Video still of the Corpus Clock

Stephen Hawking Unveils Unusual Clock

September 19, 2008 11:37 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Corpus Clock, a mechanism with no hands that uses light to show time, pays tribute to legendary clockmaker John Harrison.

Hawking Reveals Clock

Dr. John Taylor of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge invented and designed the clock, which is installed on the exterior of the school’s new library building, reports the Telegraph. Hawking is a cosmologist and the bestselling author of “A Brief History of Time.”

The gold clock makes use of six patented inventions
, a swinging pendulum, and its most startling feature—a blinking, lizardlike beast crouched on top that is meant to symbolize the devouring of time. The mechanism, which consists of traditional clockwork and no digital parts, took seven years to research and build, and it is estimated that it will run for at least 250 years.

“It is terrifying, it is meant to be,” said Taylor in an interview with the Guardian. “Basically I view time as not on your side. He’ll eat up every minute of your life, and as soon as one has gone he’s salivating for the next. It’s not a bad thing to remind students of. I never felt like this until I woke up on my 70th birthday, and was stricken at the thought of how much I still wanted to do, and how little time remained.”

Taylor is an inventor whose creations include a thermostat switch that is used in electric kettles. He says that Harrison, a clockmaker who discovered a method to establish longitude at sea, is one of his heroes.

In 2006, Harrison’s last masterpiece, the Late Regulator clock was restored more than 230 years after the death of its maker. Harrison had worked on the clock for 36 years and was still calibrating it when he died.

Key Players: Stephen Hawking, John Harrison

Stephen Hawking was born on Jan. 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. He attended St. Albans School and the University College, Oxford, where he studied physics. He later attended Cambridge to study cosmology, eventually receiving his Ph.D., and later became a fellow at Gonville and Caius College. Since 1979 he has been the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. His research concerns the basic laws of the universe. His publications include “The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime,” “General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey,” “300 Years of Gravity,” “A Brief History of Time” and “Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays.”

John Harrison was born in 1693 in Yorkshire and was the son of a poor carpenter. He became fascinated by watches at the age of 6, when he fell ill with smallpox and was given one by his parents. He eventually learned how to make and repair clocks, and started to improve upon how they were built. One of Harrison’s innovations was a pendulum resembling a gridiron that was made out of alternating steel and brass rods. Another was the “grasshopper” escapement, which is a device used to control the release of a clock’s driving power. In 1735 he finished his first version of a marine clock to be used at sea. After working on several improved versions, he was awarded 20,000 pounds by Parliament as part of a competition to find a way to establish longitude while at sea. Harrison became known as “Longitude Harrison” for his achievement.

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