Monday 26 September 2016

crucible or lacrymæ batavicæ

When one drips molten glass into a vessel of water, a little tadpole glass droplet forms that has some amazing physical properties. The bead can withstand blows from a hammer but if the tail is snipped, the whole droplet violently explodes. Previously known as Dutch tears (the Latin name above), there was a paucity of scientific investigation until they were reproduced and experimented on in the ducal court of Mecklenburg.
Prince Rupert gave British King Charles II an exciting demonstration and Prince Rupert Drops as they became known in England (called Bologneser Träne auf Deutsche—Baloney tears, however, owing to the reputation of the Italians as glassmakers) were taken up by the Royal Society for further studies in the mid seventeenth century. Though mostly taken up as a party-favour or a parlour-trick, volcanologists found the laboratory trials valuable as the drops approximated the pyroclastic forces found in eruptions and lava-flows, as did polymath Robert Hooke, whose puzzlement over the store of potential energy led to the development of the idea of elasticity, strain and compression and a scientific, predictable toolkit for ever more intricate mechanisms.