Keely's Fabled Vibratory Microscope.

I have seen diagrams of Keely's "atomic triplet" described "as seen through his vibratory microscope". It has also been said he used ultraviolet light in his microscope.

Such notions are based on myth and rumour.

Here is why:

1) No optical instrument can be built to look at molecular and atomic structures. At extreme magnification (the maximum usable magnification on an optical devices about 1000 times) all you will see is Brown's movement (sort of looks a little bit like sperm wriggling through spermal fluid). That is why we have Electron Microscopes to look at smaller parts, the downside being that the EM cannot look at living things as it requires the specimen to be held in a vacuum to enable the electron flow.

2) It is possible to build an optical microscope using ultraviolet light. I qoute here Stephen M. Wolniak, Professor & Interim Chairman, Department of Cell Biology & Molecular Genetics, University of Maryland, who in a paper on optical microscopy says:

"In the early 1950's, a UV microscope was designed, but required quartz objectives and a specialized imaging device. The quartz lenses provided slightly better resolution (dmin = 0.1 Ám), but image quality suffered from an inability on the part of the manufacturers to correct for aberrations caused by the quartz."

It is noteworthy here that a microscope with a conventional maximum resolution of 1000 times has a resolution of (dmin = 0.2 Ám), which would make the theoretical maximum magnification in a ultraviolet microscope around 2000 times. This is a long way short of the magnification required to look at molecular and atomic structures, not to mention sub-atomic particles.

3) It is possible to use sound waves to create a visual image, but the technology is very recent and is incapable, and by the nature of the waves and the technology required always will be, of looking at small items. If you don't believe me look up the technology surrounding ultrasonic scans. Besides, in Keely's time building an ultrasonic imaging device would have been akin to building a nuclear reactor with a hammer, a screwdriver and a bit of radioactive ore, considering the technology of the day.

So what then is his vibratory microscope. Is it some mysterious instrument designed by true genius and since lost to the world?

Sorry guys, the mysticism will have to wait. Far from being something esoteric Keely's vibratory microscope (called vibrating microscope in some contemporary literature) was at the time standard equipment in any acoustics laboratory doing serious research. In fact Keely could not have built his machines without one.

It was invented by Lissajous, a contemporary of Keely and was built and sold by Rudolph Koenig during Keely's time. The picture below is of a contemporary device (1876), now in the collection of Amherst College in Massachusetts. It is listed at 140 francs in the 1889 Koenig catalogue (Cat. No. 234i).

So, how did it work and what was it used for?

In his 1900 book, Sound and Music, the Rev. J. A. Zahm of Notre Dame noted that the device

" composed of an electric fork, attached to a solid support, and a microscope. The object of the microscope is borne by one of the prongs of the fork (in the apparatus above it is attached to the lower fork) When the fork is set into motion the objects visible in the field of the microscope seem to move in the same direction as does the fork. If now a second tuning-fork, whose prongs are perpendicular to those of the first, be caused to oscillate, a point on the second fork will appears to describe a curve, whose form will depend on the vibration-frequencies of the two forks used. If the intervals of the forks be perfect, [simple Lissajous figures] will appear... If, however, the interval be perturbed in any way by a change in the temperature of the forks, for instance, the figure is no longer constant. It immediately begins to pass through a cycle of changes... The longer the time required for effecting a complete cycle of changes, the nearer the intervals of the forks are perfect. [Consider a vibration microscope] made to execute exactly 128 vibrations per second. If ...[the figure] goes through a cycle of changes in 10 minutes, it means that our comparator executes 10x60x1828 = 76800 vibrations, while the other fork, during the same period, makes one vibration more or less than this number."

From J. A. Zahm, Sound and Music, second edition (A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, 1900) pp 418-419.

The tuning forks that Keely mentions in the article about aquaeous disintegration were simply reference forks used in his vibrating microscope to enable him to tune the resonators in his "liberator" to very tight envelope tolerances, as we would say today.

So what were the frequencies used, and why was a complex sound required?

To get our next clues we must look at water and its structure.

Next Chapter:


Hans von Lieven, copyright 2007