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Harnessing Electrical Potential from a Simulated Lightning Strike with Varying

Levels of Humidity and Material Type

Parker Authier and Ian Rasch

Macomb Mathematics Science Technology Center

A.P. Physics

12A

Mr. McMillan / Mrs. Gravel


Harnessing Electrical Potential from a Simulated Lightning Strike with Varying

Levels of Humidity and Material Type

The purpose of the research was to determine the effects of material covering type

and humidity on the electric potential in the air harnessed from a lightning strike. Any

possible findings from this research can benefit the green, renewable energy industry by

allowing a new way to harness energy. One example is having devices on the houses

around a structure with a lightning rod, allowing all buildings to obtain energy from a

lightning strike via the rod itself and the electric potential in the air.

The research was completed by placing a copper plate coated with either no

covering, plastic, or rubber in an airtight box containing a Tesla coil and grounding metal

with humidity levels at 40-43, 60-63, or 80-83 percent humidity. The copper plate was

then attached to the side of the box and a voltage probe. The Tesla coil was then turned

on and off to simulate a lightning strike to record the electric potential harnessed from the

air during the lightning strike.

The research showed that when humidity was held high, 80-83 percent, and

covering was held low, plastic, produced the highest electric potential harnessed. This

result was backed up by nine two-factor design of experiments (DOE) run with the

different humidity and material factors. While all the numbers remained small, there were

no statistically significant factors. Humidity had the highest effect with a value of 0.0389

volts. This is supported because the greater humidity in the air, the smaller voltage

needed to make a spark jump through humid air, a lightning strike.


Table of Contents

Introduction ......................................................................................................................... 1

Review of Literature ........................................................................................................... 4

Experimental Design ......................................................................................................... 11

Data and Observations ...................................................................................................... 14

Data Analysis and Interpretation ...................................................................................... 19

Conclusion ........................................................................................................................ 27

Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................... 34

Appendix A: Construction of the Enclosure ..................................................................... 35

Appendix B: Randomization............................................................................................. 38

Appendix C: Prediction Equations.................................................................................... 39

Works Cited ...................................................................................................................... 40


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Introduction

So Yoda sounds like our best bet as an energy source. But with world electricity

consumption pushing 2 terawatts, it would take a hundred million Yodas to meet our

demands. All things considered, switching to Yoda power probably isn't worth the

trouble though it would definitely be green (Munroe). There are many ways to

provide energy to the world, the quotes suggest using the fictional, green-colored

character Yoda as an energy source. He uses The Force, a type telekinesis, to do work,

which means he could theoretically provide energy without any kind of pollution, making

it green energy. Another possible source of green energy is lightning. Green energy is

any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, as biomass, solar,

wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric power, that is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel

(The Definition of Renewable Energy).

Lighting produces an electric potential in the surrounding air that can be

harnessed to provide energy. Lighting provides a clean, renewable source of energy. A

lightning rod can be used to attract lightning in order to either disperse or collect the

energy directly from the lightning strike. However, the electric potential created in the air

surrounding a lightning strike remains unharvested. If a device that harnessed this electric

potential was present, then much more electric potential could be harnessed from a

lightning strike. This new source of energy could be used to provide power for locations

that have frequent lightning activity. The devices would not be as complex as solar

panels, constructed of a simple plate of metal with a covering connected to a power bank

to store the electric potential, providing a cheaper source of alternative energy. The

benefit of harnessing the electric potential around a lightning strike means that there
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would be no risk of direct lightning strike. Also, this method would allow a large area to

harness the electric potential from the same lightning strike simultaneously. New

theories [Gurevich, Zybin, Dwyer] suggest that relativistic effects can greatly enhance the

creation or arcs in storm clouds, if the ambient electric field reaches a critical length of

about 80 meters, and a critical intensity of 200 kilovolts per meter (Lightning On

Demand). This quote comes from an organization called Lightning On Demand, they

make Tesla coils and conduct different experiments. In this quote, they have theorized a

way to using two Tesla coils, each 10 stories high and 80 meters apart, to produce a total

of 17.6 million volts of electricity. Their goal is to have the Tesla coils at this critical

point and to use the electric fields in clouds to provide wireless electrical energy. The

energy would then be harvested from the air and used to power other devices. This

organizations idea helped inspire the experiment that took place.

