Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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Van de Graaff Generators - The Indoor Lightning Machine!

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After you've seen a Van De Graaff generator in action: the big loud sparks, the power to make hair stand straight up, and the constant sizzling and crackling of live static electricity - you would think it was a machine of extensive complexity and advanced technology. But when you remove the dome and the base cover to look inside the machine, the simplicity of the device is remarkable. Two pulleys, a belt, wire combs, a metal dome, an electric motor, and a plastic column. No computers, no high-powered transformers. It is amazing that a machine made of such common components, first designed and built back in the 1930s, can put on such a dramatic display of power.

ABOVE RIGHT: A Van De Graaff machine, a larger 3-foot tall tabletop model.

Sparks from Van De Graaff generator
ABOVE: Close-up view of lightning-like 6-inch long sparks from a tabletop Van De Graaff machine striking the hand of the operator. More VDG Photos

Safe and powerful, the Van De Graaff machine is quite possibly the ideal electrostatic generator. Even small tabletop models are capable of reaching hundreds of thousands of volts of potential. That's enough energy to make anyone's hair stand on end and create big, bright and loud sparks longer than any other type of electrostatic machine. Unlike Tesla coils and Marx impulse generators, small Van De Graaff machines and their sparks are safe to touch and handle. The buildup and sudden release of charge in a Van De Graaff's spark resembles a lightning strike more than the continuous arc of a Tesla coil, making it a good simulator of natural lightning.

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