Up to 24,000 people around the world die every year from lightning-related incidents, so you might think this natural phenomenon is something to be feared and avoided. That's not always the case, however. For example, check this out:
Your browser does not support the video tag. NUTEK Corporation on YouTube
This is an example of what is called a Lichtenberg figure, which occurs when an electrical charge — like a bolt of lightning — strikes a type of material and gets trapped.
The material can be made of any type of insulating substance — like glass, acrylic, or even human flesh. By nature, insulators are poor conductors of electricity, so how do you get them to host such a powerful electric charge like lightning? The simple yet counterintuitive answer is that you transform them from a poor conductor into a good one.
To understand how this works, think about how a lightning bolt forms in the sky:
You need two oppositely charged ends, like a negatively charged cloud and the positively charged ground. When the charges grow strong enough they generate a powerful discharge in a brilliant display of white, heated gas.
In the example above, someone has placed an insulating material (most likely glass or acrylic) under a device called a cathode ray tube, which produces a powerful beam of negatively charged electrons traveling at 99% the speed of light.
In order to get the electrons to discharge inside of the glass or acrylic, you must first insert charged particles into the material through a process called irradiation.
Then, that sets up the same conditions that lead to a lightning strike: When the electrons from the cathode ray meet the charged portions of the insulating material, those portions instantly become electrically conductive and you get a miniature, but powerful, lightning strike.
Check out the full video on YouTube below:
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