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SkepticJ
2010-Jun-21, 01:06 AM
I'm wanting to write a science fiction novella/novel set in the mid-18th century, and I'm looking for cool science arcana that I can work into the novel. Stuff like Leyden jars, electrostatic generators, clockwork devices, interesting chemicals . . .

It'll be alternate history, but I don't want to just make stuff up. I don't want anything that is physically or historically impossible*.


*Gyroscopes didn't exist in 1750, but they easily could have.

Procyan
2010-Jun-21, 04:49 AM
Something like this?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_the_Air_Pump

Sam5
2010-Jun-21, 04:56 PM
English translation of 17th Century science text:

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/59/59-h/59-h.htm

SkepticJ
2010-Jun-21, 10:38 PM
Yeah, stuff like that. "Weird" experiments are great.

KaiYeves
2010-Jun-21, 11:11 PM
How about the armonica (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass_harmonica)? Not so much a scientific instrument as an application of scientific principles for art, but if you're doing an alternate history, you could have the instrument catch on and become more popular.

SkepticJ
2010-Jun-21, 11:26 PM
Oooo, that's cool. :)

KaiYeves
2010-Jun-21, 11:32 PM
Because of my tendency to play with water glasses in restaurants, my mother might be inclined to disagree with you there...

(In fact, she probably wishes I'd never heard of the thing. ;) )

jlhredshift
2010-Jun-22, 01:15 AM
Try an old physics book from 1889.

Google books; full view (http://books.google.com/books?id=K7cAAAAAMAAJ&dq=physics&pg=PA5#v=onepage&q&f=false)

SkepticJ
2010-Jun-22, 01:37 AM
I didn't know ether has been around so long: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/12522/pg12522.html

One could make a set-up to freeze water using evaporating ether.

SkepticJ
2010-Jun-22, 06:59 AM
Making flexible hydraulic/pneumatic hoses without using latex rubber (latex hose was invented by this guy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_de_Vaucanson)), what're some ways to do it?

Stitched or riveted leather (like old-time fire hoses) with a beeswax coating to make it airtight.

Cleaned and dried animal intestines, again with a wax coating. Wrapped with leather, braided manila or linen rope, or chain maille for further reinforcement.

Those are the best I've come up with.

Geo Kaplan
2010-Jun-22, 07:22 AM
Making flexible hydraulic/pneumatic hoses without using latex rubber (latex hose was invented by this guy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_de_Vaucanson)), what're some ways to do it?

Stitched or riveted leather (like old-time fire hoses) with a beeswax coating to make it airtight.

Cleaned and dried animal intestines, again with a wax coating. Wrapped with leather, braided manila or linen rope, or chain maille for further reinforcement.

Those are the best I've come up with.

With no battery until 1800, e.g., Enlightenment-age technology was indeed limited. But that's the fun, I agree.

Some stream of consciousness core dump: There's von Guericke's vacuum pump and his "Magdeburg Hemispheres". His vacuum technology abetted Hauksbee in the latter's development of electrostatic generators (and a primitive mercury vapor lamp) to improve on von Guericke's sulfur-ball electrostatic generator. You've got Leyden jars, as you've already mentioned, which allowed Watson to demonstrate a primitive electrostatic telegraph across the Thames at Westminster bridge in the mid-1700s.

There certainly was lots of chemical and alchemical fun (beyond explosives and fireworks). And primitive steam power.

So you've got rudimentary chemistry, some communications possibilities and even potentially some motive power for transportation beyond horses and cattle.

Van Marum was able to build a giant electrostatic generator in the 1790s (perhaps a bit too late for your timeline, but it involved no principles unknown to Hauksbee; it was just a matter of scale, so maybe it would still be allowed in your tale). Combined with Galvani's frog legs as detectors, you could even have a primitive wireless technology (good for humans, bad for frogs).

SkepticJ
2010-Jun-23, 12:12 AM
There certainly was lots of chemical and alchemical fun (beyond explosives and fireworks).

Do you have any interesting examples?


Distilled, 190 proof ethyl alcohol--would seem to be a better lamp fuel than whale oil, burns like gasoline, and can be thickened with calcium acetate. Enlightenment-era Sterno, or "napalm". Makes a fine evaporative coolant, disinfectant, and biological specimens can be preserved in it indefinitely.

White phosphorus--glows faintly in the dark when wet, bursts into flame and gives off a bright light when dry and in contact with air. Red phosphorous has similar pyrotechnic tendencies as its mother, but doesn't burst into flame when dry in 30 degree air. Combined with acids, and phosphine gas is produced.

Acids. Can be used to produce hydrogen gas for balloons. Aqua regia can even dissolve gold.

Turpentine--fuel and solvent.

Latex.

Sulfur--black powder, produces choking sulfur dioxide when burned, burns very slowly with a faint, pure blue flame.


Neat, I didn't know that pressure tanks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_gun#History) were invented so long ago.

Geo Kaplan
2010-Jun-23, 06:58 AM
Do you have any interesting examples?

Here are a couple quickies: Oxygen and nitrous oxide were isolated/generated and identified by the mid-to-late 1700s. So you have key bits for surgery right there: an anesthetic and oxygen. Oxygen is handy in any case (welding torches, anyone?). And of course Davy was (overly) fond of "imbibing" nitrous oxide. So if you wanted characters with a substance abuse problem, and were looking for something beyond alcohol, there you go.

SkepticJ
2010-Jun-24, 03:25 AM
The mother load (http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/by/year)

Jens
2010-Jun-24, 03:48 AM
English translation of 17th Century science text:

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/59/59-h/59-h.htm

I looked at that. Somehow, the author seems vaguely familiar.

Jens
2010-Jun-24, 03:50 AM
The mother load (http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/by/year)

Either you mean the "mother lode" or there's a pun there that I didn't get. . .

SkepticJ
2010-Jun-24, 07:22 AM
I looked at that. Somehow, the author seems vaguely familiar.

Descartes, he's fairly well known. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Descartes)

SkepticJ
2010-Jun-24, 11:36 PM
Fire piston (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_piston).

SkepticJ
2010-Jul-04, 11:16 PM
Does anyone know what temperature phosphorus reaches when it's combusting? I'm guessing that White and Red reach the same temperature, they just have different autoignition temperatures.

I'm trying to get an idea of what it would look like if a whole wooden barrel of powdered Red was set alight.