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Spark from the Deep

, 304 pages
July 2013



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Spark from the Deep

How Shocking Experiments with Strongly Electric Fish Powered Scientific Discovery

Spark from the Deep tells the story of how human beings came to understand and use electricity by studying the evolved mechanisms of strongly electric fish. These animals have the ability to shock potential prey or would-be predators with high-powered electrical discharges.

William J. Turkel asks completely fresh questions about the evolutionary, environmental, and historical aspects of people’s interest in electric fish. Stimulated by painful encounters with electric catfish, torpedos, and electric eels, people learned to harness the power of electric shock for medical therapies and eventually developed technologies to store, transmit, and control electricity. Now we look to these fish as an inspiration for engineering new sensors, computer interfaces, autonomous undersea robots, and energy-efficient batteries.

William J. Turkel is an associate professor of history at the University of Western Ontario and is author of The Archive of Place: Unearthing the Pasts of the Chilcotin Plateau.

"Turkel has a very imaginative and bold central proposition: that acquaintance with electric fishes is connected to the harnessing of electricity. He is able to bounce around among piscine evolution, plate tectonics, electromagnetism, the history of science, and much else with ease and aplomb. I can imagine a prize-winning book here."

"This beautifully written and exhaustively researched book traces the links between experiments on strongly electric fish and scientific understanding of electricity... Turkel's book is a joy to read; it will entertain and educate scientists, historians, and anyone with an interest in the natural world."

"Turkel's book convincingly reminds us that all the laptops and gadgets we surround ourselves with are remixes; altered versions of strongly electric fish. For that strange and insightful observation, this book ought to be widely read and enjoyed."

"[I]t is refreshing to explore a book which takes seriously ancient encounters with manifestations of natural electricity as precursors to more recent innovations."

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