High Voltage, Wood and Resin Result in Fractal Art

Wood burning, which goes by pyrography when it’s feeling fancy, has been an art form for centuries. [PapaJ06] puts a new twist on it by using a microwave oven transformer to generate fractal patterns in wood. We’ve seen these Lichtenberg figures before, but generally as electric discharges in acrylic sheets or crystal balls using multi-mega-electron volt accelerators. [PapaJ06]’s technique is considerably simpler and well within the reach of most would-be fractal artists, relying as it does on a transformer salvaged from a $20 Craigslist microwave.

But the extra twist that really brings the wow factor to the fractal patterns burned into the wood is the addition of some phosphorescent resin to fill the valleys carved by the electric discharge. [PapaJ06] carefully prepares the wood, fills the burns with glow powder mixed with epoxy resin, and finishes with a little sanding, linseed oil and polyurethane. The contrast between the charred and intact wood, and the way the resin fills the voids really brings out the fractal nature of the Lichtenberg figures.

[PapaJ06] doesn’t really show us too much about his process, but luckily [TheBackyardScientist] recently posted a video of his process for riding the lightning. Check it out after the break.

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Putting Lightning In Acrylic

Some folks at the i3Detroit hackerspace had an opportunity come up that would allow them to capture lightning in acrylic. They created a few Lichtenberg figures thanks to the help of a plastic tubing manufacturer, some lead sheet and a bunch of 1/2″ thick acrylic.

Lichtenberg figures are the 3D electrical trees found in paperweights the world over. They’re created through electrical discharge through an insulator, with lightning being the most impressive Lichtenberg figure anyone has ever seen. These figures can be formed in smaller objet d’art, the only necessity being a huge quantity of electrons pumped into the insulator.

This was found at Mercury Plastics’ Neo-Beam facility, a 5MeV electron accelerator that’s usually used to deliver energy for molecular cross linking in PEX tubing to enhance chemical resistance. For one day, some of the folks at i3Detroit were able to take over the line, shuffling a thousand or so acrylic parts through the machine to create Lichtenberg figures.

When the acrylic goes through the electron accelerator, they’re loaded up with a charge trapped inside. A quick mechanical shock discharges the acrylic, creating beautiful tree-like figures embedded in the plastic. There are a lot of pictures of the finished figures in a gallery, but if you want to see something really cool, a lead-shielded GoPro was also run through the electron accelerator. You can check out that video below.

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Electron Tree Bridal gifts

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[Mark] just sent us in this fascinating example of Lichtenberg Figures, or more commonly known as Captured Lightning.

He just got married yesterday to his beautiful wife [Charlie] and they wanted to do something different for their bridal party. They chose to capture lightning inside acrylic spheres. Quite an impressive gift if we do say so ourselves!

The funny thing is, I was just reading [Theo Gray’s] Mad Science book which explains this phenomena. These Lichtenberg Figures are created by blasting a beam of high energy electrons at a piece of acrylic. Many of the electrons get trapped inside the acrylic and form a plane of charge. When the acrylic object gets struck with a grounding  stud, a discharge path is formed and all the electrons escape, leaving a completely unique lightning-like path in their tracks.

Unfortunately to make these you’re going to need a linear accelerator; a very expensive machine that [Mark] was lucky enough to use through his work. However the couple didn’t stop there, they also designed the lighted base using a PIC12F1501 micro-controller to finish off the gifts!

See how they were made after the break! Just a heads up, the video is very loud when the electrons are fired! If you’re wearing headphones keep the volume low.

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