Built on Facts

Spring Break

Thursday and Friday of this week are the staff and faculty equivalent of spring break here at Texas A&M. I’m going to be spending them on the road, visiting family and friends. As such Built on Facts is going to be on break for a few days. We’ll be back Monday – possibly sooner.

Until then, here’s a video of a Tesla coil tuned to play the Imperial March while zapping somebody (safely clad in electricity-diverting chain mail). Enjoy, and I’ll see you back here soon!

Oh, let me point something else out. The guy is standing on a box. The sparks flow down his body and over the box with no problem. It’s commonly thought that being in a car keeps you safe from lightning because of the rubber tires insulating you from the ground. In fact they don’t. Lightning has more than enough voltage to jump the gap between the hubcaps and the ground. The car keeps you safe because the metal body of the car short-circuits the current around you, inside the car. The tires don’t have anything to do with it.


  1. #1 Kobra
    March 19, 2009

    That was the coolest thing I’ve seen in a while. Shocking!

  2. #2 rob
    March 19, 2009

    lightning can cross an air gap of a 1000 meters with no problem. your tires by comparison are a nice conductive path to ground.

  3. #3 Tualha
    March 19, 2009

    Coolest? It’s the freaking craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Mad scientists, indeed 🙂

  4. #4 Alice
    March 19, 2009

    That was awesome!

  5. #5 bigjohn756
    March 19, 2009

    Did y’all notice the fluorescent light flashing along with the ‘music’?

  6. #6 Chris P
    March 19, 2009

    Yes – totally mad scientists. I visited the Tesla museum when it was running in Colorado Springs with my then young daughter.

    “Would you like a demonstration of the Tesla coil” said the guy.

    No thanks (unsaid – I do not wish to inflict broadband electromagnetic radiation on my body).

    If you knew what was in the spectrum (plus the ozone) you wouldn’t do it.

  7. #7 Tualha
    March 19, 2009

    No doubt there’d be a little UV, but I doubt there’d be as much as you get from being out in the sun. Want to be more specific?

  8. #8 CCPhysicist
    March 20, 2009

    There are other videos like this. I think I’ve seen a guy in this same suit outside.

    The suit helps keep you from getting burned at the points of contact. The high frequency energy flows over your body rather than through it, but will burn your skin where it hits you. As for UV, yes, but you will only get into the X region for high enough Z. The purple is emission from highly ionized N gas. I’m too lazy to calculate it, but the highest E photons for Z=7 are under 100 eV.

  9. #9 Tualha
    March 20, 2009

    Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that high-frequency current mostly flows through the surface of a conductor.

    And the bloke in the suit was waving his arms exactly like…a conductor 🙂

  10. #10 Anonymous
    March 22, 2009

    It’s interesting how a something like the reason you’re safer from lightening in a car, which is based on a fact, can be misunderstood by so many people.

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