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The Corpus Clock

by John

The Corpus Clock

The Corpus Clock is a very unusual timepiece. It has no hands or numbers on it’s dial; merely a series of apertures through which light is being cycled. The horologiboffins at Long Now described these as “epicyclic mechanically phased vernier openings” – I’m going to take their word on that. The video tour below gives a good overview of the clock and the movement.

The Chronophage
The clock is full of horological in-jokes, the most prominent of which is the Chronophage (literally “time eater”), a huge grasshopper automata that skulks atop the clock eating the pulses as they fly by. Although electrically powered the clock features the worlds largest grasshopper escapement, an invention of the celebrated maverick clockmaker John Harrison. The video below shows a grasshopper escapement in action.

The clock was unveiled last week by professor Stephen Hawking at it’s home on the wall of the Taylor Library in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England. The Corpus Clock is the creation of British inventor John Taylor, a fellow of the college. Taylor, who retired in 2000, made his fortune in the 70’s designing thermostats for kettles. He reportedly invested £1 million of his own money in the project.

Thanks to Pete for the original story.

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Tom Armitstead December 2, 02008 - 10:09 am

I pass the new Corpus clock quite often and I must admit that I am very dissappointed with it. Having seen the excellent video on your site I am still far from convinced that this a nechanical clock.

It has obviously been designed by an acadenic rather than a clockmaker. There are indeed lots of horological in-jokes of a scholarly kind, and the electronic blue display is bang up to date. However the grasshopper sculpture does not appear to be actually regulating the clock. In addition, and what is not shown in the video, is that the clock pendulum occasionally stops, restarts and speeds up. I think this is supposed to be another reference to time catching up, etc., but the resulting impression is that there is something very wrong with the mechanism. The amplified tick of the clock and the swinging of the ‘bells’ to strike the hour completes the perception that it is not mechanical at all but a poor application of a micro-controller project.

Perhaps the next public clock in Cambridge will do more unusual things on the hour, be more interesting to watch, celebrate events throughout the year, and generally suprise and amuse those who look at it.

Thank you for putting together such an interesting site.

Best wishes

Tom Armitstead

John December 2, 02008 - 10:39 am

Thanks Tom,

I haven’t had a chance to get up to Cambridge to see the clock myself. It was interesting to hear from someone who has seen it up close. As I understand it the clock is electrically powered so your right that it’s not entirely ‘mechanical’.

When I heard about the story of the Corpus Clock it reminded me a bit of the Clock of the Long Now, in that both are monumental horological projects by successful tech entrepeneurs.

John D


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