Published on 10 February 2015 by Bert Hickman

Making Captured Lightning is LOUD - you may want to reduce turn the audio volume down. Skip to 0:51 to see discharge. This is a 15" x 20" x 2" 3D Captured Lightning sculpture being created inside a large slab of clear acrylic plastic. These are also known as Lichtenberg figures or "beam trees". This specimen was passed through a 5 million electron volt (MeV) beam of electrons from a particle accelerator, flipped 180 degrees, and then passed through the beam once again. The high-energy electron beam injected trillions of extra electrons into the slab, creating two separate cloud-like layers of electrical charge, each located about 1/2" below the surface. We then released the trapped charge by poking the slab with a sharp metal point. This created a small defect that allowed most of the excess charges to rush out with a brilliant lightning-like flash and BANG. However, the main discharge doesn't remove all of the trapped charge, so thousands of small pockets of residual charge flash for up to 30 minutes afterwards. Before being discharged, the electrical potential of the internal charge layers exceeded 2.5 million volts. The powerful electrical discharges create thousands of small tubes and fractures in the acrylic, creating a permanent inch-thick "fossil" of their passage through the slab - a 3D Lichtenberg figure. More information about Captured Lightning sculptures, the history of Lichtenberg figures, the physics of the process, and our galleries of sculptures available for purchase can be found here:

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