The purpose of the research was to determine the effects of material covering type

and humidity on the electric potential in the air harnessed from a lightning strike. This

was tested by using three different coverings, metal, rubber, and plastic, and three

different humidity levels, 40-43, 60-63, and 80-83 percent, in different factor

combinations of the low and high levels (metal and 40-43 percent, plastic and 80-83

percent, etc.). The simulated lightning strikes were created using a Tesla coil. The

humidity was controlled using either a humidifier or dehumidifier to change the humidity

inside of the airtight box that the trials took place in. Each trial was conducted by

changing the humidity of the box and placing the plate inside of the box, choosing each

as needed for each trial. The plate was then attached to the positive terminal on a voltage

probe, the negative end was grounded. The Tesla coil was then turned on and off, in
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sequence, and the electric potential energy measured from the voltage probe was

measured. The Tesla coil was kept at the same setting, which assured the researchers that

the amount of electricity used in each lightning strike was constant. Because the material

used for the core of the plates was the same for all trials, material type and humidity were

the only factors affecting the electric potential. The readings were compared to determine

which combination of factors, material type and humidity level, produced the highest

amount of electric potential harnessed. The best combination of factors could be

implemented in a device to provide a cheap alternative source of energy.


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Review of Literature

The purpose of this experiment was to identify what material under what level of

humidity could harness the highest electric potential from the air after a lightning strike.

Lightning is a high-current electrical discharge whose path length is measured in

kilometers. The most common sources of lightning is the electric charge separated in

ordinary thunderstorm clouds (Uman). The electric potential of the clouds reaches

maximum and then the electrical energy discharges from the clouds to the ground. There

are different types of lightning, ball, cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-ground, and ground-to-

cloud. Lightning can also be positively charged and negatively charged. The simulated

lightning in this research simulated negatively charged cloud-to-ground lightning.

Simulated lightning strikes were used in this experiment by using a Tesla coil.

Tesla coils are a form of transformer that causes an extremely large electric potential

energy and voltage to jump a spark gap: First, they [Tesla coils] employ a pre-made high

voltage iron core transformer to go from 120 V wall current to roughly 10,000 V. The

wire with 10,000 volts is wrapped into one very large (primary) coil with only a handful

of turns. The secondary coil contains thousands of turns of thin wire. This steps up the

voltage to between 100,000 and one million volts. This potential is so strong that the iron

core of a normal transformer cannot contain it (Hartsfield). A capacitor is used to

store this built-up energy, allowing for one discharge of all the energy to jump the spark

gap and create the plasma that flows off Tesla coils.
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Figure 1. Schematic of Tesla Coil

Figure 1 shows the basic schematic of a Tesla coil. This image shows that the

transformer is run in parallel with the capacitor, which is then run in series with the spark

gap to the primary, which is then connected to the ground and secondary, to the torus on

top that helps induce a high voltage and allow for the plasma to ionize in the air.

A capacitor is a device that is used to store electrical energy (Merriam-

Webster). A capacitor is similar to a battery but has the ability to deplete all its stored

energy at once. This property is the only way that the Tesla coils energy can become

extreme enough to cause the plasma to form, from causing a spark to jump the spark gap.

Figure 2. Capacitor

Figure 2 is a diagram of a capacitor. It shows how electricity flows from the

source to the plates and then back to the source after it holds the same charge as the

source.
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A spark gap is used in order for the plasma on a Tesla coil to form in the air. A

spark gap is a space between two high-potential terminals (as of an induction coil or

spark plug) through which pass discharges of electricity (Merriam-Webster) This same

technology is used in spark plugs to cause ignition. The spark gap in this experiment was

the distance from the Tesla coil grounding metal.

Electric potential energy is another form of potential energy. While potential

energy occurs when an object holds the potential to do work on some other object,

electrical potential energy occurs when an electrical charge possesses the potential to do

work on another charge. In order to bring two like charges near each other work must be

done. In order to separate two opposite charges, work must be done (Electrical Energy

and Electrical Potential). For work to occur, the charges must have some form of energy

that is changing into this kinetic energy that the charges experience. The energy that these

charges possess is known as electrical potential energy. The Tesla coils capacitor stores

electrical energy that bears electrical potential energy. The charge on the energy is so

high that the electrical energy is attracted to the less charged charges in the air ionizing

them. The energy is attracted to objects, such as metal, that are conductive and can pass

the energy throughout itself.

Humid breezes blowing in from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico make Florida

the nation's stormiest state, with thunderstorms billowing up almost 100 days every year

(Wolkomir). The humidity in the air helps the clouds with their electric potential energy

ionize with the air. The higher the humidity the more frequent lightning can strike. All

the extra water vapor in the air allows the clouds to pass their electrical energy to the

earth, or other objects, that are less charges or oppositely charged. With humidity being
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able to cause an effect in the frequency of lightning strikes, it may possibly allow a Tesla

coil to be more frequent with its ionization of the air.

Researchers know that most cloud-to-ground lightning is negatively charged, but

a small percentage of strokes are positive (Wolkomir). With lightning being negatively

charged, the earth is mostly positively charged causing the lighting to strike the earth.

