Identify It! an ongoing interactive feature of Harris Educational'sblog (at reinventingscience.wordpress.com) and fan page on
Facebook (atwww.facebook.com/HarrisEducational). We posta picture of an item that relates in some way to science,technology, or math. Fans post comments guessing thefunction, purpose, or significance of the item. We then post theanswer to our blog along with this formatted printable sheet.Our answer will usually include detailed information about theitem as well as educational resources, links, and more.
Answer: Metal Oxide Rectifiers
Specifically Selenium Rectifiers and Copper Oxide RectifiersThe large square green stack is about 2” on a side and wasremoved from an unrepairable Motorola 17” TV from the early1950's (similar model to 17T3). The light blue stack in the frontof the picture is about 1” on a side. It is no longer functional andwas removed from a 1950's Sherwood model 36 high fidelitymonaural audio amplifier. (The amplifier was repaired byreplacing the selenium rectifier with a pair of high current silicondiodes). The “round” green stack is actually a copper oxiderectifier and was removed from a 1960's era rotary converter (also sometimes known as a dynamotor, a device for convertinglow DC voltage to a higher AC voltage and then back into ahigher DC voltage). The other rectifiers were removed fromother 1950's and 1960's era televisions and other equipment.
So What is it?
Metal Oxide Rectifiers are electrical devices that allow electricalcurrent to only flow in one direction in a circuit. They areanalogous to one-way valves as used in an air or vacuumpump.Metal oxide rectifiers are used in power supply circuits toconvert alternating current (A.C.) into direct current (D.C.) Theywere invented in 1933 many years prior to the invention of thesemiconductor diode. Selenium rectifiers were used up untilabout 1975 in place of vacuum tube diodes in electronic devicessuch as television sets and photocopiers because they weremore efficient (about 85% vs. 60% for vacuum tubes), couldhandle a larger amount of current, and are “instantly-on” sincethey don't have to warm up like a vacuum tube does before itcan operate. Although they are mostly obsolete today they arestill manufactured and used in applications that requirerectification of a large amount of electrical current such as inbattery chargers and welding equipment.Most Selenium or Copper Oxide rectifiers were put together asa stack of individual cells. Each cell could withstand about 20volts. By adding multiple cells in series the voltage rating couldbe increased almost indefinitely. Selenium rectifiers couldhandle a larger amount of current (around 50 milliamperes per square centimeter, 50ma/cm
) than Copper Oxide rectifiers andreplaced them in most applications. The large metal plates(either square or round) function as a heat sink, providing alarge surface area to transfer heat to the surrounding air.Each cell in a Selenium rectifier is made up of a pressure platemade of either aluminum or steel. This plate is then coveredwith a very thin coating of another metal such as lead, bismuth,or nickel. A much thicker layer of selenium (usually doped witha halogen) is first heated in an annealing process to form tinygray hexagonal crystals and is then deposited as the next layer.Another steel or aluminum plate is added next in the stack, as isa steel heat sink plate.
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Identify It! Image Posted on 10-29-2009 Exploded Diagram of a 2-cell Selenium Rectifier