Adam graduated from Virginia Tech in 2005 with a Bachelor's Degree in Technology Education. After college Adam began his teaching career at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Adam currently teaches courses in Engineering and Energy Systems at TJ.
How to Make a Battery from a Voltaic Pile
Engineer Adam Kemp demonstrates how to make a battery from a voltaic pile.
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Adam Kemp: Hi! My name is Adam Kemp. Today, we are learning about how to make a battery. In this clip we are going to learn about how to make a battery called a Voltaic Pile. The materials we are going to need in order to make our voltaic pile are some nickels, some pennies and a piece of paper towel and a little bit of vinegar. The acid in the vinegar is going to act as our electrolyte and the nickels and the pennies are going to act as our anode and our cathode. The final piece of material that we are going to need is a piece of aluminium. Aluminium is going to act as a base that we are going to be able to get our cathode off of the voltaic pile. To start off, if you take your aluminium and fold it into a small rectangular shape, small enough that you'll be able to attach a lead to and this is the base that we are going to be stacking our voltaic pile on. To start off, if you take a nickel, place it down and we are going to take our scissors and cut off a little piece of paper towel that we are going to use to establish that electrolyte connection between our nickels and our pennies. Then what we need to do is put a little bit of the vinegar in excess film canister we have. However, we don't pour it everywhere. We go ahead and dip the towel -- and remember when you've excess, you don't want to have a real drippy paper towel and place it on top of your nickel. We go ahead and place the penny on top of the nickel and then nickel on top of the penny. Now, we are going to take a paper towel and repeat the process until we run out of nickels and pennies. Make sure that your paper towel doesn't touch the other paper towel because you'll bypass the penny and the nickel that you just placed down. What we are essentially doing is taking a one penny and a one nickel battery and connecting them in series. So what we are going to be doing is increasing the voltage between the individual penny and nickel and hopefully producing relatively substantial battery. Now, that we have run out of pennies and nickels, let's go ahead and check to see what the voltage of our battery is. The piece of aluminum that we used as a base plate is going to act as our cathode and the top penny is going to act as our anode. If we take our measurement, we'll see that we are getting about 0.4 volts. So, approximately what we will be getting out of, a little less than a potato. I am not terribly pleased with these numbers and I think that we can increase them if we change from nickel to a different type of metal. In our first three types of batteries, we were using zinc as the cathode. In this voltaic pile, I am going to be using aluminum. Going to go ahead and disassemble the pile and begin reassembling in the same fashion; instead of using nickels, I am going to be using little aluminum discs. Repeat the pattern where you have a penny, the paper towel and a piece of aluminum. Let's go ahead and measure the voltage on our new voltaic pile using aluminum discs instead of nickel. Now, what you will see is that aluminum is a much better cathode than the nickel was. Now we are reading about 1.6 volts, which in itself should be enough to illuminate the LED. So if we go ahead and connect our cathode lead to the base plate and if we attach the leads now to the LED, we can connect them and see if we are getting any illumination and in this case we are not. The reason we are not getting any illumination is because with this setup, with this voltaic pile, we are getting enough voltage to drive the LED, but not enough current. So in order to get an LED to illuminate with the voltaic pile using these many aluminum discs and pennies, you will need to have two or more of voltaic piles in parallel with each other in order to increase the current. Coming up next is a clip discussing other things you can do with your homemade batteries.