Article ID: CBB001251434

Who Knew Piezoelectricity? Rutherford and Langevin on Submarine Detection and the Invention of Sonar (2012)


During World War I, submarine detection presented a strategic technological challenge, which inspired, among others, the invention of new methods and the employment of a hitherto unused scientific phenomenon. Two prominent physicists, Ernest Rutherford and Paul Langevin, independently suggested the use of this phenomenon: piezoelectricity. Yet they employed it in different ways, leading Rutherford to a useful, if limited, measuring device and Langevin to sonar. Contrary to a claim that is commonly made, Rutherford's work did not lead to sonar. These different results originated on one hand in diverging goals of the two physicists, and on the other in Langevin's more extensive knowledge of and practice with piezoelectricity, which allowed him to manipulate the crystals and contrive the novel ultrasonic design required. Nevertheless, previous encounters with the effect and prior familiarity with it were crucial for its employment by both.

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Authors & Contributors
Katzir, Shaul
Jenkin, John G.
Melvyn Mason
Robert S. White
Stanley, Matthew
Williams, N. H.
Physics in Perspective
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Technology and Culture
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Spontaneous Generations
Science in Context
Uppsala University, Office for the History of Science
University of Nebraska Press
Pickering & Chatto
MIT Press
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Atomic, nuclear, and particle physics
World War I
Rutherford, Ernest, 1st Baron
Langevin, Paul
Cady, Walter G.
Hertz, Heinrich Rudolph
Voigt, Woldemar
Thomson, Joseph John
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
20th century, late
20th century
Great Britain
United States
Cambridge University

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