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Q & A: Van de Graaf Generator

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Who invented the Van de Graaff generator? When was the Van de Graaff generator invented?
- Amenda (age 14)
Ozona, Tx
Hi Amenda,

I went ahead and combined both of your questions into one.

The answer to your first question is very easy! The Van de Graaff generator was invented by Robert Jemison Van de Graaff who was born in 1901 and died in 1967.

After hearing about Ernest Rutherford's work in Nuclear Physics, Van de Graaf began trying to find a way to accelerate particles to very high speeds in order to disintegrating atomic nuclei. The Van de Graaff generator was officially invented in 1929 when he came up with the idea of making a long tube and creating a big difference in charge at two ends of the tube. The particles he was trying to accelerate would start at one end of the tube, see that they were near a bunch of other charges just like them and race toward the other end to get toward the opposite kind of charge. In order to create this large difference in charge, Van de Graaff hooked a belt up to a motor. This belt carried the charges up to a large Aluminum sphere at the top of the device. The first model created a difference of 80,000 Volts. Later versions were constructed that were able to make differences of 1 million (1,000,000) Volts and 7 million (7,000,000) volts. His device was patented in 1935.

A good is available from the Boston Museum of Science.

A is available from Brookhaven National Lab.


(published on 10/22/2007)

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