Large Lichtenberg Figure (ca. 1990)

Large Lichtenberg Figure

The particular example might not be the largest Lichtenberg figure ever produced, but it is not far from it. To produce it, a 12" x 12" x 1" block of Lucite was exposed to an electron beam at Hanscom Air Force Base by Joe Mendonca. It is reported that the explosion accompanying the discharge was heard several buildings away. Discharges this size can be dangerous to produce.

Donated by Joe Mendonca.

Large Lichtenberg Figure

Mendonca’s work was sponsored by the military and NASA who were concerned about cosmic ray damage to equipment in space. Everything in space is continually bombarded by high energy charged particles, e.g. protons. If the exposed material is a crystalline non-conductor, the cosmic ray energy can be trapped and at some later time spontaneously discharged. The tracks created in the material by the discharge could weaken it or destroy its usefulness. In the case of space shuttle tiles, such damage might make the tiles overheat or shorten their useful life. Similarly, these discharges could destroy semiconductors in space-based electronics systems.

Mendonca was issued a U.S. patent in 1989 (Patent Number 4,853,163) that described a method for controlling the spontaneous discharge of irradiated plastics and the formation of Lichtenberg Figures.