Armstrong Treasure Hunt: Wimshurst Machine

Written by Mike Lally ‘18

If one were to walk around Bicentennial Hall, one could see strange contraptions, ranging from one foot high to three feet all, behind glass that appear to be large discs with mallets attached.

Wimshurst Machine

Could these bizarre items be unusual clocks? Perhaps they were used in auditory demonstrations. After all, couldn’t the mallets bang on the disc as a musical instrument? No, the purpose of these machines was not to create sound, but electrical charge.

A device such as this is known as a Wimshurst machine. Invented in the 1880s by James Wimshurst, they belong to class of machines called electrostatic generators. Unlike other apparatus that create an electrostatic spark, a Wimshurst machine does so using induction rather than friction.

The two insulated discs rotate around, often by a mechanical crank, passing by neutralizer bars and brushes. Charges are induced onto the discs and collected onto the combs near the surface of the discs. The charges increase exponentially until the dielectric breakdown voltage of air is reached. When this occurs, a spark is created. The jars are Leyden jars, an early type of capacitor, and act to increase the accumulated charge.

This machine, although able to show the effects of electrostatic charges, can be put to other uses.

Professor Ernest C. Bryrant demonstrating how to operate this Wimshurst machine to students in a physics lab (c.1934).

By connecting it with a chain to an electrostatic orrery, such as that in the 5th floor display of BiHall, one can observe the charges actually turning the orrery. Indeed, there are quite a few electrostatic machines that are within the Middlebury Antique Science Collections that could be connected to a Wimshurst machine for amusing and educational demonstrations.
Wimshurst machines at Middlebury College can be found on the 5th floor of BiHall and in Armstrong Library.

Moodle Archive and the Transition to Canvas

Middlebury’s Moodle instance is redirecting to Please note that the archive is only accessible to Middlebury faculty, staff, and students who are accessing the site while on a Middlebury network, or via Middlebury VPN.

Archive Access

The site will prompt you with a drop-down request to login with your Middlebury username and password:

You will know that the login attempt worked when you are directed to Moodle.

To enter the site click the “Login” link which will re-direct to the MIddlebury login page. In testing, a dropdown menu came up a second time for some when attempting to login to Moodle as described below. Login once more with your Middlebury username and password.

Archive Restrictions

The archive will not be accessible to Middlebury self-registered guest accounts. The archive will be maintained until December 2018* when it is expected to be de-commissioned.

*December 2018 will mark the end of the two-year online course material retention policy since the adoption of Canvas in the Fall 2016 term.

Access from Course Hub

Active faculty, staff, and students can access the Moodle archives via Moodle links from the Course Hub. Clicking on a link to a past Moodle resource in Course Hub will prompt the login process described above.

Importing Moodle Courses into Canvas

We will continue to support faculty who plan to import archived course content from the Moodle archive to Canvas.* You may use the existing instructions to migrate your course sites, or you may request assistance.

*Some Moodle course archives are very large (greater than 1GB) due to repeated imports and remixing over the years. If your back-up is noticeably large, we may request that you be more selective with items included in the import file to reduce the file size import to Canvas. We may also make recommendations about ways to more distributively host file types (e.g. video and audio) that tend to take up greater amounts of server space.

Creating Back-Up Copies of Moodle Content for Personal Archiving

Moodle currently hosts course content dating back to Fall 2010 term. After December 2018, Moodle will be de-commissioned. If you would like to create a back-up of your Moodle formatted content for personal storage, we recommend following the course back-up process outlined by The process will produce an .mbz formatted file. This file format can be imported into Canvas or re-imported into another instance of Moodle* which could be accomplished by installing a copy of Moodle on a personal MiddCreate site. Alternatively, an .mbz file can be renamed to .zip format for limited file access, or storing on a cloud file storage account like Google Drive or Microsoft 365 OneDrive.

*Please note that Moodle is frozen at version of Moodle 2.8.8 while the most recent stable version of Moodle is 3.3.1 (as of July 2017). This means that archive content may not be fully compatible with newer versions of Moodle.

Additional Questions or Help?


Weekly Web Updates – July 31

We’ve added the Mathematica Toolbox plugin to WordPress, which allows you to embed animations and graphics from that application. We have also added the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin, which lets you create podcast feeds that will work in iTunes and embed playlists of your podcast in your posts. This replaces the TSG Podcasting plugin, which can no longer be enabled.


