Physics and Chemistry

Electricity and Magnetism

What is a Leyden jar?

A Leyden jar, the earliest form of capacitor, is a device for storing an electrical charge. First described in 1745 by E. Georg van Kleist (c. 1700–1748), it was also used by Pieter van Musschenbroek (1692–1761), a professor of physics at the University of Leyden. The device came to be known as a Leyden jar and was the first device that could store large amounts of electric charge. The jars contained an inner wire electrode in contact with water, mercury, or wire. The outer electrode was a human hand holding the jar. An improved version coated the jar inside and outside with separate metal foils with the inner foil connected to a conducting rod and terminated in a conducting sphere. This eliminated the need for the liquid electrolyte. In use, the jar was normally charged from an electrostatic generator. The Leyden jar—which makes the hair stand up—is still used for classroom demonstrations of static electricity.


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