Jules Verne's: REMARKABLE SUBMARINE PROPHECIES

By Whitman, Edward C. | Sea Classics, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Jules Verne's: REMARKABLE SUBMARINE PROPHECIES


Whitman, Edward C., Sea Classics


Classic science-fiction writer Jules Verne was amazingly prophetic in foretelling both the design and use of submarines nearly a century before the first nuclear submersibles went to sea

With its imaginative technology, Capt. Nemo's engineering plant for Nautilus is certainly the most extraordinary aspect of his design. On behalf of his nautical protagonist, Verne conceived what was essentially an "all-electric" ship at a time when the first practical applications of electricity were only a few decades old and a century before building any such ships became feasible. In Capt. Nemo's oft-quoted words, "There is a powerful agent, obedient, rapid, facile, which can be put to any use and reigns supreme on board my ship. It does everything. It illuminates our ship, it warms us, it is the soul of our mechanical apparatus. This agent is... electricity."

And indeed, Nautilus uses electricity for cooking, lighting, distilling fresh water, running pumps and other auxiliaries, instrumentation, and, of course, main propulsion. The ship is fitted with a conventional four-bladed propeller at the stern, six meters (20-ft) in diameter and coaxial with the centerline of the hull. Consistent with the relative diameters of the hull and propeller and the freeboard prescribed by Capt. Nemo, Prof. Aronnax observes that when surfaced, the propeller blades occasionally rise above the waves, "beating the water with mathematical precision." Verne has Nemo claiming a speed of 50-kts at 120 revolutions per second -probably in error. One hundred-twenty revolutions per minute makes much more engineering sense for a propeller that size, particularly in view of the type of engine that powers the submarine.

Curiously, the main propulsion engine on Nautilus is not a rotating electric motor. English scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) had established the principle of the rotating motor by 1825, and an American blacksmith, Thomas Davenport, had patented a direct-current (DC) motor with all its essentials - rotating coils, a commutator, and brushes - in 1837. Yet, despite the fact that several motor-driven electric vehicles had been demonstrated in both Europe and America by mid-century, Verne's notional design for the prime mover on Nautilus emerges as the electrical analog of a reciprocating steam engine, "where large electromagnets actuate a system of levers and gears that transmit the power to the propeller shaft." In other words, the main engine seems to be mechanically equivalent to a steam engine with "large electromagnets" replacing conventional pistons - a choice that seems strangely backward-looking in light of Verne's technical sophistication.

In contrast, the "breakthrough" that enables Nemo to generate virtually unlimited electrical power extrapolates electrical science so far into the future that only "the willing suspension of disbelief keeps technically-astute readers onboard. Although some hasty writers have wrongly portrayed Nautilus as "nuclear-powered," the actual source for her vast reserves of electricity is described as a hugely scaled-up elaboration of a well-known 19thcentury primary battery, the Bunsen cell. Invented in 1841 by German physicist Robert Bunsen (1811-1899) - better known for devising the "Bunsen burner" - the Bunsen cell uses a carbon cathode in nitric acid and a zinc anode in dilute sulfuric acid, with a porous separator between the liquids. The device generates a potential of 1.89 volts, and later versions added potassium dichromate as a depolarizer.1 Let Capt. Nemo describe his fundamental modification:

"Mixed with mercury, sodium forms an amalgam that takes the place of zinc in Bunsen batteries. The mercury is never consumed, only the sodium is used up, and the sea resupplies me with that. Moreover, I can tell you, sodium batteries are more powerful. Their electric motive (sic) force is twice that of zinc batteries."

Had this actually been tried, the reaction of metallic sodium with sulfuric acid would have been exciting to behold. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Jules Verne's: REMARKABLE SUBMARINE PROPHECIES
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.