The Weston cell is a wet-chemical cell that produces a highly stable voltage suitable as a laboratory standard for calibration of voltmeters. Invented by Edward Weston in 1893, it was adopted as the International Standard for EMF between 1911 and 1990.
The anode is an amalgam of cadmium with mercury with a cathode of pure mercury over which a paste of mercurous sulphate and mercury is placed. The electrolyte is a saturated solution of cadmium sulfate octahydrate, and the depolarizer is a paste of mercurous sulfate.
As shown in the illustration, the cell is set up in an H-shaped glass vessel with the cadmium amalgam in one leg and the pure mercury in the other. Electrical connections to the cadmium amalgam and the mercury are made by platinum wires fused through the lower ends of the legs.
Anode reaction: Cd(s) → Cd2+(aq) + 2e−
Cathode reaction: (Hg+)2SO42−(s) + 2e− → 2Hg(l) + SO42−(aq)
Reference cells must be applied in such a way that no current is drawn from them.
The temperature coefficient can be reduced by shifting to an unsaturated design, the predominant type today. However, an unsaturated cell's output decreases by some 80 microvolts per year, which is compensated by periodic calibration against a saturated cell.
- Robert B. Northrop Introduction to instrumentation and measurements 2nd edCRC Press, 2005 ISBN 0-8493-3773-9 page 14
- Practical Electricity by W. E. Ayrton and T. Mather, published by Cassell and Company, London, 1911, pp 198–203
- U.S. Patent 494,827, "Voltaic cell"
- Standard Cells, Their Construction, Maintenance, and Characteristics by Walter J. Hamer, National Bureau of Standards Monograph 84, January 15, 1965.