Make Water Bridges With High Voltages

It’s generally a bad idea to mix high voltage electricity and water, but interesting things happen if you do. This video from [RWGResearch] shows one of them: water bridging. If you have two water sources (such as two beakers full of very highly distilled water) with a high voltage between them, the voltage can create a gravity defying bridge that flows between them.

The experiment starts with the pouring spouts from two beakers nearly touching each other. Water fills the beakers right up to the spout, but it’s the application of electricity that pulls the bridge between the positive and negative beakers. With care, this technique can create a bridge of up to 2cm (about 0.8 inches). [RWGResearch] shows that he is able to create a bridge of about a centimeter with a 5KV voltage, but which only carries a few milliamps.

What forces are at play here isn’t exactly clear, but one recent paper speculates that it’s down to a combination of the dielectric force caused by the differing charges of parts of water molecules and the surface tension of the water. Whatever it is, it is fascinating and makes for a neat trick.

Want to make your own contribution to the scientific body of knowledge? Prove or disprove the speculation mentioned in the Wikipeadia article: is this possible because of an H3O2 lattice formed by the high voltage? How would you formulate a test for this?

42 thoughts on “Make Water Bridges With High Voltages

    1. Also wondering how much temperature affects this, if it is due to the dielectric effect, I guess that would be the way to hint at it. I can’t help thinking water stream from a tap and static charge bending it. I.wonder what frequency range he’s using. I guess the skin effect has some influence due to the surface tension making things line up. Despite it moving mathematically it could be considered a static wire considering the speeds involved.

      1. According to the Wikipedia article: “The surface temperature also rises from an initial surface temperature of 20 °C (68 °F) up to 60 °C (140 °F) before breakdown.”

        I don’t know where that information was sourced from, but it is interesting.

        Could someone try a forming a Jacobs Ladder using water?! :D

      1. Can you rectify a Tesla coil? Vacuum tube diode, mercury diode, something like that? Bloody great pile of HV silicon diodes encased in, what, 5 feet of glass or something? You could even do a capacitor with something similar, big metal plates and some unimaginably dieletric dielectric.

        For a “vacuum tube” diode you might not even need the vacuum. Or the tube. Maybe just a point and a very flat plate (or a suitably curved one?) would be enough. Put some insulation everywhere the current isn’t supposed to flow. I suppose the problem of there basically being no such thing as an insulator, as far as Tesla coils go, would be the big problem.

        An exercise for the reader, rectifying a Tesla coil. In real life it’s something you’d just engineer around by changing the specifications so you no longer needed DC.

        Maybe you could do a bridge rectifier with 2x double-diodes. One would be a plate with 2 pointy emitters, the other an emitter with 2 plates. A double-ended emitter for the second.

  1. “the voltage can create a gravity defying bridge”
    The *seemingly* HaD blogger sits on his gravity defying chair, and uses the kinetic energy of his fingers to copy-pasted the misleading wording.

    “What forces are at play here isn’t exactly clear”
    My hypothesis is that it may be kind of automated content-feeding mechanism based on financial reward that has no sanity-check feature ?

    1. Oh, sorry, my ad blocker blocked the “EDIT BUTTON”:

      s/The *seemingly* HaD blogger/The *seemingly* conscious HaD blogger
      s/fingers to copy-pasted/finger to copy-paste
      s/it may be kind/it may be a kind
      s/that has no/lacking a

    2. What? It’s defying gravity, the water should fall. Of course he’s defying gravity with another, stronger force. He hasn’t said he’s switched gravity off. It isn’t magic, it’s probably an electrostatic thing. What’s the problem with that?

      Chairs don’t defy gravity, they just bring the ground up a bit closer. Maglevs defy gravity, or at least overpower it. This is all fairly standard English usage.

      1. Chairs *do* defy gravity. If you look a tad closer, it’s all electromagnetic stuff holding the chair together (chemical bonds and that), of course the quantum “decorated” kind of electromagnetic. Not very different from the water bridge thingie.

        Then there’s the strong interaction, but you’d have to go neutron star to see some of that.

        It’s electromagnetic turtles all the way down. Until they become strong turtles, that is.

    3. “My hypothesis is that it may be a kind of automated content-feeding mechanism based on financial reward lacking a sanity-check feature ?”
      Do you mean the interwebs in general or just HaD in particular? Please clarify.

    1. As it’s the only large knob on the front panel, I think it controls the voltage after all. However, as the IV curve of water isn’t flat, the current also rises. There, that should make you feel a lot better.

    2. The knob is clearly for voltage. — The current is just measured. — You can see this at about six minutes in, the current is zero (because the bridge is broken), and turning the knob moves the voltage up and down. — The reason it looks like he’s adjusting the current is because the knob is closer to that meter, and of course there is a proportional relationship between current and voltage. (Look up Ohm’s Law. — The way you get something to consume more current is to increase the voltage you pass through it.)

    1. Nitric acid used to be made that way, but it’s very energy inefficient. We now use the Haber process, which is overall a more efficient and less expensive way to get nitrates. (Haber makes ammonia, but from there making other nitrates is easier.)

      You generally ran air through a big spark chamber, then sprayed water down to absorb any generated nitrates. This was done near the generation plant for better efficiency – it was done at Niagra for awhile, and I believe the last discharge plant went offline a decade or more ago (Finland maybe?). The recent ones were only being kept in service because they already existed and were close to a plant that had spare energy.

      It’s been estimated that lightning provides terrestrial fixated nitrogen by this method, although it takes many centuries to accrue any appreciable amount.

  2. I do know from experience (I work, professionally, in the high voltage electronics field) that passing DI water through plastic tubing will build up a nice static charge that will bite the shit out of if you aren’t careful.

      1. It might be interesting to see, but it’s not going to tell you much about the water movement. The water has to be ultra pure, and dye is the exact opposite of ultra pure water. I expect the bridge will drop almost instantly.

      2. The water levels in the jars™ don’t appear to be changing. If the water were moving between them, it’s very hard to believe that it would be a two-way flow that maintained the levels. I think the bridge has to be static, but it would still be great to see dye added to one of them. I wonder where I could get a power supply like he’s using…

  3. He should throw some dye in the water, see if it flows. Or even a pH sensitive dye to visualize water dissociation. Maybe add a detergent and see what reduced water tension does. As long as he uses non Ionic detergents, it shouldn’t affect conductivity too much.

  4. So what are we talking about here? Electron flow which stabilizes water across a gap? Are you actually providing flowing “matter” via electrons to the normally unstable water molecule giving it more tension and binding? So how does the high frequency part of it really effect the physical characteristics of the water? It is a really cool trick though.

  5. I would speculate that what DI water is to electricity is exactly like what ferrofluidis to magnetism. DI water has very high dielectric permittivity, around 100. Would be interesting to attempt to reproduce this with ferrofluid.

  6. Interesting to see the water level difference in both jars, this could be due to movement of one jar to the other, which eventually stops due to the pressure difference between both jars due to height difference. would be interesting to tabulate current versus height difference in both jars, this way you can work out the ‘pushing’ force that the current is exerting on the water.

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