circuiting of the secondary circuit almost entirely annuls the inductance of the primary circuit. There is, therefore, a rush of current into the transformer, and if it is connected to an alternator of low armature resistance, the fuses are generally blown, and other damage done.

Let us suppose then that the secondary terminals of the transformer are also connected to a condenser. On bringing together the spark balls connected with the secondary terminals, we may have one or more oscillatory discharges, but the process will not be continuous, because the moment that the alternating current arc starts between the spark balls, it reduces their difference of potential to a comparatively low value, and hence the charge taken by the condenser is very small, and, moreover, the circuit is not interrupted periodically so as to re-start a train of oscillations.

When, therefore, we desire to employ an alternating current transformer as a source of electromotive force, although it may have the advantage that the resistance of the secondary circuit of the transformer is generally small compared with that of the secondary circuit of an induction coil, yet nevertheless we are confronted with two practical difficulties: (1) How to control the primary current flowing into the transformer; and (2) how to destroy the alternating current arc between the spark balls and reduce the discharge entirely to the disruptive or oscillatory discharge of the condenser.

The control over the current can be obtained, in accordance with a plan suggested by the author, by inserting in the primary circuit of the transformer two variable choking coils. The form in which it is preferred to construct these is that of a cylindrical bobbin standing upon a laminated cross-piece of iron. These bobbins can have let down into them an E-shaped piece of laminated iron, so as to complete the magnetic circuit, and thus raise the inductance of the bobbin. By placing two of these variable choking coils in series with the primary circuit, the current is under perfect control. We can fix a minimum value below which the current shall not fall, by adjusting the position of the cores of these two choking coils, and we can then cause that current to be increased up to a certain limit which it can not exceed, by short-circuiting one of these choking coils by an appropriate switch. Several ways have been suggested for extinguishing the alternating current arc which forms between the spark balls connected to the secondary terminals when these are brought within a certain distance of one another. One of these is due to Mr. Tesla. He places a strong electromagnet so that its lines of magnetic flux pass transversely between the spark balls. When the discharge takes place the electric arc is blown out, but if the balls are short-circuited by a condenser, the oscillatory discharge of the condenser still takes place across the spark gap. Professor Elihu Thomson achieves the same result by employing a blast of air thrown on the spark gap. This has the effect of destroying the alternating current arc, but still leaves the oscillating discharge of the condenser. The action is somewhat tedious to explain in words, but it can easily be understood that the blast of air, by continually breaking down the alternating current arc which tends to form, allows the condenser connected to the spark balls to become charged with the potential of the secondary circuit of the transformer, and that this condenser then discharges across the spark gap, producing an oscillatory discharge in the usual manner. The author has found that without the use of any air blast or electromagnet, simple adjustment of the double choking coil in the primary circuit of the transformer as above described is sufficient to bring about the desired result, when the capacity of the condenser is adjusted to be in resonance.

Another method which has been adopted by M. d'Arsonval is to cause the spark to pass between two balls placed at the extremities of metal rods, which are in rapid rotation like the spokes of a wheel. In this case, the draught of air produced by the passage of the spark balls blows out the arc and performs the same function as the blast of air in Professor Elihu Thomson's method. When these adjustments are properly made, it is possible, by means of a condenser and an alternating current transformer supplied with current from an alternator, to create a rapidly intermittent oscillatory discharge, the sparks of which succeed one another so quickly that it appears almost continuous. When using a large transformer and condenser, the noise and brilliancy of these sparks are almost unbearable, and the eyes may be injured by looking at this spark for more than a moment. In the construction of transformers intended to be used in this manner, very special precautions have to be taken in the insulation of the primary and secondary circuits, and the insulation of these from the core.

It may be remarked in passing that experimenting with large high tension transformers coupled to condensers of large capacity is exceedingly dangerous work, and the greatest precautions are necessary to avoid accident. In the light, however, of sufficient experience there is no difficulty in employing high tension transformers in the above described manner, and in obtaining electromotive forces of upwards of a hundred thousand volts supplied through transformers capable of yielding any required amount of current.

On occasions where continuous current alone is available, a motor generator has to be employed converting the continuous current into an alternating current. This is best achieved by the employment of a small alternator directly coupled to a continuous current motor; or by providing the shaft of a continuous current motor with two rings connected to two opposite portions of its armature, so that when continuous current is supplied to the brushes pressing against the commutator, an alternating current can be drawn off from two other brushes touching the above mentioned insulated rings.

