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Because it's Friday: Captured Lightning

This acrylic sculpture was created not by carving out the lighting design by hand, but in a split second with the tap of a nail: It looks fake, but this is a real demostration of creating a Lichtenburg Figure. A block of acrylic is bombarded in an electron accelerator, where millions of volts worth of the charged particles become embedded in the interior of the plastic. A tap from a grounded object discharges the charge cloud locked within, instantly creating the treelike network as the trapped electrons flow out of the plastic. For minutes afterwards, the internal charges continue to distribute throughout the block, making the lighting sparks you see. This video describes the process of making Lichtenburg Figures:   From the YouTube description: In order to make Captured Lightning, our team of experienced "Spark Whisperers" uses a 5 million electron volt (MeV) particle accelerator to inject hundreds of trillions of electrons deep inside pieces of clear plastic (polymethylmethacrylate, or PMMA). The electrons come to rest about 1/4" to 1/2" below the irradiated surface, forming a cloud-like layer of negative charge, called a space charge. Since PMMA is an excellent electrical insulator, the intensely charged layer is temporarily trapped inside the specimen, similar to the way charge becomes temporarily trapped within clouds in a thunderstorm before a lightning strike. Fully charged specimens are then carefully discharged by tapping the surface using a metal point. This creates a weakened pathway that allows the trapped electrons to suddenly escape. As they surge out, they form a highly-branched network of high-current, lightning-like electrical discharges. The white-hot discharges create countless branching chains of microscopic fractures and tubes within the PMMA, leaving behind a permanent "fossil" of the paths that were originally taken by the discharges.  That's all for this week. Enjoy your weekend!

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More Stories By David Smith

David Smith is Vice President of Marketing and Community at Revolution Analytics. He has a long history with the R and statistics communities. After graduating with a degree in Statistics from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, he spent four years researching statistical methodology at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, where he also developed a number of packages for the S-PLUS statistical modeling environment. He continued his association with S-PLUS at Insightful (now TIBCO Spotfire) overseeing the product management of S-PLUS and other statistical and data mining products.<

David smith is the co-author (with Bill Venables) of the popular tutorial manual, An Introduction to R, and one of the originating developers of the ESS: Emacs Speaks Statistics project. Today, he leads marketing for REvolution R, supports R communities worldwide, and is responsible for the Revolutions blog. Prior to joining Revolution Analytics, he served as vice president of product management at Zynchros, Inc. Follow him on twitter at @RevoDavid

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