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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Revealing the Patterns of Lichtenberg Figures

By January 15, 2013

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Lichtenberg Figures (Bert Hickman)Unless you have a particle accelerator, the type of Lichtenberg figure that you would make yourself probably would be a two-dimensional surface pattern rather than a three-dimensional pattern you would see illuminated by LEDs or sometimes forming a dark tree inside the plastic. An LED can illuminate the space formed in a dielectric when the particle beam exceeds the dielectric strength of a material, basically allowing the particles to force a path, much like a lightning strike. An electric discharge inside of acrylic releases x-rays that darken the acrylic through a process known as solarization. The color centers tend to be amber or sometimes lime green. The color is not permanent, but fades over time with exposure to oxygen and heat.

When you make a Lichtenberg figure on top of a sheet of glass or plastic, electrons travel across the surface of the dielectric, eventually coming to rest. You can reveal the pattern by blowing toner powder from a printer or copier across the surface. The toner will stick to the charged regions. Other powders will work too, such as Lycopodium powder or crushed sulfur, but toner is probably the easiest material to obtain. Because the charge will dissipate, your pattern will be lost if you disturb the powder on the surface. You can record your Lichtenberg figure by photographing it.

An Easier Way to Make Lichtenberg Figures | Pictures of Lichtenberg Figures

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