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Making "Captured Lightning" (Million-volt Sculptures)





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Uploaded on Oct 6, 2009

This video shows how we create "Captured Lightning" sculptures. It was assembled from video clips that were taken over several years.Our team of experienced "Spark Whisperers" uses a 5 million electron volt (MeV) particle accelerator to inject hundreds of trillions of electrons deep inside pieces of clear acrylic. The electrons come to rest about 1/4" to 1/2" below the irradiated surface, forming a cloud-like layer of negative charge, called a space charge. Since PMMA is an excellent electrical insulator, the intensely-charged layer becomes temporarily trapped inside the specimen, similar to the way charge is temporarily stored within clouds inside a thunderstorm before a lightning strike. The internal potential of the space charge region can exceed 2.5 million volts!

Fully-charged specimens are then carefully discharged by tapping them with a sharp metal point. This creates a small fracture in the acrylic that allows the trapped electrons to suddenly escape. As they surge out, they form a highly-branched network of high-current, lightning-like electrical discharges. The white-hot discharges create countless branching chains of microscopic fractures and tubes within the PMMA, leaving behind a permanent "fossil" of the discharge paths. The scientific name for this pattern is a "Lichtenberg figure", named in honor of the 18th century physicist who discovered them, Georg C. Lichtenberg. They are sometimes called beam trees or electron trees - we call ours Captured Lightning sculptures.

The branching fractal discharge patterns are unique for each sculpture. They are also incredibly detailed - the finest tips are thought to extend down to the molecular level. As with snowflakes, every sculpture is truly a unique work of scientific art, individually sculpted within billionths of a second by a torrent of raging electrons.

Our sculptures combine high-energy physics with art. You can learn more about the history and physics of Lichtenberg figures or purchase one of your own at our web site:

Physics is fun!
Stoneridge Engineering - Wreaking Havoc with Electrons for Over 40 Years!


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