An electroscope is an early scientific instrument that is used to detect the presence and magnitude of
electric charge on a body. It was the first electrical measuring instrument. The first electroscope, a
pivoted needle called the versorium (picture to the right), was invented by British physician William
Gilbert around 1600. The pith-ball electroscope and the gold-leaf electroscope are two classical
types of electroscope that are still used to demonstrate electrostatics. A type of electroscope is also
used in the quartz fiber radiation dosimeter.
Electroscopes detect electric charge by the motion of a test object due to the Coulomb electrostatic
force. The electric potential or voltage of an object equals its charge divided by its capacitance, so
electroscopes can be regarded as crude voltmeters. The accumulation of enough charge to detect
with an electroscope requires hundreds or thousands of volts, so electroscopes are only used with
high voltage sources such as static electricity and electrostatic machines.
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