Kelvin's Thunderstorm - Create lightning from water and gravity!

Picture of Kelvin's Thunderstorm - Create lightning from water and gravity!
Did you know that you could recreate thunderstorm lightning in your own home?

It's possible and is really easy to do. Granted, it's not nearly as exciting as a good old fashion thunderstorm, but the effect is still pretty cool and this lightning won't kill you!

The scientific name for this experiment is a water-drop electrostatic generator.

Watch the video for a quick overview, then check out the detailed instructions to see how to build your own! (Scientific explanation is on step 6)

WARNING: This experiment can generate several thousand volts out of thin air, possible injuring or even killing a harmless little gnat or even a fly!

Video overview:

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Step 1: Supplies

Picture of Supplies
Here's a list of supplies you will need for this experiment. You can get them all at your local hardware store.

- Garden Hose
- Two buckets - 8 quart or larger are perfect
- Packing Styrofoam
- Hose 'Y' Adapter with flow-control valves
- One foot of 3/4" plastic tubing
- Two 3/4" end caps
- Nylon thread or string
- Wire - any kind of conducting wire works, even alligator leads.
- Two bottomless soup or coffee cans
- A drill with a small bit

Step 2: Prep the parts

Picture of Prep the parts
There's a couple of things you'll need to do before putting it all together:

1. Drill holes in the end caps.
This is the most important step. The end goal here is to create several continuous streams of water droplets.

In order to accomplish that, the holes must be properly spaced, otherwise they will join into a solid stream, defeating the purpose.

(This will still work with only one stream of droplets, but the energy buildup time is greatly reduced by having several!)

2. Drill holes in the cans.
The cans will need three holes. Two on top for suspending it from something, and one on the bottom for the metal wire.
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phyck7 years ago
ok i now almost nothing of this science , but hypothetically if you could curculate the same water with a pump , (or gravity suction tube thing) , and some how harness the electricity isnt that potencially a pretty damn easy renewable energy resource ?

please enlighten me if this is possible with the correct enginereing , or if its just a quick idea that wont work
-thx =)
It won't work. No matter how hard you tried, you would always be putting more energy into the pump than you would be getting back. And you can't circulate water by gravity alone.
While this is true - you can't use this to produce more energy than consumed (i.e. there's still no such thing as a free lunch, nor free power), if you are already circulating water for a water feature, like an indoor waterfall in your office or some such thing, you can use this to generate small amount of power to offset the energy cost, or to power something else. I don't have pictures, but in my last office I had a small setup which was not only pleasant to see (it was made quite beautifully in addition to the general pleasantness of flowing water), and pleasant background noise (that sometimes made me need to pee), but it charged batteries for me. Of course, it consumed more power than a normal charger which would plug into the wall - but it consumed a lot less than said charger and a typical indoor waterfall would have!
When people talk of 'free energy', you know, they don't actually think in terms of zero energy cost in terms of energy, but mostly they mean they don't have to pay money for it. Free energy in the strictest sense, is not free at all, in terms of energy cost (cost as in terms of how much extra energy is required to convert energy from one form to another). The arguments about no free lunches and no free energy are getting really old, really fast. BUT, from a human perspective it may as well be free in terms of energy as the input energy (the big bang, leading to our universe) was put into the atom so long ago (14 -15 billion years), that for all intents and purposes, the energy is free. OK, the energy had to come from somewhere initially, but when we are talking billions of years, and an average human lifespan of 80 years, that argument means very little. YES, technically it is correct to say the energy was imbued in atoms initially, but it's basically being pedantic in the extreme. spikey

free energy is having your wife make you a sandwich ( free energy) and eat it for you too ( no gain). :) I guess it's kinda like the sun.... Gives light (free energy) but will burn you (no gain). Think Big ...... Someone has got to figure this out...... Many some thought experiments are in order.

