Remoticon 2021 // Jay Bowles Dips Into The Plasmaverse

Every hacker out there is familiar with the zaps and sizzles of the Tesla coil, or the crash and thunder of lighting strikes on our hallowed Earth. These phenomena all involve the physics of plasma, a subject near and dear to Jay Bowles’s heart. Thus, he graced Remoticon 2021 with a enlightening talk taking us on a Dip Into the Plasmaverse.

Jay’s passion for the topic is obvious, having fallen in love with high voltage physics as a teenager. He appreciated how tangible the science was, whether it’s the glow of neon lighting or the heating magic of the common microwave. His talk covers the experiments and science that he’s studied over the past 17 years and in the course of running his Plasma Channel YouTube channel.


The talk serves as a great dive into the world of HV experimentation, with Jay featuring three exotic applications of high voltage science.

The first demonstration is of human electrostatic levitation. This requires a very high static voltage of -60,000 V applied to the body via a Cockroft-Walton voltage multiplier, while Jay is isolated from the ground on a stool. Jay reminds the audience that high voltage itself is not by itself lethal to the body, highlighting the role current has to play. A bottom plate is then used, set at ground potential to enable the effect.

With the voltage applied, a lightweight foil “boat” will levitate above the plate and below Jay’s hand. It’s a quasistable system, and a difficult thing to maintain, but the experiment works and the aluminium foil floats in the air. [Jay] then goes through the science behind it all, discussing the charge relationships and the other physical effects at play. The detail is key, which explains not just how the foil floats, but how it remains in place without shooting off in one direction.

It only gets more exotic, with Jay repurposing the voltage multiplier and stool to bend a flame electrostatically. This is possible as fire contains many positive and negative ions which can be influenced by electric fields. It’s an effect that he discovered by accident, having left a burning candle near a high-voltage multiplier, and noticed the flame bending towards the high voltage source.

High voltages can literally split a flame in two.

With his body charged to high voltage once more, Jay is able to “pull” the flame towards his left or right hand, with the demo proving difficult as he twice pulled the flame entirely off the wick, extinguishing the candle. It’s a dangerous experiment in some ways too, as it involves literally attracting fire towards the body. In more controlled conditions, Jay has been able to achieve some impressive feats with this trick, bending and tugging large flames to his will, even “splitting” a candle flame in two directions.

The last demonstration involves a device called an atmospheric corona motor. Rather than the “high” current used by magnetic motors, it relies on high voltage instead, running at extremely low currents. The design relies on electrostatic charges to turn a rotor rather than electromagnetic fields, and Jay explains how it all works and compares it to the operation of a traditional gravity-driven waterwheel. He also points out how the motor can be driven by static electricity extracted from the atmosphere itself, with the help of a balloon or drone to carry a wire high into the air.

Overall, the talk serves as a wonderful dip into the Plasmaverse, just as the title promises. Jay’s demonstrations and explanations are a great primer to get any hacker thinking about the possibilities of working with high voltage plasma science. All that’s left is to get experimenting on your own!

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