The energy potential in the cloud is so high, the electrical energy is transferred through

the air as heat and kinetic energy to the oppositely charged surface of the earth. The heat

the lightning produces as it jumps the spark gap to the earth superheats the air to

blistering temperatures and the air explodes with such a force that it creates a sound wave

that portrays itself as thunder. The exact origin of how the clouds get the negative, or in

some cases positive, charges is still unknown. One theory started to be recognized as a

probable cause to this. The theory states that the mammoth storm clouds that extend high

into the atmosphere become positively charged on the top and negatively charged on the

bottom due to ice particles. The ice particles that are near the top are dense and hail-like.

These particles then fall and hit less dense ice shard in the air below. As these denser

particles collide, they snatch the valence electrons from the less dense ice shards and

become negatively charged and sit in the bottom of the cloud giving the clouds bottom

half a large negative charge. This theory has not been proven entirely true, but does have

some recognition as a possibility (Wolkomir). Simulated lightning occurs when a Tesla

coil builds up an extremely large amount of electrical potential energy and the energy

travels through the air to a less or oppositely charged object. The plasma resembles

lightning because the transferring of the electrical energy ionizes the air in the same way.
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The ability an electrical charge to pass through a material is the conductivity of

that material. Conductors possess miniscule resistance to the flow of the electrical

charges, while insulators possess a large resistance. Metals are the most conductive

material with silver being the highest and used as a scale for other metals (Conductivity).

Rubbers possess a large resistance to the flow of electricity, metals possess little to none,

and plastics, for the most part, possess no resistance or aid and are neither insulators or

conductors

Figure 3. Conductivity and Resistivity

Figure 3 shows a chart of conductive and resistive materials. The lower the

number, the more conductive a material is, while the larger the number the higher the

resistance. Metals start around 3 micro ohms, while rubbers and polymer foams have low

values at one thousand, and one-hundred thousand, and glasses do not start until around

ten trillion ohms.

This research is similar to the proposed device by Nikola Tesla, the radiant energy

receiver. This device claimed to harness the static electricity from the air and convert it

into usable energy:


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It stored static electricity obtained from the air and converted it to a usable form.

Teslas invention is a simple version of T.H. Morays device. Morays device

used a unique rectifier (RE-valve) to efficiently capture the static electricity from

the surrounding air. Morays oscillator tubes (magnetron transducers) utilized this

high-voltage energy to generate an internal secondary cold fusion reaction.

Stick an antenna up in the air, the higher the better, and wire it to one side of a

capacitor, the other going to a good earth ground, and the potential difference will

then charge the capacitor. Connect across the capacitor some sort of switching

device so that it can be discharged at rhythmic intervals, and you have an

oscillating electric output. T.H. Moray simply expanded on Teslas idea to use

high-voltage to create ionic oscillation. (Perreault)


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Problem Statement
Problem Statement:

How does the level of humidity and the covering material affect the voltage from

the electrostatic field created from a Tesla coil?

Hypothesis:

If the highest level of humidity was coupled with no covering material, then the

Voltage would yield the largest value.

Data Measured:

The independent variables were the humidity (40-43%, 60-63%, 80-83%) and the

covering material type (plastic, nothing, rubber). The dependent variable was the voltage

from the electrostatic field measured in volts. A two factor Design of Experiments (DOE)

will be used to analyze the data from 63 trials.


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Experimental Design

Materials:
Vernier LabQuest
Voltage Probe Sensor
Plexiglass Enclosure (202 cm*202 cm*313 cm)
Lagute Dehumidifier
Homedics Humidifier
Tesla Coil
TI-NSpire Calculator
Power Strip (1)
Copper Wire (46 cm)
Copper plate (5cm*5cm*0.5cm)

Procedures:
I. Precautions

1. Do not touch Tesla coil when in operation to prevent harm to oneself

II. System Setup

2. Build plexiglass enclosure (See Appendix A)

2. Randomize order of trials (See Appendix B)

3. Place Tesla coil in middle of enclosure with a piece of conductive metal two
centimeters away from the top, (See Figure 5 & Figure 6)

4. Attach wires and negative terminal from the Vernier LabQuest to grounding
terminal on Tesla coil

5. Plug Tesla coil into power strip

6. Place humidifier/dehumidifier inside the enclosure and close enclosure

7. Turn on/off humidifier/dehumidifier depending on trial

8. Allow humidity in enclosure to reach target humidity

9. Attach the correct metal plate to the wall of the enclosure, depending on trial, to
the positive terminal of the LabQuest

III. Data Collection

10. Turn on power strip turning the Tesla coil on


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11. Allow Tesla coil to run for 5 seconds

12. Turn off power strip turning the Tesla coil off

13. Record the average voltage measured on the LabQuest

14. Repeat steps 10 through 13 for all trials

Diagram:

Figure 4. Materials

Figure 4 shows all the materials used in the experiment.


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Figure 5 Setup of Experiment (Perspective View)

Figure 5 shows the perspective view of the set up.

