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Physics/Plasma globes


QUESTION: I have an electric lava lamp shaped lightning thingy and was wondering if making one from scratch would be a large undertaking? I'd like to experiment with shapes or have electricity travel down a  long clear tube or something.

ANSWER: Ummmm... that involves a vacuum pump, unless you know someone who has a trick to get around that, to get to low pressure.  Not really down to what people would refer to as "vacuum," but very low pressure.  Anyhow, perhaps what you really want to make sounds something like a Jacob's ladder.  See here:

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Not really. I like seeing electricity kind of fill the surface area of a shape. I don't suppose anyone who has the equipment to create a near vacuum could create custom shaped lightning globes? Must the material always be glass?

Well, you need something rigid and clear, and plastics are generally a little too insulating.  They also don't hold vacuum well.  You could probably find a neon sign maker and give it a try, they have the power supplies and the glassworking tools, and the equipment to handle gasses...presumably vacuum pumps, too.  That's really probably who you should contact to make something custom like you're thinking.


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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson


I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.


I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

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