I saw something on tv, about a setup utilized in ancient Greece, or Rome.. or something like that. Water would be put into a bowl, and it would drain through a hose, the hose was attached to a kind of beaker which was filled with air and had another hose inside of it, that hose when to another beaker that was filled with air and had a hose in it, that hose lead out of the whole thing and back into the bowl. It was a recycling waterfall, and it worked. I do feel, that because no energy is being used, except the change from potential to kinetic energy, that that setup could be used for the purposes.
I think what you just described is called Heron's Fountain. While the water does flow without help, it does not last forever. The water stops flowing after a brief while.
True dat, in order for a syphon to work the end where water comes out needs to be lower than the water level in the vessel from which the liquid comes from. Which means that your diagram would never work, maybe momentarily, and I'm talking about 1 or 2 seconds here, if you had sucked the water out of the syphon first you might have a little bit trickle out when you take your mouth away.

is the earth and space in perpetual motion? If it is why can't water be?

Think Big. :))

it uses the power of a vacum just like syphponing gas from a tank you create initial suction then as the water flows out the end it suck up the water from the bowl. nature does not like vacums so the water goes up the tube and then falls out of the pipe thus repeating the cycle i know i spelled alot wrong i dont care im not an english major

I know this is a 6 year old post, but it's still inaccurate. Using the water's motion to drive a generator is not saving you energy. If you used a killawatt or other device to actually measure the amount of energy being consumed by your charger and your pump you'd see that there are no savings. You are not capturing waste energy in that kind of system, you are increasing the load on the pump system since there is now more resistance to the flow of water in the form of the turbine. This is called parasitic energy drain, this is no different than putting a desk-fan sized wind-turbine on the outside unit of your air conditioner and using it to charge your devices. The turbine is producing energy from the air induction caused by the unit's fan, but the unit's fan is having to exert more energy to compensate.

You are correct that it is a parasitic drain. You are incorrect that there is no reduction in energy consumption. I did in fact use a kill-a-watt meter on that set up, many times, as I demonstrated it to friends. It was not a massive cost or energy savings over two separate devices running, but there was a notable savings.

doesn't a hydro electric dam use gravity to circulate water...... Think Big :)

Yep, can't get more out than in, conservation of energy, just like an 'A' bomb...hang on, that's not right is it..slightly more energy out than the TNT or tiny A bomb used to set the main A bomb off.. Ok, then...the atom itself. The atom demonstrates the laws of conservation perfectly, doesn't it? The electron(s) spin(s) around the nucleus until it runs out of ener...oh, that's another bad example really isn't it. OK, got it this time...the solar system! That, needs to be constanly fed new energy in order to maintain orbits, planes etc..hang on a moment! That doesn't work either, does it. Hmmm..this conservation of energy 'law' is a bit of a flakey law really isn't it. The only poeple this so called 'law' has served, is the people that try to convince the rest of us that this law exists and is valid 100% of the time. The truth of it, is that it's only valid MOST of the time. A bit like saying 99 out of 100 UFO sightings are not really space/dimentional craft, but other normal objects, therefore, UFO's don't exist. Fine until you realise that because most are not 'real', if just 1 of 100 IS 'real', then the other 99 count for zilch.
The law does exist and is valid 100% of the time. Regarding the A-Bomb, you've got to remember that matter and energy are equivalent; energy was put in, in the form of matter, which was converted to energy during the explosion. As for the orbits of planets and electrons, they aren't losing any energy as they orbit, because there is no friction from air etc., so no more energy needs to be added in order for them to maintain their orbits. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the law still holds in each example.
Matter and energy are not equivalent. Matter can not be turned into energy, just as energy can not be turned into matter, but, instead, the energy that's already in the atom can be forced out. If you think about the fact that the atom's nucleus will explode at nearly the speed of light (thanks to the SNF - that's the strong nuclear force) because of the energy already contained within the atomic structure. There is no such thing as a conversion from matter to energy.
Ever heard of this small equation?
Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared
Thats the basic theory (I think) behind a nuclear bomb, matter is converted to energy.
Matter is NOT converted to energy. The strong nuclear force is being over-powered by the initial blast in the bomb. This causes rapid atomic decay, in which the protons of the atom are shot out at speeds near to, at, or exceeding the speed of light. Matter is not converted to energy, but, instead matter gives off energy. An easy way to describe this is in a similar manner to an exothermic or endothermic reaction; in an exothermic or endothermic reaction, the reactive material gives off energy or pulls in energy, respectively. In an exothermic reaction, bonds are generally broken; because it takes energy to make those bonds, the reaction puts off energy. In an endothermic reaction, the opposite is true. The same basic principle applies in a nuclear reaction, only on a MUCH larger scale (with smaller parts!). Isn't science wonderful?
"in which the protons of the atom are shot out at speeds near to, at, or exceeding the speed of light." Something tells me that the above statment is flawed. Matter, travelling near the speed of light? Yes. (LHC particle beam 99.999%) At the speed of light? Nearly impossible. (Massive amount of energy) Exceeding the speed of light? No. Photons travel so very fast because they have little to zero mass. When I talk of matter to energy, I'm meaning matter to photons (aka electromagnetic radiation). I know that a neutron can be split into a proton and an electron, which then bombard other sub-atomic particles, thus setting up a nuclear chain reaction, in the right materials. For the exothermic and endothermic reactions, you sorta had a comparision, since as the molecules interact and electrons moved about, they emitt or require infra-red radiation to react. :D

