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Burning Lightning into Wood: Lichtenberg Figures

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Channel: The Royal Institution
Categories: Art   |   Fine Arts   |   Chemistry   |   Science  
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Lichtenberg figures are formed by running a electricity across a non-conductive surface. Natasha explains the science behind them.
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Lichtenberg figures are beautiful branching patterns that can be burned into wood using electricity. The voltages and currents used are incredibly high so this should never be attempted at home.

Wood is a good insulator, which means that electricity won't travel through it easily. But once the surface is brushed with a salt solution, this changes. The piece of wood can conduct electricity between the two bolts on either side.

The heat generated at the bolts evaporates the water and burns off a portion of the wood, leaving behind carbon in a form that conducts electricity. The carbon creates a pathway where current can flow, advancing in a conductive front until they meet the front coming from the other side, culminating in a bright flash.

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