Figure 6. Setup of Experiment (Top View)

Figure 6 shows the vertical view of the setup, as seen from the top of the

enclosure.
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Data and Observations

Table 1
Factors Used in Experiment
Humidity in the Box Plate Material Covering
(%)

(-) Standard (+) (-) Standard (+)

40-43 60-63 80-83 Plastic Rubber No Covering

Table 1 displays the two factors that were used to conduct the experiment.

Varying levels of humidity for which the experiment was conducted in and the covering

of a copper plate were utilized to identify which combination yielded the highest electric

potential in the air. The humidity varied from 40-43% (low), 60-63% (standard), and 80-

83% (high). The humidity levels were chosen in relation to the humidity of the air outside

of the testing area. The high and low values were then chosen based on what the

researchers could change the humidity to through the use of humidifiers and

dehumidifiers. The material covering varied from plastic (low), rubber (standard), and no

covering (high).
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Table 2
Electric Potential of the Air
Electric Electric Electric
Order Trial Potential Order Trial Potential Order Trial Potential
(V) (V) (V)

1 Std. 0.1147 1 Std. 0.0593 1 Std. 0.0952

2 ++ 0.1020 2 ++ 0.0283 5 ++ 0.1029

6 -- 0.0240 5 -- 0.0320 6 -- 0.0180

4 Std. 0.1055 4 Std. 0.0994 4 Std. 0.1018

5 +- 0.1484 6 +- 0.0963 3 +- 0.1332

3 -+ 0.0370 3 -+ 0.0380 2 -+ 0.0490

7 Std. 0.0676 7 Std. 0.0782 7 Std. 0.0717

Electric Electric Electric


Order Trial Potential Order Trial Potential Order Trial Potential
(V) (V) (V)

1 Std. 0.0778 1 Std. 0.0795 1 Std. 0.1082

3 ++ 0.0659 3 ++ 0.0625 3 ++ 0.0483

5 -- 0.0170 2 -- 0.0370 6 -- 0.0470

4 Std. 0.0881 4 Std. 0.0898 4 Std. 0.0693

2 +- 0.0648 5 +- 0.0753 5 +- 0.0682

6 -+ 0.0420 6 -+ 0.0420 2 -+ 0.052

7 Std. 0.0819 7 Std. 0.0898 7 Std. 0.0848

Electric Electric Electric


Order Trial Potential Order Trial Potential Order Trial Potential
(V) (V) (V)

1 Std. 0.0934 1 Std. 0.0837 1 Std. 0.1044

5 ++ 0.0391 6 ++ 0.1012 6 ++ 0.0262

6 -- 0.0310 2 -- 0.0490 5 -- 0.0350


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Electric Electric Electric


Order Trial Potential Order Trial Potential Order Trial Potential
(V) (V) (V)

4 Std. 0.0894 4 Std. 0.1022 4 Std. 0.1002

2 +- 0.0761 5 +- 0.0403 2 +- 0.0849

3 -+ 0.0480 3 -+ 0.0320 3 -+ 0.0340

7 Std. 0.0913 7 Std. 0.1058 7 Std. 0.0939

Table 2. displays the electric potential that was measured from the Tesla coil for

every trial in each design of experiment.

Table 3
Experimental Observations
Trial Observations

The box had a lot of ionized air causing it to smell and make graphs appear to
5
be scaled. The box was aired out and the trial redone.

11 The urethane foam was still moist and sticky.

19 The humidifier left some condensation on the base of the Tesla coil.

Graphs appeared to be scaled due to all the ionization in the box. The box was
27
aired out and the trial retaken.

31 Humidifier left traces of water throughout the box.

46 Large amount of ionization caused some data inaccuracies.

The plastic covering remained dry considering the box had some condensation
55
in it.

60 The data had some inaccurate readings due to all the ionization in the box.
Table 3 displays some observations made when performing the experiment. The

box had to be aired out after doing a large amount of trials to reduce the amount of

ionized air the box.


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Figure 7. Test of Airtight Box Figure 8. Test of Data Collection

Figures 7 and 8 display the box as data collection was tested and the quality of the

air tight seal. Figure 7 shows the method for closing the lid of the box to create an airtight

seal. There is a weight that is placed upon the lid causing it to push tightly against the

silicone caulk ring that was created. Figure 8 shows the testing of the setup inside of the

box to measure the electric potential energy in the air in the box. The metal square seen

above is placed far enough away from the Tesla coil to ensure that there is no direct

contact between our testing apparatus and the simulated lightning.


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Figure 9. Releasing Ionized Air Figure 10. Final Setup

Figures 9 and 10 show the final setup of the experiment. Figure 9 shows the

releasing of the ionized air inside the box. This was done in between every trial to ensure

that the electric potential that was tested was accurate. A one kilogram weight was added

to the top of the box to make the airtight seal during the trials (Figure 10).
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Data Analysis and Interpretation

The data that was collected during this experiment is reliable because there were

no major outliers; control, randomization, and replication were also used. The control for

the experiment was handled by conducting standard trials on levels that were within the

normal levels of the environment around the testing area. The randomization of each trial

order was used through the randomization function on the TI-NSpire graphing calculator.

