High-voltage engineers create nearly 200-foot-long electrical arcs using less energy than before (Update)

Nov 08, 2011 By Chris Gorski, ISNS
This photograph shows a 60-meter-long lightning-like electrical arc, created by researchers at the University of Canterbury, in New Zealand. Credit: Credit: Rowan Sinton, Ryan van Herel, Dr. Wade Enright, and Prof. Pat Bodger (researchers), Ryan van Herel and Dr. Stewart Hardie (photo).

Photos taken by the researchers show plasma arcs up to 60 meters long casting an eerie blue glow over buildings and trees at the High Voltage Laboratory at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

A team of engineers at Canterbury University in New Zealand has developed a method to create nearly 200-foot-long electrical arcs -- visible currents of electricity traveling through air that has been broken down into electrically charged particles. Others have created longer arcs, but the traditional technique requires large amounts of energy in order to break down the air.

The new technique requires much less energy. In it, an arc travels along the path of a thin copper wire. At 0.2 mm, the wire is a little larger than the diameter of an average human hair. The wire explodes when a voltage is applied, creating a burst of light that lasts for about as long as an average camera flash, less than one thousandth of a second, and a plasma, a gas of charged particles.

Daniel Sinars, who researches fusion at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., has also worked with exploding wires, but at a much smaller scale. He found the arcs produced by the New Zealand researchers interesting.

"It's hard to make a plasma that size," said Sinars.

The team occasionally created plasma arcs during other exploding wire experiments and pursued the new research in order to better understand how the arcs formed.

Potential applications include use in studying atmospheric electricity and lightning, and creating coils and knots from plasmas. Credit: Ryan van Herel & Dr. Stewart Hardie

"We are fascinated by the plasma associated with electrical arcs," team members Wade Enright and Rowan Sinton wrote in an email to Inside Science. "We want to be able to create plasma in ways which allow us to study and apply it."

The researchers noted that the potential applications of this research include improving understanding of lightning, potentially through "artificially inducing lightning from thunderclouds," they said.

This would interest scientists because collecting data about lightning is difficult if it strikes randomly. Induction could be used to direct lightning to research equipment.

The New Zealand team is also developing coils and knots of plasma to study ball lightning, as well as other topics.

They estimate that hundreds of facilities around the world have the necessary equipment to create arcs the length of multiple football fields, and that perhaps a dozen have the capacity to create an arc of 1.2 miles.

A paper detailing the findings is scheduled to be published in the Journal of Applied Physics.


From now on, you can follow Physorg on Google+ too!

Explore further: Linear accelerator could improve X-rays, particle colliders

More information: "Generating Extra Long Arcs Using Exploding Wires" is accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Source: Inside Science News Service

3.9 /5 (43 votes)

Related Stories

Measuring Electrical Arcs At the Micrometer Scale

Mar 30, 2006

Air is a great insulator—except when it becomes a conductor. Under the right conditions, miniature lightning bolts of electricity will “arc” through the air between two electrically conducting points. ...

Vacuum arcs spark new interest

Nov 08, 2010

Whenever two pieces of metal at different voltages are brought near each other, as when an appliance is plugged into a live socket, there is a chance there will be an arc between them. Most of the arcs people ...

Making Steel Recycling Greener

Jan 26, 2010

A new process developed by Siemens cuts the energy required to recycle steel and also lowers carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

New plasma transistor could create sharper displays

Feb 04, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By integrating a solid-state electron emitter and a microcavity plasma device, researchers at the University of Illinois have created a plasma transistor that could be used to make lighter, ...

Saturn has small moon hidden in ring

Mar 03, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found within Saturn's G ring an embedded moonlet that appears as a faint, moving pinprick of light. Scientists believe it is a main source of the G ring and its ...

Recommended for you

Cooling with molecules

8 hours ago

An international team of scientists have become the first ever researchers to successfully reach temperatures below minus 272.15 degrees Celsius – only just above absolute zero – using magnetic molecules. ...

A 'Star Wars' laser bullet

9 hours ago

Action-packed science-fiction movies often feature colourful laser bolts. But what would a real laser missile look like during flight, if we could only make it out? How would it illuminate its surroundings? ...

User comments : 17

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

_nigmatic10
1 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2011
Reminds me of Real Genius with Val Kilmer.
axemaster
5 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2011
So is the arc stable or is it just a pulse while the wire explodes?

