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Library and Archives - The Schrödinger's Cat Conundrum - What Really is in the Box?
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January 27, 2015
The Schrödinger's Cat Conundrum - What Really is in the Box?

Stretching the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment analogy – the IET Archives recently received a small box that supposedly contained a ‘permanent detector’ a component that was used in connection with crystal radio sets of the 1920s. A permanent detector made by the company Radio Instruments (RI), made by the company between 1922 and 1930, was what was advertised on the box – but was that really the item that could be found in the box?

Well there was something in the box and it looked a little like the illustration on the outside of the box, but it was definitely a different object. Upon very careful examination, in a certain light, at a certain angle, the faint lettering ‘Brownie Permatector’ could be found.

This item was nothing to do with the eponymous dessert square, developed in the US at the end of the 19th century, but instead a permanent detector made by a rival firm to RI called the J W B Wireless Company (Brownie was a brand name). Both companies manufactured permanent detectors for crystal radio sets in the 1920s. The Brownie permanent detector found in the box, which the company introduced in 1926, is shown below.

 

 

The crystal radio receiver, or crystal set, contained a .cat’s-whisker detector, an electronic component consisting of a thin wire that gently touches a crystal of semiconducting mineral. The Brownie permanent crystal detector shown above comprises a nickel-plated housing with a crystal and whisker inside the housing. The whisker could be fixed permanently at a sensitive point on the crystal hence the term ‘permanent detector’.

Given the above, we now have evidence of one reality in answer to the Schrödinger cat conundrum. What is inside the box – it is a cat’s whisker!



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Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

   

    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 27 January 2015 04:56 PM     Archives  

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