This ensured that there was no bias in the data because there was no favoring of the trial

order due to necessity or ease. Each trial had no effect on any other trial or its order. They

were all each as likely to be ran after each other. Replication was used through following

the experimental design for each trial to ensure that there were no trials that were

conducted differently from each other. This reduces variability in data due to lurking

variables.

Table 4
Average Electric Potential

Table 4 shows the Electric Potential, measured in volts, for each of the Design of

Experiments (DOE) and the average for each combination of factors. The grand average

(average of the averages) is 0.0563 V.


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Figure 11. Dot Plot of Standards

Figure 11 displays a dot plot of the standards from the experiment. The variability

of the standard trials, the range of standards, relays whether or not the experiment was

consistent. The range of standards is 0.0554 volts. With no rapidly increasing or

decreasing trends, it can be said that there is consistency within the data.

When doubling the range of standards, 0.1107, one can check if a variable is

statistically significant by being smaller than -0.1107, or larger than 0.1107. The range of

the standards is close to the value collected during trials with the range of the data being

0.1162, the doubled range of standards is close to the range of our data points, making it

unlikely and or impossible for any value to exceed this range.


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Table 5
Effect of Humidity
Humidity

40-43% 80-83%
(-) (+)

0.0322 0.0640

0.0416 0.0875

Average = 0.0369 Average = 0.0758


Figure 12. Effect of Humidity

Table 5 and Figure 12 display the effect that humidity had on the electric potential

in the air. The average electric potential when humidity was held high (80-83%) and low

(40-43%) were calculated. By adding the two values when humidity was high and

dividing by two yielded an average of 0.0758 volts. By adding the two values when

humidity was low and dividing by two yielded an average of 0.0369 volts. When

subtracting the average from the low humidity to the high there is a result of 0.0389 volts.

This means that as humidity increased, on average, the electric potential in the air

increased by 0.0389 volts.


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Table 6
Effect of Material Type
Material

None Plastic
(-) (+)

0.0322 0.0640

0.0875 0.0416

Average = 0.0599 Average = 0.0528


Figure 13. Effect of Material

Table 6 and Figure 13 display the effect that material covering had on the electric

potential in the air. The average electric potential when material covering was held high

(no covering) and low (plastic) were calculated. By adding the two values when material

covering was high and dividing by two yielded an average of 0.0528 volts. By adding the

two values when material covering was low and dividing by two yielded an average of

0.0599 volts. When subtracting the average from when material covering was held low

from when material covering was held high there is a result of -0.0071 volts. This means

that as material covering increased, on average, the electric potential in the air decreased

by 0.0071 volts.
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Table 7
Interaction Effect

Figure 14. Interaction Effect

Table 7 and Figure 8 show how the two factors of humidity and material type

interact on the electric potential in the air. These compare the total averages of humidity

and the total averages of material type to find the interaction effect. It can also be noted

that the slopes of the solid and dashed segments appear to be opposite. This suggests that

there was an interaction, or that the effect value may be statistically significant.

The overall interaction effect was found by subtracting the slope of the dashed

segment (0.0047) from the slope of the solid segment (-0.0118). The interaction of

humidity and material type in this experiment was approximately -0.0165. The -0.0165

value means that as both humidity and material type increased, the average electric

potential in the air decreased by 0.0165 V.

When humidity was held high on its own, an average electric potential of 0.0758

V was observed (see Figure 14). The solid segment, which represents the interaction of

humidity and material type, is shown above. When material type is held high, there is an

average electric potential of 0.0528 V; this value is much lower than the 0.0758 V

expected originally. However, when material is held low, there is an average electric

potential of 0.0599 V; this value is also much lower than 0.0758 V.


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Additionally, when material type was held low, an average electric potential of

0.0599 V was observed (see Figure 14). When humidity is held high, there is an average

electric potential of 0.0758; this value is much higher than the expected 0.0559 V.

However, when humidity was held low, there was an average of 0.0369 V; this value is

much lower than 0.0599 V.

Figure 15. Dot Plot of Effects

Figure 15 shows the effects of each variable: humidity (H), material type (M), and

their interaction (HM). To determine if a variable is statistically significant to a given

experiment, its effect value can be compared to double the range of standards (0.1107 V).

The significance of each factor was determined by doubling the range of

standards and comparing the effect of that factor. With the effect of 0.0389 V, humidity

proved not to be statistically significant because it was inside the range of standards;

however, humidity had, by far, the largest effect on the electrical potential recorded

therefore we can stay that it was significant. With the effect of -0.0071 V, material type

proved not to be statistically significant, meaning that the material type had very little

effect on the electric potential of the air.

