Exposition

Potentiometer

Exhibit no. 615

Potentiometers are variable resistors or voltage dividers that can be manually adjusted. They are used to control electrical devices by regulating the flow of electricity.

The exhibit is a 4 kiloohm, 27.5 W Helipot potentiometer manufactured by Beckman Instruments Ltd. It was a part of the MS902 double-focusing mass spectrometer (AEI Scientific Apparatus Ltd., 1969) main panel, where it served to control the ion beam centering.

Helipot potentiometers are based on a design of helical potentiometers designed by Arnold O. Beckman in 1940 for use in his popular pH meter. The precision of this dial caught the eye of the MIT Radiation Laboratory’s secret radar project during World War II. Beckman redesigned the helipot to meet the needs of the United States military and set up a separate company, also called Helipot, to keep up with the demand for these knobs. In the 1950s, Helipot was reincorporated into Beckman Instruments as the Helipot Division and continued to make potentiometers and other electrical components for decades, those tiny dials becoming staples of the electronics manufacturing industry.

Armstrong & Hess: “Helipot Potentiometers with Domino,” 1960–1969. Beckman Historical Collection, Box 85. Science History Institute. Philadelphia. 

Wikipedia: Potentiometers

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