The next element of importance in the transmitting arrangement is the spark gap. In the case of those transmitters employing an ordinary induction coil, the secondary spark, or the discharge of any condenser connected to the secondary terminals can be taken between the brass balls about half an inch or one inch in diameter, with which the terminals of the secondary coil are usually furnished; and it is generally the custom to allow this spark discharge to take place in air at ordinary pressure. In the very early days of his work Mr. Marconi adopted the discharger devised by Professor Rhigi, in which the spark takes place between two brass balls placed in vaseline or other highly insulating oil.[10] But whatever advantage may accrue from using oil as the dielectric in which the spark discharge takes place, when carrying out simple laboratory experiments on Hertzian waves, there is no advantage in the case of wireless telegraphy. The Rhigi discharger was, therefore, soon discarded. If discharges having large quantity are passed through oil, it is rapidly decomposed or charred, and ceases to retain the special insulating and self-restoring character which is necessary in the medium in which an oscillating spark is formed. The conditions when the discharges of large condensers are passed between spark balls are entirely different from those when the quantity of the spark, or to put it in more exact language, the current passing, is very small. In the case of Hertzian experiments, it is necessary, as shown by Hertz, to maintain a high state of polish on the spark balls when they are employed for the production of short waves of small energy, but when we are dealing with large quantities of energy at each discharge, those methods which succeed for laboratory experiments are perfectly impracticable. The conditions necessary to be fulfilled by a discharger for use in Hertzian wave telegraphy are that the surfaces shall maintain a constant condition and not be fused or eaten away by the spark, and, next, that the medium in which the discharge takes place shall not be decomposed by the passage of the spark, but shall maintain the property of giving way suddenly when a certain critical pressure is reached, and passing instantly from a condition in which it is a very perfect insulator to one in which it is a very good conductor; and, thirdly, that on the cessation of the discharge, the medium shall immediately restore itself to its original condition.

When using the ordinary ten-inch induction coil, and when the capacity charged by it does not exceed a small faction of a microfarad, it is quite sufficient to employ brass or steel balls separated by a certain distance in air, at the ordinary pressure, as the arrangement of the discharger. When, however, we come to deal with the discharges of very large condensers, at high electromotive forces, then it is necessary to have special arrangements to prevent the destruction of the surfaces between which the spark passes, or their continual alteration, and many devices have been invented for this purpose. The author has devised an arrangement which fulfils the above conditions very perfectly for use in large power stations, but the details of this can not be made public at the present time.

(To he continued.)

  1. Instruction for the manufacture of large induction coils may be obtained from a 'Treatise on the Construction of Large Induction Coils,' by A. T. Hare. (Methuen & Co., London.)

    Also see Vol. II. of 'The Alternate Current Transformer' by J. A. Fleming, Chap. I. (The Electrician Publishing Co., 1, Salisbury Court, Fleet St., London, E. C.)

  2. See 'The Alternate Current Transformer,' by J. A. Fleming, Vol. I., page 184.
  3. Du Moncel states that MacGauley of Dublin independently invented the form of hammer break as now used.

    See 'The Alternate Current Transformer,' Vol. II., Chap. I., J. A. Fleming.

  4. * See Professor J. Trowbridge, 'On the Induction Coil,' Phil. Mag., April, 1902. Vol. III., Series 6, p. 393.
  5. See Dr. Wehnelt's article in the Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift, January, 1899.
  6. See Electrician, Vol. XLII., 1899, pp. 721, 728, 731, 732 and 841. Communications from Mr. Campbell Swinton, Professor S. P. Thompson, Dr. Marchant, the author and others. Also page 864, same volume, for a leader on the subject. Also page 870, letters by M. Blondel and Professor E. Thomson. See also Electrician, Vol. XLIII., p. 5, 1899, extracts from a paper by P. Barry; Comptes Rendus, April, 1899. See also The Electrical Review, Vol. XLIV., p. 235, 1899, February 17.
  7. See The Electrician, Vol. XLII., 1899.
  8. For a discussion of the function of the condenser in an ordinary induction coil, see 'The Alternate Current Transformer,' by J. A. Fleming, Vol. II., p. 51.
  9. See Lord Rayleigh, Phil. Mag., December, 1901.
  10. It has sometimes been stated that the spark balls must be solid metal and not hollow, but this is a fallacy, and has been disproved by Mr. C. A. Chant. See 'An Experimental Investigation into the Skin Effect in Electrical Oscillators,' Phil. Mag., Vol. III., Sec. 6, p. 425, 1902.