electrons have less mas than protons and if the electrons are flying at the speed of light we call them photons :) so if you can reverse the energy holding the electron near the nucleus it creates gamma radiation and light if and only if that force is powerful enough to accelerate the electron to photon speeds. also the neutron cannot be split into a proton and electron.

Actually to travel at the speed of light you'd need infinite energy. sry for bein a pedant.
Also you can travel faster than light, you just need to go back in time, and to do that, all you have to do is go faster than the speed of light. :P
According to quantum physics you can't go faster than light...
quatum physics is right but u can move across the galxy in a matter of secong if u had an incredible ammount of anti-matter
That's not true. Think of it this way - if you were a beam of light and I were moving in a direction opposite your motion, relative to you I'd be moving faster than the speed of light.
Yes, but that's your relative speed, not your actual speed.

(I probably should have also mentioned that it's easy to travel at the speed of light provided that you have no mass.)
Wait but I read light does have mass. I think its the protons or something. Something about a laser hitting something.
Light has no mass, but it can still affect what it bounces off of. When light pours out of a flashlight, it's bouncing and dispersing freely, like a buckshot round. When it's being shot out of a laser, it's focused into an extremely straight line, which is one of the reasons they're so powerful.

Light has no mass, it also has nothing to do with protons. Read the wiki.
plus, at the speed of light, things slow down, so your relative speed would still not exceed the SOL
But the fact remains that you would be moving at the speed of light. It doesn't matter what it's relative to, because there could be some light moving the opposite direction of the light we're speaking of relatively, and we're moving at half the speed of that light, when compared to the 'stationary' light. There's also the fact that light is composed of photons, which are very simple, but not without mass.
Time slows down as you approach the speed of light, thus making your arguments invalid. Look it up.
I'm sorry, but how is this relative? Also, in response to chriskarr, THE SPEED OF LIGHT IS CONSTANT. I feel I should have mentioned that, you see, even if I was moving away from you, you would still appear to move at the speed of light, no faster. No trying to work around it with your incomplete physics.
Sorry, I misunderstood what he was saying.
I suppose I'd have to agree with that.
Matter IS being converted into energy, as is evident in the difference of mass that is exhibited between the mass of a particle you split, and the sum of the masses of the resulting particles. This is elementary physics.
Sorry; I am going to need to take back my prior comment, to a degree. Matter is, in fact, not being *converted* to energy...matter is naught more than condensed energy receiving mass from its interaction with a sort of 'grid', according to the standard model of particle physics and the theory of Higgs interaction.

This is quantum physics.
I had not thought of it before, but you are right. Matter is not converted into energy. Even in an atomic blast. The protons, neutrons, and electrons are still there just as they were before. Good old E=mc2 only refers to the release of the energy bonds. The electromagnetic bond of the electron/proton is broken and the electron goes flying off and photons carrying that energy go flying off. The nuclear bonds of the proton/neutron are broken and they go flying off and photons carrying that energy. The matter (i.e. proton, neutrons, and electrons) are all still present, just not bonded together.

And as for some particles exceeding the speed of light. Why even get into that? Yes, some tiny, tiny, tiny amount of them do. But that's this crazy quantum mechanical, they can do it cause we can't observe them thing. It just confuses people. By people I mean laymen, students, advanced physicists with three doctorates. :)
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