Fixes and Tweaks

  • If you are using the FlatOn theme in WordPress and set your homepage to be a single page, rather than a list of posts, the theme will now display that page without all the boilerplate content that the theme used to add.
  • Users of the L&ITS Wiki are now able to delete pages.
  • When viewing a single event in the Arts section of the Middlebury Drupal site, the featured image no longer wraps below the sidebar. Additional fixes made to the ArtsMail newsletter, removing the Google Tag Manager code and moving body content back into the short description.
  • Annual update to the Language Schools interest form to enable an additional graduation year.

Ongoing Work

  • Creating a new website for the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
  • Building out the configuration of our CAS servers in Chef, which is a configuration management system. We have already completed this work for our Drupal, WordPress, MediaWiki, GO, Omeka, and the Course Catalog services.
  • Upgrading the Drupal sites for the Davis programs, Dining Menus, and Museum of Art to Drupal 8.

WebPrint Update: Vendor Patch Applied

ITS staff installed the vendor’s patch to our WebPrint services this past weekend and print jobs have been processing smoothly since that time.  We are optimistic that this resolved the earlier instability issues experienced by many.  We thank everyone for their patience during the troubleshooting process and apologize for any inconvenience.

As we move into the busiest phase of our language programs when the printing volume increases substantially, please note that opening and printing documents directly from labs, public computers, and faculty office spaces result in the fastest and most reliable printing (see option 1 at  Documents in cloud storage can be easily opened and printed from any networked computer, as can documents sent to yourself via e-mail.

Systems Maintenance this Sunday, July 30th

During our regular 6am – 10am EST maintenance window we have the following activities scheduled:


  • The VT campuses PaperCut print management system will be upgraded to address an issue with the WebPrint feature
    • Print servers will be unavailable for use up to 90 minutes during the maintenance window
    • Afterward, upgrading the individual print release stations will take an additional 90-120 minutes


We appreciate your patience as we continuously strive to keep our systems functioning optimally.





Billy Sneed

ITS – Central Systems & Network Services

Middlebury College

Weekly Web Updates – July 24

We’ve made several chances to the front-end performance of the Drupal cluster to reduce page load times. All static text files served, including favicons, are now compressed before being inserted into the front-end caches. Additionally, we now instruct client browsers to store the CSS and JavaScript files produced by Drupal for up to two weeks, rather than only five minutes. New URLs for these files are generated when we clear the site cache, which happens any time we deploy an update, which will cause browsers to fetch the new files. Images served by some high-level pages on the MIIS site were also optimized.


  • Drupal token_language 8.x-1.x-dev
  • Drupal viewsreference 8.x-1.0-rc2
  • WordPress BadgeOS:
  • WordPress BBPress 2.5.13
  • WordPress enable-media-replace 3.1
  • WordPress wysija-newsletters
  • WordPress post-expirator 2.3.1
  • WordPress post-types-order
  • WordPress  the-events-calendar
  • WordPress social-icons-widget-by-wpzoom 3.0.0
    WordPress members 2.0

Fixes and Tweaks

  • The “short description” of all events in the Arts section was moved to the body field so that the short description can be used to override the body for the ArtsMail email newsletter, which also had its template updated and a new view created to make it easier to assemble.
  • Added a [mailchimp URL] shortcode to Drupal so that MailChimp campaign embeds can be added to the site.
  • Moved the MiddSafe Advocates information to its new location in the Health and Wellness Education site and set up redirects for the old URLs.
  • Fixed an issue were the Drupal login page would sometimes break if it thought it should display a carousel.

Ongoing Work

  • Creating a new website for the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
  • Building out the configuration of our CAS servers in Chef, which is a configuration management system. We have already completed this work for our Drupal, WordPress, MediaWiki, GO, Omeka, and the Course Catalog services.
  • Upgrading the Drupal sites for the Davis programs, Dining Menus, and Museum of Art to Drupal 8.

A tour of Middlebury’s wireless network

Please join us for a special ITS Tech Partners meeting.  Rick James, our wireless network administrator, will provide a behind the scenes tour of Middlebury’s wireless network.  He’ll start with some basic information about how wireless networking works and how it is different than wired networking.  He’ll then describe Middlebury’s wireless architecture and how it has evolved over the last several years, including the recent extension to our Monterey, CA campus so that now wireless at MIDD and MIIS operate as one logical wireless network.  Rick will demonstrate how we use some of our monitoring tools to plan our wireless network deployment through a building, how we troubleshoot issues, measure performance and capacity.  Additionally, Rick recently analyzed a student survey of our wireless services, he’ll share the results and seek your input on constructing a similar survey for faculty and staff.

If you ever wonder how wifi works and Middlebury future plans for wireless, be sure to attend this ITS Tech Partners meeting.  All are welcome, please share with others you think might be interested.

When:  Wednesday, July 26, 2017 from 3:00 – 4:00 pm ET

Where:  Library 145 and Zoom: