Projects

Van De Graaf Generator

Super Size Me!

Daniel Koch

Issue 2, August 2017

Ever wanted to get 40,000 volts to fly through the air? We’ll show you how to build a Van de Graaff generator that will do just that!

A Van de Graaff generator is a device recognisable to most of us - physically, if not by name - often from high school science. Here, we take that desktop-sized concept and build a super-sized one. Why? A better question would be, WHY NOT!

The Van de Graaff generator has its origins in the early days of nuclear research, having been developed by Robert Van de Graaff as a particle accelerator. They are even still used today as high voltage generators, in some specific research fields. Beyond research and high school science education, Van de Graaff generators can actually be a lot of fun! The distinctive metal sphere in the top is the fun zone, where you can cause foil pie tins to levitate and fly away from the top, watch piles of confetti scatter into the air, or see balloons lift off and stick to whatever they touch. You can even make your hair stand on end, zap someone near you (although you will equally share the pain!), and have bright blue electric arcs jump to the grounding rod. It can even form the basis of a lot of photographic fun.

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