The significance of the interaction between the humidity and the material type

was determined by doubling the range of standards and comparing the effect of the

interaction of humidity and material type on the electric potential of the air. The

interaction effect was calculated to be -0.0165 V. With the effect being inside of the
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range of standards the interaction between humidity and material type proved to be

insignificant.

None of the effects were proven to be statistically significant. This means that

while each factor did have some effect on the electric potential harnessed from the air it

was not a very significant one. The effect of humidity possessed the largest effect value

of 0.0389 V and has the largest effect value by 0.0554 V, it was significant. The dot plot

shows that humidity had a much larger effect on the electric potential in the air proving

that it was an important factor in the experiment.


= + + + + ""
2 2 2

Figure 16. Prediction Equation

Figure 16 shows the prediction equation. This equation is made by combining the

grand average, or average of all the averages, with the effects of the factors and the

interaction all divided by two. This is used to interpolate the electric potential in the air.

The prediction is 0.0640 volts, for a humidity of 70-73% and a plate covering of carbon,

or halfway between the standards and the high values for the factors (See Appendix C for

sample calculation).


= + + ""
2

Figure 17. Parsimonious Prediction Equation

Figure 17 shows the parsimonious prediction equation. The equation only

includes the grand average and any significant effects divided by two. Humidity was

considered the only significant factor. This means that the parsimonious prediction
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equation only contains the grand average and humidity. The parsimonious prediction is

0.0758 volts (See Appendix C for sample calculation).


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Conclusion

The function of this experiment was to test the effect that humidity and material

type had on the harnessing of electric potential energy from a simulated lightning strike.

An airtight acrylic box with a wooden frame was constructed to house a Tesla coil and

contain the humidity needed for each trial. A copper plate with an electrode was then

placed into the box with different material covering it. The electric potential in the air

was then recorded when the Tesla coil was switched on versus when the coil was off. The

hypothesis was that the highest recorded electric potential in the air would come from a

high humidity and a high material covering of no covering. This hypothesis was denied

with the results displaying that the highest recorded electric potential came from the trials

where humidity was held high and the material covering was held low, with a plastic

covering yielding the highest value of 0.0875 volts. The lowest average was when

humidity was held low and the material covering was held low with plastic for a value of

0.0322 volts. This result is backed up by Paulette Auchtung, the Planetarium and Live

Theaters Manager at the Michigan Science Center: ...it makes sense that you would have

a higher potential with plastic than with metal. Because plastic is an insulator, it can build

up a lot of static electricity. There is nowhere for that electricity to go. When you use

metal, the static build up dissipates because the metal is a conductor (Auchtung). While

none of the factors of this experiment were statistically significant overall, humidity had

the most effect and was considered significant. While conducting the trials the

researchers followed the design of experiment fully and did not stray from it. This means

that there was no variability in the data due to bias from the researchers. Because none of

the points fell out of the double standard lines, none were deemed statistically significant.
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Since the range of standards was in range of the data collected, it was impossible for any

factor to be statistically significant. Humidity was the point that, while still far from the

standard lines, was the closest to the line, making it the most significant of the factors

used. The results from this experiment can be considered valid per OpenStax College,

Humid air breaks down at a lower field strength, meaning that a smaller voltage will

make a spark jump through humid air (OpenStax). This supports the reason why

humidity was our highest factor in this experiment. The more humidity the less energy

that is expended in the spark gap creating the lightning itself, meaning that more energy

could be harnessed.

Applications of this research could be used in the field of wireless energy. The

setup of this experiment is similar to and influenced by the organization Lightning on

Demand. The organizations goal is to build two one hundred and twenty-foot tall Tesla

coils in order to provide wireless electricity as well as to observe the condition for the

creation of lightning in storm clouds (Lightning on Demand). In this experiment, the use

of a Tesla coil discharging to produce electric potential energy in the air was used in a

similar way to that of Lightning on Demand. The results of this experiment and Lightning

on Demands are very similar which supports the validity of the experiment and the

results.

This experiment is also similar to the different experiments described in the article

Electric Sky. In the article, research was conducted in different areas of the world that

had different levels of humidity. In these different humidity levels, the properties of

lightning were observed (Wolkomir). In the experiment at hand, the humidity factor was

seen to be the most significant, similar to the findings in Electric Sky. With areas
Authier Rasch 29

having a difference in humidity, it can be important to figure out what types of material

provide an advantage to the energy harnessing from the air. This would allow for the

most efficient collection of energy from lightning strikes, giving reason for more tests on

materials to be conducted.

This experiment helps provide information into some of the problems that are

described in the article Lightning as Atmospheric Electricity. The article talks about

different methods for trying to harness the energy from the lightning strikes and different

ways to store it. The article suggests making a device that can slow down the energy and

store it for later (Srinivasan). This research does not provide the solution that was wanted,

but it does provide a solution to help obtain more energy from these lightning strikes. The

article reports that it is estimated that lightning strikes the earth about 100 times every

second. This experiment could help harness more of the energy from all the lightning

strikes without having to be right next to them.

