Published on 07 October 2009 by Bert Hickman

Our sculptures combine high-energy physics with art. You can learn more about the history and physics of Lichtenberg figures and get one of your very own at the following links:

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, an 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!

A fully-charged specimen is then carefully discharged by tapping it 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, the flowing electrons 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 pattern is 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.

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

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