Electric Blue Sparks!
No Batteries or Electrical Outlet Required!

a hot 3/4 inch spark Small lightning, about an inch and a half. More small lightning, at least two inches long.
In the center of this contraption you see a large PVC cylinder. That cylinder rotates. It's glued to a length of 1/2" PVC pipe with a handle on the top. The 1/2" pipe is slid over a metal rod that is fit into the wooden base. On the left side you see a 1/2"PVC tube that is fit into the base, with a fur pad on it. While the cylinder rotates it rubs against the fur.  On the right side there is another length of 1/2" PVC fit into the base. This PVC arm holds a piece of copper tubing that has a serrated piece of aluminum flashing attached to it (pop can metal or metal screen would work too). The joints aren't glued so the arm is adjustable. The points on the strip of flashing are adjusted so they barely brush the cylinder. 

     This is a photo of a static electricity generator. It's made mostly of PVC pipe and fittings. The Leyden Jar (capacitor) can be easily made from a food container or film canister. A charge builds up in the Leyden jar as the  PVC cylinder rotates against a fur pad. It creates a (very) visible spark when the capacitor is discharged.

    I have another generator that uses a vinyl record and rabbit fur to generate a charge. Both machines can produce a bright (and loud!) spark when connected to a Leyden jar, NO BATTERIES REQUIRED !!!

    These machines can be used for a variety of educational and entertaining (fun) purposes. This type of generator has a rich historical legacy that coincides with some of the most important discoveries about electricity. Unlike many Van DeGraff machines, they do not give the impression that electricity only comes out of a wall socket or batteries. They show mechanical energy transformed into electrical potential energy in the simplest and most direct way. Of course they make some really cool sparks too.

What can you do with this thing? Here are some ideas:
     Make small lightning. Charge a Leyden jar. Power an electrostatic motor. Light a fluorescent bulb. Learn first hand why lightning rods are pointed. Make a human discharge chain (adults only- not for the faint of heart). Hear the snap of a big spark. Pretend you are Ben Franklin. Shock and amaze your friends (ha ha). Learn about electrostatic levitation. Turn out all of the lights and see corona. Turn out the lights and see all the sparks you hear. Turn out the lights and show your date. Explore the force that holds the universe together (no kidding). I'm only scratching the surface here !!!

 Here are a few more static generators and a Leyden jar being discharged:

Joseph Priestley's Static Generator
Joseph Priestley's generator.(historical) 
Winter's Electrical Machine
Winter's Electrical machine used a glass disk. It could produce sparks almost as long as the diameter of the disk. (historical) 
Discharging a Leyden Jar
A very big Leyden jar being discharged. (historical) 

Here's a vinyl record used for a disk machine.

This is a non-rustic version. 
Simple static generator
The very easiest generator to make: PVC tube and rabbit fur, wool, or paper towel. (follow this link for how to do it!)

Leyden bells: used to demonstrate attraction-repulsion properties of electricity.

A disk generator with 2-foot PVC disk. 4 to 5 inch sparks with a good Leyden jar.

Pizza pan electrophorous: simple way to get nice sparks.

 These generators are capable of producing sparks similar to the ones at the top of this page. Be aware that their performance is influenced by relative humidity, design, and by minor manual adjustments. Also be aware that electrostatic discharge is a major enemy of computers (not to mention ammunition plants and fireworks factories). If you make and use any of this stuff, keep it away from your computer, preferably in another room.

 If you're still reading this and want to learn more, then you should check out these web sites and books:


Dr. Colin Pounder's site, "An Electromagnetic Miscellany" is a must visit. When you get to the index check out the link titled "Experiments With Frictional Electricity". The good Doctor has been producing sparks since before I first rubbed a balloon on my head. An outstanding blend of history and practical advice for experimenters.

Exploratorium Electricity projects -If you need a quick hands on activity to get you going this is the place to go. Each project has clear, detailed instructions and illustrations. Look for: electrophorus, electroscope, and Leyden jar. You also get important content about what you are doing. They also have an alternative set of projects  for very young scientists.

SCIENCE HOBBYIST  -This is a great big site. Explore the "Static" Electricity Page and the Articles on "Electricity" . Be sure and take a good long look around this site. It's near the top of my list for good reason.

Electrostatic Demonstrations at the University of Rochester -If you find the Exploratorium a little too basic check this out. This also a good site to learn practical applications of the science of electrostatics.

http://home.earthlink.net/~lenyr/stat-gen.htm -Lenny R's PVC generator can be found here. If you want a great static generator with very little effort or expense go here. This page also has a description of how to make a Leyden jar out of a film canister and aluminum foil.

 Electrostatic Machines - The best site I have seen for photos and explanations of electrostatic machines. A great source for information and ideas. Be sure to scroll down the page and check out the frictional generators. There is also an excellent Links page.

Static Electricity -This is a sample issue of an online educational magazine. It may be helpful for getting a fundamental grasp on static electricity.


Electrostatics by A.D. Moore- Try this book for an in depth explanation of static electricity, electric fields, corona, and electrostatic generators. It also has some very interesting and important content about safety with electrostatic devices.

Nature's Electricity by Charles K. Adams- Nature's Electricity has some really useful information in it. It's not too difficult to read and has directions for making a Leyden jar, an electroscope, and a small electrostatic generator. It is out of print, but you may find it in the library.

Homemade Lightning by R.A. Ford- This is a book worth looking at. It is mostly a "how to" book describing a few very involved projects, but it also has some great ideas and explanations of electrostatic phenomena.

Electricity in the  17th and 18th Centuries by J.L. Heilbron- History books like this may help you understand the science of experimenting with static electricity. This one has a few good illustrations and, if you like reading history, is enjoyable to read. Be warned: this is scholarly stuff, but if you persevere you can get a lot of good info (read about human discharge chains of hundreds of people-it was the age of reason, you know).

The whole collection of books-  A page of books I've selected that relate to static electricity and making sparks.

This list is just a start. Devour anything you can get your hands on about electrostatics and then YOU decide the best sources for information. Be skeptical, have fun experimenting, keep asking why.

This site should be INTERESTING, EDUCATIONAL, and ACCURATE. Tell me if it is, and if it isn't tell me why (SO I CAN FIX IT!!!).  I welcome any additional information, constructive reviews, or impressions. If you send corrections dealing with the content please include a reference for me to verify. E-mail me.I want your feed back (include a subject so I don't delete your message!).

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