Clark cell

Clark cell

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The Clark cell, invented by English engineer Josiah Latimer Clark
Josiah Latimer Clark
Josiah Latimer Clark , was an English electrical engineer, born in Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire.-Biography:...

 in 1873, is a wet-chemical cell (colloquially: battery) that produces a highly stable voltage
Voltage, otherwise known as electrical potential difference or electric tension is the difference in electric potential between two points — or the difference in electric potential energy per unit charge between two points...

 usable as a laboratory standard.


Clark cells use a zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

, or zinc amalgam
Amalgam (chemistry)
An amalgam is a substance formed by the reaction of mercury with another metal. Almost all metals can form amalgams with mercury, notable exceptions being iron and platinum. Silver-mercury amalgams are important in dentistry, and gold-mercury amalgam is used in the extraction of gold from ore.The...

, anode
An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: ACID ....

 and a mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

A cathode is an electrode through which electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: CCD .Cathode polarity is not always negative...

 in a saturated
Saturation (chemistry)
In chemistry, saturation has six different meanings, all based on reaching a maximum capacity...

 aqueous solution
Aqueous solution
An aqueous solution is a solution in which the solvent is water. It is usually shown in chemical equations by appending aq to the relevant formula, such as NaCl. The word aqueous means pertaining to, related to, similar to, or dissolved in water...

 of zinc sulfate
Zinc sulfate
Zinc sulfate is the inorganic compound with the formula ZnSO4 as well as any of three hydrates. It was historically known as "white vitriol". It is a colorless solid that is a common source of soluble zinc ions.-Production and reactivity:...

, with a paste of mercurous sulfate as depolarizer
A depolarizer or depolariser, in electrochemistry, according to an IUPAC definition, is a synonym of electroactive substance, i.e., a substance which changes its oxidation state, or partakes in a formation or breaking of chemical bonds, in a charge-transfer step of an electrochemical reaction.In...


Original cell

Clark's original cell was set up in a glass jar in a similar way to a gravity Daniell cell
Daniell cell
The Daniell cell was invented in 1836 by John Frederic Daniell, a British chemist and meteorologist, and consisted of a copper pot filled with a copper sulfate solution, in which was immersed an unglazed earthenware container filled with sulfuric acid and a zinc electrode...

. The copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 cathode was replaced by a pool of mercury at the bottom of the jar. Above this was the mercurous sulfate paste and, above that, the zinc sulfate solution. A short zinc rod dipped into the zinc sulfate solution. The zinc rod was supported by a cork with two holes — one for the zinc rod and the other for a glass tube reaching to the bottom of the cell. A platinum
Platinum is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into "little silver of the Pinto River." It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal...

 wire, fused into the glass tube, made contact with the mercury pool. When complete, the cell was sealed with a layer of marine glue.

H-form cell

The H-form cell was introduced by Lord Rayleigh in 1882. It was set up in an H-shaped glass vessel with zinc amalgam in one leg and pure mercury, surmounted by a layer of mercurous sulfate paste, in the other. The vessel was filled, nearly to the top, with zinc sulfate solution. Electrical connections to the zinc amalgam and the mercury were made by platinum wires fused through the lower ends of the legs.


The cell yields a reference EMF
Electromotive force
In physics, electromotive force, emf , or electromotance refers to voltage generated by a battery or by the magnetic force according to Faraday's Law, which states that a time varying magnetic field will induce an electric current.It is important to note that the electromotive "force" is not a...

 of 1.4328 volt
The volt is the SI derived unit for electric potential, electric potential difference, and electromotive force. The volt is named in honor of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta , who invented the voltaic pile, possibly the first chemical battery.- Definition :A single volt is defined as the...

s at a temperature of 15 °C (288 kelvin
The kelvin is a unit of measurement for temperature. It is one of the seven base units in the International System of Units and is assigned the unit symbol K. The Kelvin scale is an absolute, thermodynamic temperature scale using as its null point absolute zero, the temperature at which all...

s). Reference cells must be applied in such a way that no current is drawn from them.

The design had two drawbacks—a rather large temperature coefficient
Temperature coefficient
The temperature coefficient is the relative change of a physical property when the temperature is changed by 1 K.In the following formula, let R be the physical property to be measured and T be the temperature at which the property is measured. T0 is the reference temperature, and ΔT is the...

 of −1.15 mV/°C, and corrosion problems caused by the platinum wires alloying with the zinc amalgam connections where they enter the glass envelope.

Clark cells were later made obsolete by the more temperature-independent Weston cell
Weston cell
The Weston cell, invented by Edward Weston in 1893, is a wet-chemical cell that produces a highly stable voltage suitable as a laboratory standard for calibration of voltmeters...



  • Practical Electricity by W. E. Ayrton and T. Mather, published by Cassell and Company, London, 1911, pp 198-203