Alternate History

Electricity (Superpowers)

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Electric power was originally devised by a Parthian, probably a merchant of some sort, who filled jars with highly reactive solutions that generated an electrochemical potential. His devices were practically useless and probably lost shortly after his death. However, in the Superpowers timeline the Romans rediscovered these ancient artifacts and inferred their contents from analysis of what remained in the jars. These primitive batteries were ceramic jars full of aqueous acetic acid (vinegar). Metal rods of iron and coppers were dipped in the solution. As a long as a complete circuit was formed from the outside and sufficient electrolytes remained, current would flow.

The Parthian batteries are the greatest lost artifact in history. Their rediscovery sparked an early evolution in the application of electricity and electromagnetism, long before relevant scientific theory developed.

By the 1500's, Roman electrical engineering had achieved radio communication, turbine generators, electrical motors, rechargeable batteries, and countless industrial applications of electricity. Computers running on electric power were developed in the 1800's and today, Rome's mastery of electronic and computation is without rival. Nevertheless, the technology has slowly spread from Rome to other states since 1553 when battery technology was traded to the Inca for the formula for gunpowder.

Roman Batteries

During the Roman invasion of Persia, hundreds of years later, the batteries were discovered in the `forced excavation` of a small hut. An artillery engineer recognized their significance when he received a shock from his armor and brought the batteries before his commanding Centurion on 11 August 615 CE. The jars made their way to the Academy in Jerusalem and were analyzed to determine their contents. Once the full scope of what was discovered reached the ears of the Caesar, all research and materials were brought to academies in Rome.

With even better technology than the ancient Parthians, the Romans found a more suitable substitute for vinegar as a solution and the iron and copper rods were switched with other metals. In July 639, applications for the devices, now called ampvlae, were demonstrated to the Emperor. Their potential for plating expensive metals onto cheaper ones was of great interest to him, as a high demand already existed for fancy looking decorations. Minor economic shifts in the supply of materials necessary for electrochemical batteries allowed the formation of the first electroplating college in 649 CE. Profits and manufacturing were controlled directly by the government.

Small improvements in storage and wiring came over the following century, but real advancement did not come until the polymath Archaedavincus sunk his teeth into electrochemistry. Almost immediately, he found a way to build fist-sized batteries from the same design and discovered the mobile effect that electrified wires had on pieces of magnetite. He deduced in 747 that for one to exert an invisible force on the other, they must operate by the same act of nature, just as mutual physical contact exerts forces between objects and mutual magnetic contact exerts forces between objects. This was an expression of his proposed law of equal and opposing forces. Later, he correctly identified the relationship between the metals and the solution, and surmised that immersion in a solution containing the same metal as the rod would provide stronger current. However, this required separate containers of fluid, creating a problem in completing the circuit at the aqueous solutions.

Archaevincus made the ingenious connection between the conductivity of saline water and the dissolved metal solutions. By connecting the separate containers of the electrochemical cell with a `salt bridge`, the circuit was complete and current flowed. The silver and zinc electrochemical cell he built on 9 January 754 was orders of magnitude better than the single-solute batteries of his predecessors. The exact combination of metals was used in 809 to perform the first recharging of a battery.

The final contribution he made to electrical studies was to demonstrate the combination of electrochemical cells in series or in parallel, allowing the magnification of current or voltage respectively in the combined battery. His work provided the basis for all further developments in the field of electrodynamics.

Advanced Electrodynamics

On the death of Archaedavincus, Caesar founded the Academia Archaedavinca Eletrika in Parisium to further the advancement of electrical technology for the glory of the Imperium. Using their founder`s principles, the Academy built the first crude electric motor on the 25th of January 805 and recharged a battery four years later. The later discovery revolutionized the electroplating industry as lightning could now be harnessed as a source of power to recharge depleted batteries.

