Large Lichtenberg Figure (ca. 1990)
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
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.
Copyright 1999, Oak Ridge Associated Universities