independent

Saturday 23 February 2019

History is made as Darver man gets science award

A MAN from Darver, Nicholas Callan, who invented the induction coil and predicted electric light, has become the first Irish or British person to win an international historical award. Born in 1799, the legacy of the 19th century scientist, who became a priest, still resonates. His main claim to fame is the invention of the induction coil, a device for producing high voltage

By Christine Doherty

A MAN from Darver, Nicholas Callan, who invented the induction coil and predicted electric light, has become the first Irish or British person to win an international historical award.

Born in 1799, the legacy of the 19th century scientist, who became a priest, still resonates.

His main claim to fame is the invention of the induction coil, a device for producing high voltage currents.

It was also the forerunner of the step-up transformer, an essential device in the modern world of limitless electrical supply.

Almost 150 years after his death, the Mid-Louth man whose relations include the Donegan, McDonnell and Ginnety families, has become a recipient of the International Historic Milestone Award given by the International Electrical Engineering group .

As a sixth generation descendant of Father Callan, Drogheda man local FG activist Kevin Callan is thrilled that his ancestor has become the first person from either Britain or Ireland to get this award.

Fr Callan was a pioneering scientist in the field of electrical science, but his inventions were subsequently attributed to other scientists.

He was ordained a priest at Maynooth College and studied natural and experimental philosophy before going to Rome where he obtained a doctorate in divinity. On his return Callan began to work intensively on electricity, helped by funding from family and friends.

Callan also on occasion estimated the intensity of the voltages generated by his induction coils by assessing the reactions of his students to shocks from the coils.

When college authorities asked Callan to be more careful with his students, he switched over to electrocuting turkeys. In 1831 Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction, and in 1825, William Sturgeon invented the electromagnet.

Callan combined these two ideas together to produce his first induction coil in 1836.

A year later he produced a giant induction machine which generated 15-inch sparks and an estimated 60,000 volts – the largest bolt of artificial electricity ever seen at the time.

To carry out his pioneering work, he needed reliable batteries, so Nicholas Callan developed his own and created the first inexpensive battery known as the ‘Maynooth’ battery.

By connecting large numbers of batteries together he created the world’s largest battery.

In 1838 Callan stumbled on the principle of the self-exciting dynamo, producing electricity without a battery.

He also discovered and patented an early form of galvanisation to protect iron from rusting. In 1837 he even built a small motor to drive a trolley around his lab.

He proposed using battery powered locomotives on the new railways and, with great foresight, predicted electric light.

Callan was largely forgotten by the wider world of science mainly because Maynooth was a theological university and science had a low status on the curriculum, allowing Callan’s pioneering work to be easily forgotten after his death.

Even Callan’s invention of the induction coil was attributed to the German instrument-maker Heinrich Ruhmkorff and it was 1953 before the world of physics acknowledged it was the Darver man’s discovery.



Callan died of natural causes at Maynooth, where he spent most of his life studying in 1864.

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