The electric motor saw slow developed as the Academy focused on more commercially useful technologies. A 600 rpm motor was built in 837 and a year later it found use in Parisium`s printing presses. But the technology was unreliable and prone to causing fires from its sparks. This was also a danger in its other application in horseless carriages for the very rich. Eventually, Alexandrian scientists, working independently of the Academy, invented a sparkless motor in September 1004 (a device not unlike motors in OTL of 1900 AD). The splitting of the Empire into East and West prevented these advancements from reaching Parisium, and the technology stagnated over the course of the Great Civil War. It was during this period of warfare that focus was on mechanical technologies like semi-automatic artillery pieces and armored vehicles.

Imperial unification spread the technology of sparkless motors through the Roman world. The printing industry grew in spades under its influence, and horseless carriages became more common. In 1103, Rome`s clocktower the Turris Horologis had its mechanical pendulum and gear systems replaced with an array of rechargeable batteries, a lightning rod and the largest ever electric motor. Wiring by this time came in many varieties, from gold for more delicate systems and insulated copper for medium-distance transmission, e.g. across a building. The Parisian Academy came upon a mechanism for inducing current with a magnet by accident in 1182, and a paper was published on the subject on 30 October of the same year. Crude rotating systems, resembling reversed motors, were built to improve the efficiency of the inductive effect but no one could figure out how to generate a continuous current by the new method.

Electrodynamics` very own mozart came in the 13th century CE. Lucius Parellus Volta was his name, the foremost chemist of Rome and a member of the equestrian order. Allowing the direction of the generated current to gradually alternate directions, he solved the problem of electrical generation and invented alternating current. More importantly he worked out the theoretical principles underlying electrodynamics, publishing theories of electrical induction and electromagnetism in the single year 1210. He identified the reciprocal relationship in electricity and magnetic effects and expressed it mathematically in equations for alternating currents and fluxes, or changes, in magnetic fields from which they are induced.

Industrial Revolution

Volta used his AC generator in watermills and windmills throughout Italy as the first power company in history expanded. Roman nobility were buying electricity for their villas at high prices, still well below the cost of buying batteries. The power provided the ability to recharge carriages, warm their house, and operate minor mechanisms for their convenience, like button activated doors. Soon public bathhouses in Baiae were buying Volta`s electricity to replace the wood, coal and oil that was used to heat spas and bathwater. The money gained from selling electricity and generators funded his research into electromagnetism. In 1224 he invented the condensatrum, a easily recharged short-term storage device for electric charge. Batteries of these, he believed, could replace electrochemical cells in many present applications.

Printing presses and electroplating guilds benefited enormously from Volta`s generators, and the commercial success of his invention led him to found a private college called Electrika Generalis (General Electric). Entire cities began to benefit from electrical power. Parisium was getting 28,000 W by 1230 and Alexandria got 36,000 W from its 22 generators. The widespread consumption of electrical power illuminated the problem of power lost in transmission. Volta reasoned that the power loss that went to heating the wire was due to the movement of `electrical fluid` and therefore he needed to reduce current without stepping down any power. Since power was a product of voltage and electrical flow across a wire, he could cut power loss by reducing current and increasing voltage simultanously. According to his theory, alternating current produces a changing magnetic field and a changing magnetic field induces current in looped wire. Furthermore, the resulting voltage and current is determined by the number of loops as is the effective magnetic field produced by a loop. Therefore, one could transform a current to a lower or higher value depending on the number of loops.

The electrical transformers he invented by this principle in 1235 were sold at low prices to all Volta`s customers at the time. The process of stepping down current for transmission and stepping it back up for distribution made it possible to send electricity over distances as long as the whole of Italy with acceptable losses of power.

When Volta died in a lab accident in 1241, the government appropriated his college and gave it to the new Ministry of Energy for management. Laws passed in the 1230`s established many of the modern standards for electrical transmission and distribution, such as banning the stringing of electrical wires overhead in either cities or along roads so that they had to be encased in concrete below ground or in road barriers. Rome benefitted greatly from electrical power as it could run baths, transport goods and print the news more cheaply than ever.

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