Electricity is one of the most useful discoveries of our relatively recent history. It lights the rooms we hang out in, give power to some vehicles and allows for communication across vast distances. In 1800, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta discovered that particular chemical reactions could produce electricity so he constructed the voltaic pile (an early electric battery) that produced a steady electric current.
Since then, electricity has been adapted to try to fit the needs of people better. In 1891, inventor Nikola Tesla wanted to make a way to transmit electricity without the use of wires, so that more people could have access to a cities source. He created the Tesla coil, a resonant transformer circuit to try to do just that.
However, with this new technology came challenges. It turns out that spraying electricity into the air is a waste. Whether the power would be used or not, it’ll eventually dissipate. It is also quite dangerous without the use of proper equipment. The large arcs of electricity that you see are about 650,000 volts! For comparison, the electricity that comes out of your wall is at about 120 volts, which is dangerous in it’s own right.
Today, Tesla coils are not used for free energy, or really anything useful. However, they are used far and wide in classrooms as scientific demonstrations! They are also, really fun to play with, as long as you do so safely. Faraday cages or grounding rods should always be used, and can even be used to control the flow of the electric discharge!
The relationship between electricity and magnetism is as old as space and time, but is a complicated one. As light propagates, electricity and magnetism flow in and out of each other, forever connected. This connection can allow for some pretty interesting phenomenons in physics.
Due to induction, we can get the “train” to propel forward. Induction is the act or process by which an electric or magnetic effect is produced in an electrical conductor or magnetizable body when it is exposed to the influence or variation of a field of force. This means that moving electricity induces magnetism, and moving magnets induces electricity.
Our “train” is composed of a battery and two strong magnets whose fields are repelling each others. It’s track is a long solenoid, or tightly coiled copper wire. The battery sends a current through the solenoid, which creates a magnetic field. That induced magnetic field then interacts with the magnets, repelling one magnet (pushing it) and attracting the other (pulling it). This push from one end and pull from the other creates a net forward motion (or if it is the exact opposite, then it will bounce out of the track due to a net backward motion).
If the two magnets are aligned with the battery such that their fields are attracted to one another, then there will be a net of zero movement. This is due to the induced magnetic field pulling the magnets in opposing directions. But, don’t take my word for it, give it a try for yourself!
WARNING: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. We are dealing with live wires and 120 volts of electricity which can cause fire and/or injuries.
Have you ever wanted to electrify something just to see what would happen? Running electricity of a high voltage through a pickle is definitely dangerous, but also tons of fun! But how is the circuit completed, and why does the pickle glow?
There are two basic types of electricity, static and dynamic. Static electricity is simply a buildup of electrons on a surface whereas dynamic electricity is a steady flow of electrons. Dynamic electricity is what powers things like our home electronics and appliances. There is about 120 volts that can come out of a wall socket, which is exactly what we used to power this experiment.
In order for this experiment to work, we need to be able to complete the circuit. Luckily, pickles are great conductors of electricity due to their high salt content, meaning that electricity can easily flow through them. The salt found in pickles is sodium chloride, NaCl. Electricity at 120 volts is powerful enough to split the NaCl apart into Na+ and Cl-. It then strips the extra electron from the sodium atom producing a photon of yellow-orange light, which is the glow that you see!
If you connect multiple pickles together by a conductive material such as a nail, you will still be able to see the glowing effect. In fact, it is possible to make a long chain of glowing pickles in this manner. However, the more you link the more energy it takes to make it through the circuit and therefore the dimmer the glow will be. How many pickles do you think it would take to no longer see the light?
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