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High-voltage beats

By Michael Banks

If my memory serves me right, my first introduction to physics came via a demonstration of the Van der Graaf generator.

Situated in the middle of the classroom one day stood a scary-looking contraption consisting of an upright metal stand with a large silver ball on top.

However, once our teacher stood up to give the hair-raising demonstration of the device, the fear of it being used as some kind of torture tool soon eroded.

While Van der Graaf generators are still widely used to teach students about static electricity, researchers at Case Western Reserve University in the US have now used a similar contraption – a Tesla coil – for an altogether different reason.

They have formed the Tesla Orchestra, which uses Tesla coils to convert music into lightning and sound.

In their set-up, an alternating current (AC) is used to generate each bolt of lightning produced by the Tesla coil. As it is made by AC, the bolt has a certain frequency, which can then be tuned to reproduce all of the notes on a keyboard.

Last month the group invited musicians to submit music so they could convert the tunes into sparks and the accompanying sounds. You can see the results in the video above.

On 11 June the Tesla Orchestra will select some of the best songs and perform them in a live show in the Masonic Auditorium in Cleveland.

If you are in the area that day don’t miss out on what is sure to be an electrifying show!

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  1. Steve Douglas

    Tesla coils are still widely used to teach students about static electricity…
    But they don’t generate static electricity – you said so yourself – they work on AC and are the equivalent of a HV transformer.
    The only ‘hair raising demonstrations’ we ever did at school involving static electricity involved a Van der Graaf generator.
    I think you’re confused.

  2. Michael Banks

    Hi Steve, thanks for your comment.
    You are completely right, I got my Van der Graaf generator and Telsa coil all mixed up. Correction has been made above. If only I had paid more attention in class.


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