Who Invented the First Atomic Battery? (Invention Timeline Explained)

The world is changing rapidly because of high-end technology and unending scientific advancements. Humans live more comfortably nowadays compared to the way they did centuries ago. Thanks to the brilliant minds of inventors, scientists, and experts in different fields, we are enjoying things that may seem impossible way back.  Some of these inventions have become ubiquitous that we fail to appreciate their importance and brilliance.

One invention that we often overlook is the battery. We use it in our vehicles, mobile phones, remote controls, gadgets, etc. We all know what it is. It is a device to store energy. However, batteries are more complicated and complex than that. Batteries come in different shapes, sizes, and types. This article quickly recaps its remarkable, fascinating, long history and exciting future. 

Who invented the first atomic battery?

Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley, an English Physicist, is the mind behind creating the first atomic battery. Henry Mosely developed a battery using a glass sphere to emit isotopes and a silver lining to collect charged particles.

The atomic battery’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Benjamin Franklin, 1749
    The Origin of the Term “Battery”

    Benjamin Franklin, an American Polymath, is the one who created and then later named the first electrical battery. He discovered it while experimenting with capacitors, conductors, insulators, and electricity. Franklin’s invention led to a deeper understanding of electricity and charged particles.

  • Alessandro Volta, 1799
    The Real Battery

    Alessandro Volta was very skeptical of Luigi Galvani’s claim that animals can generate electricity. So, he contradicted the concept of animal electricity with his theory. According to Volta, the current is generated between metals. He supported his claim by developing the very first electric battery.

  • Michael Faraday, 1842
    The First Electric Motor

    Michael Faraday devoted his life and career to understanding the concept of magnetism and electricity. One of his significant contributions is the first electric motor. The science behind it, which converts mechanical energy to electrical energy, helped pave the way for modern batteries to be born.

  • Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley, 1913
    First Atomic Battery

    Henry Moseley is the person behind the first working atomic battery. Moseley used his working knowledge of electrochemical reactions, electricity, radiation, and charged particles to create his prototype. The first atomic battery was made of a glass sphere to hold radium and a silver lining to facilitate the movement of charged particles.

  • Radio Corporation of America (RCA), 1954
    Small Atomic Battery

    RCA saw the potential of atomic batteries and conducted several research. They studied small atomic batteries so they could fit on hearing aids and tiny radio signal receivers. 

When was the first atomic battery invented?

After extensive research about electricity and radiation, the first working atomic battery was designed by Henry Moseley in 1913. 

A brief history of the atomic battery

The invention of the atomic battery is a game changer. It has a similar concept to nuclear reactors in terms of radioactive decay. The main difference is that atomic batteries do not use chain reactions to generate electricity. Atomic batteries are very promising. Although they cannot be charged or recharged like other types of batteries, they have enough stored energy to last a long time. Because of this, atomic batteries are ideal for equipment like hearing aids, heart pacemakers, and even spacecraft.

Although Henry Moseley was attributed for the invention of the first atomic battery, many great minds and theories served as stepping stones for Henry’s success. Benjamin Franklin’s contributions in the field of electromagnetism gave way to the invention of the first electrical battery in 1749. Franklin’s work allowed other scientists to move forward with a deeper understanding of electricity’s nature.

Another scientist who took an interest in electricity was Luigi Galvani. Galvani’s studies and experiments focused on the theory of animal electricity. He claimed that animals or living things generate some sort of electricity. Alessandro Volta questioned his statements and ideas. Volta proposed that the more acceptable medium of electricity is not animal flesh but metals. He conducted a series of experiments, and he ended up creating the first real battery in 1799.

After Volta’s breakthrough, Faraday developed the first electric motor in 1842. The electric motor uses a system that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. This same system and concept played a significant role in making modern batteries possible.

Henry Mosley developed the first atomic battery using everything written about electrochemical reactions, radiation, electricity, and batteries. The inventions and breakthroughs of Franklin, Volta, and Faraday paved the way for Mosley’s success. The first atomic battery was made of circular glass and silver inner lining. 

In 1954, the RCA or Radio Corporation of America took an interest in Mosley’s invention. The RCA aimed to make the model smaller to fit medical equipment, signal receivers, and spacecraft. The developments made by the RCA led to what atomic batteries are nowadays.

