Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Charles Wheatstone - Victorian Scientist and Inventor

Sir Charles Wheatstone was a prolific Victorian scientist and inventor. He gets a mention in our new book micro:bit in Wonderland so we thought we'd write a bit more about him for his birthday, February 6th.

Wheatstone was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1802 and contributed lots of ideas and inventions to a wide range of subjects.

Wheatstone was a contemporary and friend of Michael Faraday.

One of Charles Wheatstone's most famous contributions was the English version of the telegraph which he developed with William Cooke. Samuel Morse's Morse Code had more success in the long term but the Cooke-Wheatstone Telegraph was put into commercial production first and enjoyed some success.

Wheatstone had a varied career. His father ran a music shop so he was fascinated with sound and music. His inventions included musical instruments such as the Concertina musical instrument.

In this video clip, Adam Hart-Davies visits the location of the Wheatstone music shop to share some of Charles Wheatstone's ideas.


He also invented the stereoscope, a device for displaying 3D images by showing a different image to the left and right eye. The Wheatstone Stereoscope was invented just before photography so initially drawings were used. Modern 3D and virtual reality technology is a development of Wheatstone's idea and still uses the technique of showing different images to the left and right eye to create the illusion of depth.

Wheatstone also invented the Playfair cipher, a new way of encrypting messages which he named after his friend Lord Playfair.

An electric circuit for measuring unknown electrical resistance is named the Wheatstone Bridge after Wheatstone who refined and popularised its design.

The range of Wheatstone's contributions is impressive. There was much less specialisation in Victorian times.

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