Based on the picture I would guess it is not stable, since the shape should deform rapidly over time due to heat and the lorentz force.
that_guy
5 / 5 (5) Nov 08, 2011
@axe - I think you are slightly off. For a lightning like arc or bolt, a plasma channel is created that continues to provide a conductive conduit for the arc to continue.

lightning bolts will often shoot up and down two or three times on the same plasma route - and I believe it would be able to go longer if it had a steady current rather than discharging in a few tremendous bolts.

The copper wire merely provides the initial conductive route and initial plasma...but it has more time to super heat the air immediately surrounding the current.

That said, I'm sure that it is gloriously dangerous, and not especially stable despite what I said above, and while there is probably a useful application for this, I think it is just ridiculously awesome. Horray for science!

Isaacsname
5 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2011
They should try some different metals :O

http://en.wikiped...ame_test

Callippo
1 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2011
IMO they're amateurs anyway... http://www.youtub...OZMW_45M
exploderator
5 / 5 (4) Nov 08, 2011
They have been doing exactly this for lightning research for maybe decades. They shoot disposable small rockets up into the sky, trailing a fine copper wire. The lightning discharges are triggered by the wire, which of course is almost instantly vaporized.

I am thus left somewhat puzzled that this technique is seen as something new.

I had hoped that it would be something more interesting, like pre-exiting a path through the air with focused lasers or somesuch.
CapitalismPrevails
2 / 5 (4) Nov 08, 2011
Light Sabers...here we come!
electrodynamic
5 / 5 (1) Nov 08, 2011
The first thing that came to my mind was the lightning research, using small rockets trailing wire, not to mention Benjamin Franklin, and his kite string. I have often wondered if you couldn't Ionize the air the same way with a laser to start the arc.
Jeddy_Mctedder
2 / 5 (4) Nov 08, 2011
the question is why does the wire exploding work?
i've heard of lazers being used to ionize air for the same reason---to pave a path for a lighting bolt, the same as does a first leg of lightining that no one sees ( we only see the connection bolt that is the 'flash' of the lightening.

if you ask me, the issue here is how to understand the process of ionizing an air chain in such a manner as to reduce the energy in a non-chain.

this is all total deductive reasoning from the laypersons perspective, i know nothing about this process but the anecdotal stories i've read. that said, i'm certain the ghost of tesla is well alive at darpa, because if you could find a wireless method of creating an energy efficient mechanism of sending giant electric bolts to destroy specific targets, then you'd have a weapon of the same sort of monstrously powerful capacity as that depicted famously in the movie district 9.

and it would be really badass.
jselin
5 / 5 (1) Nov 09, 2011
Google Ionatron or Applied Energetics... They were/are trying to commercialize laser guided energy weapons using laser ionized paths and dumping power down it :)
Decimatus
5 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2011
They have been doing exactly this for lightning research for maybe decades. They shoot disposable small rockets up into the sky, trailing a fine copper wire. The lightning discharges are triggered by the wire, which of course is almost instantly vaporized.

I am thus left somewhat puzzled that this technique is seen as something new.

I had hoped that it would be something more interesting, like pre-exiting a path through the air with focused lasers or somesuch.


If you notice the headline of the story, it states pretty clearly what they accomplished....

Long range arcs with "less" energy". They didn't draw this energy from a cloud, they input it into the arc itself.

The only problem with this article is that they didn't specify how much energy was needed to create that arc, or even how much "less" energy they needed.
jimbo92107
5 / 5 (1) Nov 09, 2011
You can't tell me these guys aren't doing this for the sheer fun of watching things go zzzzap!
Tesladownunder
5 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2011
Exploding wires takes about 1kJ per foot, so typically 200kJ for this distance is a ball park figure. A reasonable HV lab could do this. Don't forget that this is a millisecond event which would need huge amounts of power to sustain and it would rapidly contort with Lorenz forces anyway.
Not sure how useful this is scientifically apart from the Wow factor.
Here is my small version. Google tesladownunder exploding
rfmediatech
5 / 5 (1) Nov 10, 2011
Telsa was doing this 100 years ago. This is nothing new, except they are doing it with less current.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2011
Cool.

Now what would happen if we attached these electric arcs to the head of Newt Gingrich?

Lets experiment.
Husky
not rated yet Nov 13, 2011
could the arc stop/explode an incoming missile ? i was think about some protection net for a tank that works as an umbrella and arcs the ShT out of what ever touch the fine wire matrix
Shootist
1 / 5 (2) Nov 14, 2011
Cool.

Now what would happen if we attached these electric arcs to the head of Newt Gingrich?

Lets experiment.


Going to be fun if you say that after he becomes President. :0 'least wise, he's smarter than the rest, including Obama, and Biden. Too bad about his wives, cancer and girlfriends, though.