The atomic battery timeline

  1. 1912
    The First Atomic Battery

    Henry Mosley successfully invented the first working atomic battery model in 1913. He demonstrated the power caused by radiation and charged particles. He successfully generated and stored 150,000 volts of electric energy.

  2. 1954
    Smaller Scale

    RCA or Radio Corporation America developed Mosley’s idea. They adjusted the computations and made a smaller model of the atomic battery. Their attempt to extract electrical energy from atoms was a success.

  3. 1970
    Nuclear-powered Pacemakers

    The RCA’s research on atomic batteries made it possible for medical equipment to have a longer life span. In the 1970s,  atomic batteries were used in pacemakers. They replaced the nickel-cadium batteries, which needed to be recharged every few years.

  4. 2016
    Atomic Battery in Outerspace

    In 2016, engineers from NASA entertained the idea of using atomic batteries or radioactive substances to address their power supply problem. Their spacecraft and probes need reliable and long-term power supplies to make their space trip worthwhile.

Where was the first atomic battery invented?

Henry Moseley developed the first atomic battery while he was working at the University of Manchester, England, in 1912 while he was working on the relationship between atomic numbers and wavelength.

The importance of the atomic battery

  • A stable power source

    Atomic batteries, like other types of batteries, are used to store electrical energy. However, atomic batteries are unique because they can operate (without recharge) for a very long time.

  • High energy density

    Since they have high energy density levels, atomic batteries are used for different power equipment such as underwater probes and systems, spacecraft, and various automated stations worldwide.

  • Carbon-free energy

    The invention of the atomic battery opened many doors of opportunities for researchers to explore. One of which is the possibility of a carbon-free energy source.

  • Smaller and more efficient sources of power

    Nuclear batteries can help in the global power crisis. Since atomic batteries are way smaller than nuclear powerplants, they are easier to transport, manage, assemble, and maintain. Imagine the whole plantation can fit in a single factory. 

The atomic battery by the numbers

  • 28 000 The most recent design of an atomic battery which uses nuclear waste and radioactive isotopes, can last up to 28 000 years.
  • $2,200A regular atomic battery in the microwatt range costs approximately $2,200.
  • 10A single atomic battery is small but can produce up to 10 megawatts of power. 
  • 2There are two types of atomic batteries: non-thermal conversion and thermal (which depends on the temperature changes) conversion batteries.

Five facts about the atomic battery

  • Smallest atomic battery

    The University of Missouri developed an atomic battery that is as small as a penny. The research team wanted to erase the wrong notion that nuclear or atomic batteries are huge, scary, and dangerous. 

  • Not yet suitable for cars

    There are fuel-powered cars, electric cars, and solar cars. But there is no working prototype of an atomic-powered car (yet!). The reason is that vehicles would require layers of shield to operate using radioactive power sources. Without the proper shielding, the car might explode and cause harm to several people.

  • Safe power-source alternative

    Atomic batteries are safe for people. No need to second-guess a pacemaker powered by atomic batteries since they are hardly radioactive.

  • Do not use chain reaction

    Atomic batteries do not use a chain reaction to generate electricity. Instead, it uses energy from the electricity generated by the decay of radioactive isotopes. So if the power dries out, that’s it, no more residues or after-effects that may cause harm to living things.

  • The Radioactive Diamond Battery,

    The concept of atomic batteries, served as the foundation for developing RDB or Radioactive Diamond Battery. RDB is said to last for 28,000 years, is safe for humans, and can be used for gadgets like smartphones and smartwatches. 

FAQ about the atomic battery

  • How powerful is a nuclear or atomic battery?

    The amount of energy that batteries can cater vary. On average, nuclear or atomic batteries can potentially house 1-50 mW/g.

  • Is an atomic battery safe for humans?

    Yes. Atomic or nuclear batteries are well protected and are barely radioactive. They are also stable even after decay, so no need to worry about residues or harmful waste.

  • Do atomic batteries exist?

    Yes. Atomic batteries are also known as radioisotope batteries, nuclear batteries, nuclear generators, or radioisotope generators. 

  • What is the atomic battery used for?

    Their primary purpose is to serve as power sources for spacecraft, medical equipment, pacemakers, laboratories in remote places, and underwater equipment.

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