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An electroscope is an early scientific instrument that is used to detect the presence and magnitude of electric charge on a body. It was the first electrical measuring instrument. The first electroscope, a pivoted needle called the versorium, was invented by British physician William Gilbert around 1600. The pith-ball electroscope and the gold-leaf electroscope are two classical types of electroscope that are still used in physics education to demonstrate the principles of electrostatics. A type of electroscope is also used in the quartz fiber radiation dosimeter.
Electroscopes detect electric charge by the motion of a test object due to the Coulomb electrostatic force. The electric potential or voltage of an object equals its charge divided by its capacitance, so electroscopes can be regarded as crude voltmeters. The accumulation of enough charge to detect with an electroscope requires hundreds or thousands of volts, so electroscopes are only used with high voltage sources such as static electricity and electrostatic machines. Electroscopes generally give only a rough, qualitative indication of the magnitude of the charge; an instrument that measures charge quantitatively is called an electrometer.
Pictured below are the Pith Ball Electroscope and Gold Leaf Electroscope.
Pith Ball Electroscope
Gold Leaf Electroscope
Gilbert, William; P. Fleury Mottelay (1893).
//On the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies//
. New York: John Wiley & Sons. p. 79.
a translation of William Gilbert (1600)
Page created by: Thomas DeLancey
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