If you’ve taken our Electricity and Magnetism class, you’ve seen this device before! You press a button and an electric arc rises to the top of two tall wires. This is the Jacob’s Ladder! But what’s happening here?
The base of the Ladder is a transformer — a device that changes an incoming voltage. In the Ladder’s case, it increases it by a huge amount. That voltage is put into one of the vertical wires, increasing its electric potential. The electricity needs to flow somewhere, so it ionizes the air to jump to the other vertical wire. As the electricity arcs, it heats up the ionized air, which causes it to rise. As the wire get further apart, it becomes more and more difficult for the electricity to reach, and the arc eventually stops. Then the transformer builds up the electric potential again, repeating the process all over again. Though as electricity flows through the wires, they heat up. The hotter they are, the slower the electricity flows. Eventually, you’ll notice the arc having trouble getting to the top as it travels slower and slower.
This is just one of the many cool electricity demos we have at AstroCamp! Be sure to check out this and all the others on your trip.
Written By: Scott Yarbrough