Even though the results of this experiment were similar to other experiments there

were some errors in this experiment. The most prominent error was that the voltage probe

sensor used in the experiment fluctuated readings greatly. The initial sensor used was

found to have been damaged and replaced with a working sensor and trials done under

the broken sensor were redone; however, the readings with the new sensor were similar

to those with the damaged sensor. This could have meant that the new sensor was also

defective, but no evidence of it being damaged was found. No sensors were replaced after

the second sensor. Another error of the experiment was the box that housed the Tesla

coil. The box was airtight which meant that the humidity inside the box could be

maintained easily. However, it meant that there was no circulation of air from outside of
Authier Rasch 30

the box. Every time that the Tesla coil was powered and plasma was induced, a small

amount of air in the box was ionized. After every few trials, all the air in the box had

become ionized, which caused the data to become extremely skewed. The box, then, had

to be left with the lid removed between trials to allow the ionized air to leave the box. All

trials that were noticeably affected were redone.

The humidifier used to raise the humidity level in the box caused the sides of the

box to gather condensation quickly which may have affected the data collected. The

initial testing environment, a room with frequent use and proximity to the outdoors,

resulted in a difficulty in changing the humidity levels inside of the box. This was

especially seen during the low humidity trials. The location of the trials was changed to a

more controlled and isolated environment, with lower humidity, halfway through trials.

No trials were redone due to change in location. This may have caused certain trials to

become more or less accurate with humidity levels inside the box potentially changing

due to location.

The final issue was the construction of the box itself, while being airtight, was not

perfect. Much of the construction of the box was skewed from the original measurements,

forcing the silicone caulk to fill gaps between walls, instead of only holding the walls

together. This could have caused the data to be skewed. However, because this was kept

constant for all trials, it can be assumed that this did not have a large impact on the results

of this experiment.

Some further research that could be conducted on this topic would be to use

different metal types instead of only changing the covering of the metal. Because

different metals have different levels of conductivity it could be seen if one type of metal
Authier Rasch 31

is more efficient at harnessing the electric potential in the air than that of another metal.

Also, a wider range of coverings could be used on the metal used to harness the energy.

This would allow for more common materials to be tested in order to guide the creation

of a commercial product, if one was created. Testing different materials would also

potentially allow future researchers to test having entire roofs that are used to harness this

energy. This would allow for another source of renewable, green energy. The use of a

Tesla coil that used modulating frequencies would make the experiment more like the

instances of actual lightning strikes. The Tesla coil in this experiment only had one

frequency. Real lightning has varying frequencies which cause it to behave in slightly

different manners. This could influence the method or amount of electric potential

harnessed.

This research has many applications that would directly benefit the world. The

main benefit would be as an alternative source of energy. This concept of harnessing the

energy in the air during a lightning strike could be used to power houses and more. The

main difference between the process used in this experiment and lightning rods is that

there does not need to be any direct contact with the lightning in order to harness its

energy. Not only does this decrease the risk of using energy from lightning, but it also

implies that something a great distance away from a lightning strike could still benefit

from the electric potential energy it created in the air. Specifically, lightning collection

facilities could be made in areas with high lightning activity. These facilities could be

composed of multiple apparatuses used to harness the electric potential energy from the

air, such as that proposed in the experiment, centered around a lightning rod atop a tower.

The tower and lightning rod would both attract lighting and harness the energy directly
Authier Rasch 32

while the resulting energy in the air would be harnessed by the apparatuses. This concept

would maximize the energy harnessed from lightning strikes and could be used as an

alternative green power source in areas where wind farms, hydro-electric facilities, and

geothermal plants are not suitable. This would allow convenient green energy to be

accessed by more people around the world.

Throughout the entire process of research -- creating an idea, conducting the

experiment -- and interpreting the data, many lessons were learned. One of the most

prominent lessons that was used multiple times throughout this experiment was

resilience. Multiple times throughout this research something would go wrong or work in

a way that was unforeseen originally. This caused the researchers to have to think up

unique solutions to all their problems in order for the entire research process to be

completed. The first such setback was the construction of the airtight box that the

experiment was run in. During its construction, many aspects of its build changed during

construction. Parts made later in the construction process were more precise due to the

researchers familiarizing themselves with the tendencies of the materials and machinery

used. This meant that not all the original pieces fit together well with parts that were

made later. This was compensated for by using the silicone caulk to fill any gaps in the

construction. This and many other instances forced the researchers to make quick

decisions based on the materials that were readily available. This skill is extremely

valuable in the workforce today; it enables results to be had as quickly as possible by

most efficiently dealing with problems as they arise. During the research process, the

researchers also learned how to work effectively in small groups and how to

acknowledge others strengths and weaknesses. Throughout research different


Authier Rasch 33

researchers would take charge in the different areas of the experiment. The researchers

learned whom could perform a task most efficiently and allowed them to perform said

task while providing assistance as needed. This meant that there were minimal setbacks

due to direct results of the researchers. Also, the delegation of various tasks allowed for

the entire research process to be completed quicker than normal. This act of delegation

allows for any task to be done efficiently as well as allowing for the task to be done the

best that it can be.


