Can a Community College Lab Simulate Real Lightning Conditions?

  • #1
Hopper_18
5
5
TL;DR Summary
For an honors project for my ENM class I was thinking about creating an actual lightning cloud to better study lightning.
Hello,

I’m not 100% where to post this but I think it fits best here.

I am currently a community college student who is trying to do an honors project for my electronegativity and magnetism course. I am interested in meteorology and know that there are aspects of lightning that are unknown. I was therefore hoping to create a project that would combine my love of meteorology with enm to make a cool honors project.

I was thinking of making a laboratory environment where cumulonimbus cloud could be made by creating a warm updraft, through the use of some heating device on ground and then get the temperature at the top of the area to be 25F. I would also add some silver iodide, for cloud seeding ingredient to effectively make a cloud.

However, I can’t seem to find a ratio of how much I would need to make a specific size cloud so if anyone can direct me that would be greatly appreciated. Once the cloud was made I’d get some very negative above the cloud so that by inductance the cloud part near the ground would become negatively charged.

I can slowly work up to the point where the inductance is great enough on the cloud that the electron initiate a creatation of a stepped leader which could then be scaled to determine if it follows with real atmospheric models. Does anyone think this could be physically done in a community college lab or is this to ambitious or just not feasible? Also if when reading this anyone has any other ideas for interesting meteorology projects feel free to share! Thank you in advance :)
 
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  • #2
It is far too ambitious an experiment.

The shape of the lightning ionisation path is dependent on scale.
A breakdown and following discharge through air happens in a curved path, an arc.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paschen's_law

Charges move in the atmosphere by attachment to air molecules, pollutants and to water droplets. Merging droplets merge their charge. Droplets, that fall to the base of a cloud, evaporate and concentrate charge in the cloud base. That all happens in clouds. A lab is too small to demonstrate that complexity and scale experimentally.

There has never been an experiment that shows how half-melted hailstones, (graupel), can be rubbed together in the tops of thunderclouds, to generate static electricity by friction. Don't waste your time in that field. As a source of the charge for lightning, that is looking more and more like a persistent myth and a distraction.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graupel

If rain showers are common, you could measure the charge falling to the ground on the raindrops, by catching them on a metal mesh with an electrometer amplifier to measure the charge. I have watched individual drops dumping charge onto a bare-wire radio antenna, but only at the very start of rain showers, the effect disappeared once the steady rain set in.

If it does not rain often in your location, you could measure the electric field in the air by the use of a field mill. Building and calibrating the mill might become the entire experiment. All the details you need are on the web.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_mill
 
  • #3
Hopper_18 said:
Does anyone think this could be physically done in a community college lab or is this to ambitious or just not feasible?
Too ambitious, by a lot. Really, really, really hard to do. They also may not like the high voltages you'll have to use to generate the arc discharge.
 
  • #4
First, I agree - too ambitious. We don't get lightning in our kitchens every time we boil water.

Next, read Ulam's book on lightning. You'll enjoy it.

A question that is at least 100x less ambitious and probably still too much so. What color is lightning? Does it change during the stroke? Are all bolts the same color?
 

Related to Can a Community College Lab Simulate Real Lightning Conditions?

Can a Community College Lab Simulate Real Lightning Conditions?

Yes, a community college lab can simulate certain aspects of lightning conditions, but there are limitations. While small-scale electrical discharges can be generated to mimic lightning, achieving the full power and complexity of natural lightning is typically beyond the scope of most community college labs due to safety and equipment constraints.

What Equipment is Needed to Simulate Lightning in a Lab?

To simulate lightning in a lab, you would typically need a Van de Graaff generator or a Marx generator, which can produce high-voltage discharges. Additionally, safety equipment such as Faraday cages, grounding systems, and protective gear are essential to safely conduct such experiments.

Are There Safety Concerns with Simulating Lightning in a Lab?

Yes, there are significant safety concerns. High-voltage experiments can be extremely dangerous, posing risks of electric shock, fire, and equipment damage. Proper safety protocols, including the use of protective equipment and adherence to safety guidelines, are crucial to mitigate these risks.

What Educational Benefits Can Be Gained from Simulating Lightning?

Simulating lightning in a lab can provide valuable educational benefits, including a deeper understanding of electrical discharge phenomena, atmospheric physics, and safety practices in high-voltage experiments. It also offers hands-on experience with scientific equipment and experimental procedures.

How Accurate are Lab Simulations Compared to Real Lightning?

Lab simulations can replicate certain characteristics of lightning, such as voltage and discharge patterns, but they are inherently limited in scale and complexity. Real lightning involves much higher voltages, currents, and environmental interactions, which are difficult to fully replicate in a controlled lab environment.

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