Lightning Trapped Forever in a Box

By Anupum Pant

On a cloudy and stormy night (or almost all the time, in this part of Venezuela), dark clouds separate charges and are able to put together the right conditions to send off one of the nature’s most powerful forces from the heavens – lightning.

The air break downs and a great amount of static charge gets transferred through the path of least resistance. And a bolt of bright light is seen for a fraction of a second. It lasts for a very little time.

lichtenberg-figureAs it happens too quickly, the exact shape of a lightning bolt is difficult to see. However, a long time back, a German physicist, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, figured something that could help make the lightning bolt last longer. Or in fact, it could trap the lightning tree-pattern forever in an insulator (eg acrylic or wood etc.). The tree-like figure is called the Litchenberg figure after the person’s name (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg) who first noticed this.

Isn’t it a nice sculpture to have – a block acrylic with a lightning bolt permanently trapped in it! Or may be it could be a great gift for your physicist friend. But, sometimes the litchenberg figure isn’t a desirable thing to have…

People who unfortunately end up getting hit by lightning, sometimes survive to this permanent tree-shaped scar mark (or tattoo) – A permanent litchenberg figure gets printed on their skin. It looks like this.

litchenberg figure on skin

Making Xrays Using a Sticky Tape

By Anupum Pant

It’s been known since the 1950s that peeling a sticky tape can produce great amounts of energy. But it wasn’t until recently (in the year 2009) a few scientists, who also didn’t quite believe what sticky tapes could do, decided to actually test this phenomenon.

Astoundingly, a simple act of peeling an adhesive tape, can produce enough xrays to make a Geiger counter cry like a cricket.

In fact, the xrays produced by peeling off sticky tape at the rate of about 5cm per second inside an evacuated chamber can produce enough xrays that can expose a photographic film – enabling you to take an xray of your finger – as demonstrated by the researchers in the video below.

The video is fairly old, was uploaded in the year 2009 and I somehow have never stumbled upon it. It seems relevant even today. Thanks to ScienceDump for showing me this today.

Imagine, you can take an xray picture of your finger using a simple adhesive tape (peeling off in vacuum of course). Scientists possibly couldn’t have discovered a cheaper source of producing xrays.

The vacuum is needed to let enough charge to accumulate before the medium in between the charges breaks. Had the peeling been done in atmospheric pressure, it would have just produced visible light (lower energy than xrays). You can even try doing that at home. Go to a dark room and try peeling off a sticky tape quickly. Thanks to the effect called triboluminescence, you’ll be able to see a spark of light coming out!