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Acknowledgements

We are unable to express how thankful we are for all the help from our teachers.

Our teachers Mr. McMillan and Mrs. Gravel have provided a vast amount constructive

criticism that helped us make this paper with a quality that is to be not only required, but

unexpected and intelligent. Without all their time and effort they put into checking and

rechecking our paper section by section and the helpful ideas to improve this paper and

make it something to be proud of. The supportive comments from both teachers allowed

us to maintain a positive attitude throughout the research process, allowing our best work

to show.

Without help from close friends and other students, this paper would not have

been completed. Our friends provided helpful comments and ideas for how to incorporate

all of our ideas into this one paper and make it scientifically accurate.

Also, without the help of Paulette Auchtung the analysis of our data would have

not been as great as it turned out.

A final thank you to our parents and families for being completely fine with us

playing with Tesla coils, and another thank you to Mr. McMillan for allowing us to play

with lightning.
Authier Rasch 35

Appendix A: Construction of the Enclosure

The enclosure for the Tesla coil and experiment was built mainly out of plexiglass

and silicone caulk. Wood was used as a support for the plexiglass to be glued on to.

Materials:

1 cm thick Plexiglass (333886 cm )2

Wood (5008 cm ) 2

Common Nails (1-)


DAP Clear All-Purpose 100% Silicone Sealant (9.8 oz.)
Hammer
Clamps (4)
Meter Stick
Black Sharpie Marker
Belt Sander
Gorilla Wood Glue
Safety Glasses
Band Saw

Procedures:
I. Cutting Materials

1. Put on safety glasses

2. Measure out plexiglass into two 202*313 cm, two 201*313 cm, and two 202*202
cm pieces. These make up the four sides, top, and bottom of the enclosure

3. Use band saw to cut out plexiglass pieces

4. Use belt sander to straighten edges of cut plexiglass

5. Measure eight 313*2 cm pieces of wood

6. Repeat steps 3 and 4 using wood instead of plexiglass

II. Constructing the enclosure

7. Attach two of the wood pieces together, using wood glue, to form a corner
support for the enclosure (See Figure 18)

8. Using the hammer nail the wood pieces together for further support

9. Repeat steps 7-8 four times (See Figure 19)


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10. Allow wooden supports to dry

11. Attach plexiglass pieces, in pairs, to the wooden supports using the silicone
sealant

12. Secure plexiglass to wood with clamps to allow the silicone to cure

13. Attach the two halves of the enclosure together with silicone (See Figure 20)

14. Attach bottom of enclosure to walls with silicone

Diagrams:

Figure 18.

Figure 18 shows one of the wooden supports for the enclosure.

Figure 19. All Wooden Supports

Figure 19 shows all four of the wooden supports for the enclosure
Authier Rasch 37

Figure 20. Joining the Halves

Figure 20 shows the two halves of the enclosure being joined with silicone.
Authier Rasch 38

Appendix B: Randomization

The trials were randomized using a TI - Nspire calculator until all the trials were

in a random order.

Figure 21. Calculator Randomization

Figure 21 shows how to randomize the trials. Begin by opening a calculator

application. Once there you click menu, then probability, random, and then integer. Next,

assign numbers to the trials and randomize them by placing 1, then a comma, and then

the last trial number within the parentheses.

Figure 22. Example Randomization

Figure 22 is an example of how to randomize trials between 1 and 40.


Authier Rasch 39

Appendix C: Prediction Equations


= + 2 + 2
+ 2
+ ""

0.0389 0.0071 0.0165


= 0.0563 + 2
+ 2
+ 2
+ ""

= 0.0640

Figure 23. Calculation of the Prediction Equation

Figure 23 displays the prediction equation formula and what the prediction

appears to be. The prediction is equal to the sum of the grand average (all averages

averaged), the effect values divided by two, and noise. Noise is an unquantifiable effect

that accounts for the factors that could negatively or positively affect the data and flaws

in the design and execution of the experiment.


= + 2 + ""

0.0389
= 0.0563 + + ""
2

= 0.0758

Figure 24. Calculation of the Parsimonious Prediction Equation

Figure 24 displays the parsimonious prediction equation formula and what the

prediction appears to be. The prediction is equal to sum of the grand average (all averages

averaged), the statistically significant effects divided by two and noise. Noise is an

unquantifiable effect that accounts for the factors that could negatively or positively

affect the data and flaws the in design and execution of the experiment.
Authier Rasch 40

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